Which MBA Specialization is Best for Engineers?

An engineering education teaches you how to build products and processes that change the world. But it doesn’t teach you how to market those products and manage their development. That’s where an MBA comes in, which, when paired with an engineering background, makes for a potent combination. An engineer who gets an MBA is empowered not only to create radically innovative products but also to oversee their development and launch as well. Being an engineer with an MBA is the equivalent of owning the house and the land the house stands on.

Engineers do well in business school. They’re good at crunching numbers and understanding how separate factors can work together in a single cohesive process. Furthermore, they bring a unique perspective to the classroom, one which is rooted in quantitative logic and results. An MBA perfectly complements an engineering background by filling in any gaps in leadership potential, business acumen, and cross-departmental communication. The engineer with an MBA can, as a result, look superhuman to employers—or even become an employer themselves.

But once you’ve decided to get an MBA, you still have to pick your specialization. And which one is best for engineers? The short answer is that there are several, and it depends on what you want to achieve. There’s never been a broader range of MBA specializations for engineers. Read on to get a profile of the best options and see which one is right for you.

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MBA in Engineering Management

Engineering management is the most obvious specialization option for engineers getting their MBA and perhaps the most flexible, too. While engineers are generally the brains of an operation, they still require a business leader to manage the overall project. Human resources and cross-departmental communication are not the natural skills of an engineer; an MBA with an engineering management specialization focuses on precisely those skills and empowers engineers to lead teams of their own, regardless of what field of engineering they work in.

In 2008, a survey by Deloitte found that more than half the members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers reported that their jobs required management skills. And of the 1,900 engineers surveyed, more than half planned to pursue further management training. A decade later, this trend hasn’t changed. Poor leadership skills can prevent an engineer from moving up the ladder and unleashing their full potential.

There’s a joke about promoting engineers to leadership positions: you often lose a great engineer and gain a bad manager in the process. At the same time, slotting a purely business-oriented manager in charge of an engineering team can create friction between departments: how can you lead a team of engineers if you don’t understand their unique needs, skills, and language? This makes an engineer who also has an MBA in engineering management an attractive hire, combining the best of both worlds in a single candidate.

Program Example

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online master of business administration program in engineering management that allows students to gain relevant and traditional business skills in crucial areas such as project management, finance, quantitative analysis, and technology. The program helps students in developing their ability to lead and collaborate in technical environments for executing complex solutions. Throughout this program, students will learn more about technology innovation, leadership, and ethics.

SNHU’s 36 credit online MBA program does not require any GMAT exam nor does it require any work experience. With full-time and part-time options, the curriculum includes courses such as introduction to engineering for engineering managers; systems thinking for engineering managers; systems engineering and business practices; leading people and organizations; organizational strategy in a global environment; and strategic opportunity management, among others.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue roles such as chief engineers, cost systems analysts, engineering managers, engineering project managers, and industrial management engineers.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 15 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $637 per credit

MBA in Project Management

Project management may sound similar to engineering management, but there are a few factors that can make it a more attractive MBA specialization for an engineer. While engineering management is largely focused on managing teams and people, project management is concerned with leading the project itself. This makes project management a more analytical subdiscipline—one that revolves around objective deadlines, quantifiable formulas, and concrete outcomes.

A specialization in project management makes sense for any engineer who’s looking to keep their feet firmly in the processes of engineering, but with a more senior position. Project management can be applied in any sector of engineering and the types of projects being managed can range from the small (migrating a firm’s IT software) to the large (building a new bridge). Engineers who get an MBA that specializes in project management learn about supply chain logistics, budget management, and risk analysis.

Improving project performance comes with an attractive financial incentive. According to the Project Management Institute, poor project performance results in some one million dollars wasted every 20 seconds by organizations worldwide. Engineers who have an MBA that specializes in project management are capable of helping fix that and stand to reap the benefits.

Program Example

Maryville University

Maryville University offers an online master of business administration (MBA) program in project management preparing students for the PMP credential (Project Management Professional). The program can be completed entirely online and does not require any campus visits.

Admission requirements to the program include a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, a completed online application, a personal letter, official academic transcripts, and TOEFL scores for international applicants. The program does not require GMAT or GRE test scores, nor does it have any business experience requirement.

Made up of 39 credits, the program includes courses such as supply chain management; enterprise planning & control; process and operations management; project management; organizational behavior and development; legal environment of business; and strategic marketing.

On successful completion of the program, graduates can take up roles such as project managers, senior project managers, project management directors, business operations specialists, and administrative services managers.

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); The Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 14 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $749 per credit

MBA in Data Analytics

Data is the hottest commodity of the 21st century. Knowing how to collect it, interpret it, and monetize it has applications across the map: from manufacturing to marketing, to innovation. Practically all major businesses have their own dedicated data analytics department. The result is a complex landscape of data analytics tools (such as Hadoop) that are built for the needs of a business but not necessarily geared towards engineers. Process engineers, data engineers, and entrepreneurial engineers are just a few of those who can benefit from a data analytics specialization.

In general, engineers tend to be introverted, while the world of business is populated with extroverts. However, there are roles in business that lend themselves to strong quantitative skills and objective calculation. Data analytics is one of them. Specializing in this area can make the transition to the business world much more seamless for an engineer and put their natural talents to use.

With a data analytics specialization, engineers learn how to interact with today’s big data tools. Instead of relying on a business’s analytics team for information, engineers who specialize in data analytics are able to answer their own questions and formulate new ones. That sort of self-empowerment and do-it-yourself skillset gets work done faster and better, and it can result in rapid promotion.

Program Example

University of North Carolina

The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School offers an online MBA with a specialization in data analytics and decision making providing students with broad-based business knowledge and the theoretical applications of data. The faculty of the program includes experienced faculty members who help students in developing essential skills and expertise in this fast-growing field.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university along with at least two years of professional experience. Application requirements include a completed online application, a current business resume, transcripts of all academic work completed, two professional recommendations, two essays, GMAT or GRE scores (for applicants with fewer than five years of professional experience), and TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores for non-native English speakers.

Comprising 62 credits, the program includes coursework in analytical tools for decision making; business strategy; data analytics; marketing analytics; global supply chain management; corporate strategy; leading and managing; and financial statement analysis.

The program opens up several opportunities for graduates. They can take up roles such as information managers, business analysts, data engineers, business intelligence managers, sales operations managers, statisticians, and marketing analysts.

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 to 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $133,691.58

MBA in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is everybody’s problem. But it’s also increasingly the problem of engineers. While the average American may need to dodge the occasional phishing attack and update their anti-virus software, engineers need to avoid potentially cataclysmic vulnerabilities in their designs. In the last few years, cyberattacks have hit power grids and government networks. Infrastructure, both digital and physical, makes an attractive target. Even voting machines are at risk. The Internet of Things (IoT), one of the most promising areas of computer and software engineering, also turns the most innocuous connected object into a potential point of vulnerability.

An MBA in cybersecurity isn’t just for engineers working specifically in cybersecurity. Software engineers, civil engineers, electrical engineers, and even industrial engineers need to be keenly aware of the risks and vulnerabilities in their line of work.

Being able to communicate with an IT team, and ask the right questions, is critical in developing products that are resistant to cyberattacks. Being able to ask those questions early in the process (and being able to spot vulnerabilities before they go live) is one of the reasons many engineers choose to specialize in cybersecurity.

Program Example

American University

American University’s Kogod School of Business offers an online MBA program is designed for mid-career professionals who wish to learn communication and strategic management skills and advance into leadership roles. The program allows students to choose one from the seven focus areas available. The cybersecurity focus area prepares students to look at cybersecurity through a management lens, focusing on strategies and preparing them for preventing, detecting, and responding to cybersecurity attacks.

The curriculum of this 48 credit program includes two in-person immersions allowing students to solve business challenges with real companies. Cybersecurity courses are designed in coordination with the Kogod Cybersecurity Governance Center (KCGC). As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as applied managerial statistics; financial accounting; strategic decision making; managing digital organizations; and managerial accounting and operations management.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, a completed online application, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a current resume.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: 15 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,866 per credit

MBA in High Technology Management

The future is high-tech. And it’s not just about the fundamentals of physics and programming anymore. Tomorrow’s engineering projects are leveraging blockchain, IoT, edge computing, and AI.

Knowing how these technologies work (and how to manage their development) can put an engineer in a leadership position at the forefront of innovation. And there’s a heavy financial incentive to be there: The global Internet of Things (IoT) market is projected to grow from $381.30 billion in 2021 to $1,854.76 billion in 2028, while the World Economic Forum believes 10 percent of global GDP will be stored on blockchain by 2027.

Leading teams and projects in these areas require vastly different skillsets than those required in more traditional sectors. In a survey of over 3,600 people conducted by Harvard Business Review, four categories stood out as uniquely challenging in the high-tech management world:

  • A smaller ecosystem of talent
  • A persistent state of ambiguity concerning employee accountability
  • A pressurized atmosphere of projects with quick turnaround times
  • The incentivization of the “cool” over the practical

An MBA in high technology management prepares engineers to tackle both the technical and non-technical peculiarities of tomorrow’s emerging tech. Understanding the fundamentals of a complex technology like blockchain—while also knowing how to motivate teams and corporate cultures within these high-tech fields—not only prepares an engineer for the future but also prepares the engineer to shape the future itself.

Program Example

Northeastern University

The D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University offers an online MBA with eight concentrations to choose from. The high technology management concentration prepares students to take the lead in today’s fast-paced business of technology. They can gain the necessary skills and knowledge needed to manage the legal, financial, and employment issues involved in the tech industry.

Consisting of 50 credits, the program includes courses such as financial statement preparation and analysis; enterprise growth and innovation; entrepreneurial finance for high tech companies; virtual, vicious teams: building and leading high-performance teams; business planning for new ventures; and information analysis.

The major admission requirements for the program include an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution of higher learning, a grade point average of 3.0, official transcripts from all universities or colleges attended, a current resume, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and English language proficiency for native English speakers.

Graduates of the program will be well-equipped to work as IT managers, IT project managers, Market research directors, human resources managers, technical program managers, and information systems managers.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $900 per credit
Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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