The Dilemma Facing Students and Professionals: Generalization or Specialization ?

The Dilemma between Specialization and Specialization

If you are a student who is planning an MBA (Master of Business Administration) or a Technical Degree, you would no doubt be faced with the choice between going in for a generalized degree or a specialized one.

The former gives you a broad overview of your preferred discipline whereas the latter offers you an opportunity to specialize in a specific niche and make the most of the education.

Indeed, this is the dilemma that Medical Students, Business Graduates, and Engineering students face almost every day of their education as they struggle with the choice between learning a bit about everything as opposed to learning more about one thing.

Further, this dilemma is not restricted to the students alone as even professionals face the choice between joining firms that recruit generalists versus joining companies that hire specialists.

The fact that there is a chance to earn more when you are a specialist and at the same time, find alternative employment difficult is usually the catch that specialists face.

On the other hand, generalists often find themselves not getting ahead beyond a point in their careers since as they move up the corporate ladder; they see that specialists are more in demand as opposed to generalists.

Jack of All Trades or a Master of One

In addition, academics and policymakers also face the dilemma of designing MBA programs that offer a mix of specialization and generalization and at the same time, offering the courses in such a manner that a balance is struck between specialization and generalization.

Indeed, in many countries worldwide, there is a healthy debate going on between those who favor MBA and other higher education programs to focus on specialization as opposed to training future professionals to become generalists or Jack of All Trades.

So, how does one resolve the dilemma between opting for specialization versus going in for generalization?

Your Performance Makes the Difference

To start with, if you major in Finance and do well, the chances are that an Investment Bank would recruit you with a stratospheric salary and possible foreign posting.

On the other hand, if by any chance, you do not do well during your Masters, the chances are that you would have to settle with a mediocre job in any of the numerous banks and financial institutions that flock to the Business Schools.

Thus, it is clear that the choice of specialization and generalization must be based on your performance and your ambition on realizing your dreams.

Big Picture versus Details Orientation

On the other hand, if you opt for generalization, the chances are that no matter how well you do, you might not land a job in a Consultancy unless you can show them that your Big Picture vision and personal mission are worth the investment that they would be making on you by hiring you.

Further, although you might have opted for a broad mix of courses, the chances are that most firms are looking for specialists who can bring their expertise of a specific niche to the firm instead of a generalist who “speaks in many tongues” and is not comfortable or proficient in any one of them.

It must also be noted that generalists too command a premium, especially where firms that recruit them for managerial functions straightaway are concerned.

To explain, many firms recruit generalists with work experience for middle management positions straight from the business school without them having to wait for their promotions.

Thus, if you have work experience or are lateral with enough experience under your belt, the chances are that you can be recruited by firms looking for these skills and attributes.

Indeed, in these cases, the chances of generalists are brighter since they already have expertise in a specific niche and all that they have to do is to acquire a broader array of skills to make their education worth the investment.

The Choice of the Institute Matters

It is clear that both generalization and specialization have their pluses and minuses and hence, the choice between specialization and generalization ought to be based on the parameters discussed so far.

In addition, many aspiring students often choose the MBA institutes based on their fame for specific niches. In the case of India, while IIMA is known to be good for Investment Banks and Consultants, IIMB is known for Finance, and IIMC is known for specializing in niches that engineers would be comfortable in.

Even in other countries, there is a difference between say a Harvard MBA and a Wharton MBA in terms of the niches that they are famous for.

Executive Management Programs

As for professionals, the choice between specialization and generalization is made easier due to the availability of Executive Management Programs that offer lateral managers and middle managers to refresh themselves on their concepts and acquire expertise in senior managerial skills and attributes.

Thus, with the flourishing Executive Management Programs, professionals who are specialists can become generalists and vice versa and hence, it is the contention here that sometimes, such choices need not be nerve-wracking and instead, be resolved in a smooth manner provided one has the resources to fund an MBA or an Executive MBA either from one’s pocket or from loans and employer contributions.


To conclude, specialization and generalization both have their positives and flipsides and hence, your choice must be made after due diligence based on careful thought and detailed planning based on your competencies, ambitions, and your ability to work hard as well as your drive in making your vision a success and your mission reality.

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