Which Business Degrees Are Most in Demand?
July 28, 2022
Looking for a more-fulfilling business career with greater responsibility and higher pay? A graduate business degree puts you on track for all three. Find out which degrees are hottest.
Before committing to a graduate business degree program that demands considerable resources (in both time and money), it's worth considering both job growth and job outlook for those who have recently earned similar degrees. It makes sense to ask yourself: is this graduate degree worth it? What business career results has it produced for others like me?
As the data highlighted on this page demonstrates, recruiters across major industries still value business graduates for their critical thinking skills and ability to provide organizational leadership. They seek well-trained and well-educated business professionals grounded in the fundamentals who have also developed specializations in such areas as international business, project management, digital marketing, or supply chain management.
As you review the data, consider how different types of graduate business degrees are positioned for growth in the coming years. Then determine where your skills and talents will deliver the greatest return on your time and financial investment.
Demand of Graduate Management Talent report
Each year, the Graduate Management Admission Council conducts a survey of recruiters in key business sectors to provide insights for students, b-schools, and employers. The 2021 report, conducted between February 25 and March 31, features data from 569 recruiters.
Paired with monthly data collected by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics economists, these reports provide up-to-date information on the expansion of business master's job opportunities and how key industries are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Demand for MBA graduates up in 2021
Despite setbacks caused by the pandemic, graduates of MBA programs should be able to look forward to increased hiring in both domestic and international markets. Among corporate recruiters, 90 percent anticipate the need for employees with a master's degree in business to increase or remain steady between 2021 and 2026. Technology and consulting recruiters project the largest growth at 96 percent and 95 percent, respectively, signaling both sectors anticipate expansion.
Within the United States, 94 percent of recruiters projected they would hire business graduates in 2021, as compared to 84 percent actually hiring from this pool in 2020. In 2021, European recruiters project a 54 percent increase in hiring of business school graduates. The United States ranks second at 34 percent; Asian-Pacific recruiters anticipate 32 percent growth.
Much of this anticipated growth is due to recruiters' growing confidence that their companies will grow faster in 2021. Across the three global markets included in the survey, 71 percent expected growth in 2021 (as compared to 66 percent in 2020).
In addition to increased need for graduate business majors, those who pursue this path have the added benefit of potentially fast-tracking their careers to more senior roles. Across consulting, finance/accounting, healthcare, products/services, and technology recruiters, 61 percent said that earning a business school master's degree can lead to quicker promotions.
Before the pandemic hit in early 2020, 92 percent of recruiters anticipated hiring those with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Due to complications of COVID-19, actual hiring dropped to 80 percent. Recruiters anticipated a rebound in hiring MBA graduates for 2021, with 91 percent projecting they would hire one of these professionals throughout the year.
Pandemic notwithstanding, these factors align with historic hiring figures. Since 2010, hiring of MBA graduates has continually expanded across the United States, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. An impressive 94 percent of American recruiters projected they would hire an MBA graduate in 2021, compared to approximately 55 percent in 2010.
MBA salaries up in 2021
Prior to the pandemic's emergence in March 2020, graduates of advanced business degree programs enjoyed the highest median starting annual salary ever achieved at $115,000. Three months into the pandemic, average salaries dropped by $10,000 as companies looked for ways to cut costs during uncertain times. Thankfully, this number rose to its pre-pandemic level by 2021.
At current levels, those with an MBA earn approximately $1.75 million more over a 35-year period compared to professionals with only a bachelor's degree. For those considering the right time to earn an MBA, this data suggests the sooner the better.
While MBA graduates earned six-figure median salaries in 2021, those with other types of business master's degrees earned substantially less. Based on data captured from recruiters in 2021, those with a Master of Data Analytics stood to earn the highest starting median wage at $75,000 each year. Master of Finance graduates received median starting pay of $65,000, while those with Master of Management and Master of Accounting degrees both received starting median salaries of $55,000.
Domestic vs. international job market
When comparing recruiters based in the United States versus other areas, European recruiters projected the most substantial increase over the next five years: 54 percent anticipate an increase in demand, while 40 percent anticipate the demand remaining stable. Meanwhile, 32 percent Asian-Pacific recruiters believe there will be an increase and 49 percent believe demand will remain the same.
Recruiters in the United States took a similar position as those in Asia-Pacific countries, with 34 percent anticipating growth and 59 percent anticipating stability in demand.
Technology sector leads growth
Although many recruiters project strengthened hiring rates in the post-pandemic world for management positions, not all industries anticipate the same growth. With so many companies now relying on business school specialists to expand e-commerce opportunities, recruiters in the technology sector project the most robust growth. Analytics MBA professionals should also be in demand.
Even during 2020, 86 percent of recruiters anticipated hiring graduate business administration professionals; actual figures were 3 percent higher. For 2021, 96 percent of recruiters planned to hire from this pool.
As an added bonus, 54 percent of recruiters agreed that earning a master's-level business degree provides a fast track to managerial positions. 68 percent reported that leaders in their organizations possess a graduate business degree.
Demand by specialization
Health and pharmacology recruiters, along with those in consulting firms, reported the highest anticipated expansion for graduate business majors in the next five years at 46 percent. Students considering a STEM MBA should view these figures positively, as healthcare recruiters may want to hire from this pool.
Conversely, the products and services sector projected hiring increases of 29 percent—the lowest of the surveyed sectors. Interestingly, 66 percent of those same recruiters said they believed their companies would expand and grow in 2021. It could be that this sector anticipates depending less on MBA graduates than others, signaling concern for MBA grads considering this career path.
Recruiters have steadily anticipated higher employment rates for MBA graduates over the previous decade across all sectors. In 2010, approximately 55 percent of American recruiters projected hiring from this pool; in 2021, this number jumped to 94 percent.
Demand by skill
Students who complete an MBA gain critical skills throughout their training. While strategic thinking and versatility in skill sets rank highest, graduates' ability to navigate challenges related to technical disruptions showed the most significant shift. While only 34 percent of recruiters saw this as a significant consideration in 2020, this number grew to 41 percent just a year later.
Industries also feel differently about how well b-schools prepare graduates. For instance, 85 percent of technology recruiters feel confident that a Master of Business Administration instills strong communication skills, while only 66 percent of finance and accounting recruiters felt this way. Meanwhile, 75 percent of consulting recruiters believe MBA programs provide versatile skill sets; when technology recruiters were asked, only 68 percent agreed.
When it comes to the skills recruiters value most in business administration professionals, 80 percent of recruiters ranked interpersonal skills highest. Other top-ranked skills include learning, motivation, and leadership; managing decision-making processes; strategic and systems skills; and managing strategy and innovation.
As with other components, the amount of value placed on individual skills varies by industry. While 81 percent of technology recruiters appreciate skills in strategy and innovation, only 48 percent of finance and accounting recruiters valued this skill.
Demand for business master's graduates
Before deciding what type of business master's degree to pursue, review projected hiring numbers supplied by recruiters. Within the GMAC survey, recruiters were questioned about four different types of degrees. We go through each to provide a closer look at anticipated hiring metrics.
When asked about Master of Management graduates, 54 percent of recruiters anticipated hiring these professionals in 2021 (compared to 44 percent actual hiring the year prior). Approximately 83 percent of European recruiters projected hiring from this candidate pool, compared to 59 percent in Asia-Pacific and 46 percent in the United States.
For Master of Accounting graduates, 52 percent of recruiters said they were likely to hire from this pool in 2021. European recruiters anticipated the largest amount at 69 percent, with the United States and Asia-Pacific both projecting 50 percent.
Only 48 percent of recruiters thought they may hire a Master of Finance graduate (compared to 2020 projections of 54 percent). Europe once again leads the pack in terms of hiring projections, with 75 percent of recruiters in this area saying they expect to hire a finance graduate in 2021. Within survey answers from Asian-Pacific and American recruiters, 67 percent and 39 percent, respectively, anticipated hiring a Master of Finance graduate.
Lastly, 62 percent of recruiters projected hiring a master of data analytics graduate last year (compared to 72 percent projections and 47 percent actual hiring in 2020). European recruiters once again planned to hire the most of these graduates, with 72 percent stating they anticipated bringing one of these graduates on board. The U.S. and Asia-Pacific followed at 62 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors.
The data collected by GMAC clearly demonstrates that those with a master's in business administration degree earn substantially more than their colleagues who pursue graduate-level studies in topics such as accounting, finance, or management. Students who pursue a Master of Data Analytics stand to earn the highest starting annual salary at $75,000, but this is still $40,000 less than the starting salaries for MBA grads.
The business world is rebounding well from COVID-19, and hiring projections from 2021 look promising. Still, students must carefully decide what type of business degree will serve them best in a changing economy and which path offers the highest earning potential.
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