Demand for specialized master’s programs at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis has been growing exponentially during recent years, mirroring an international trend toward specialization in business education.
“Applications for the programs have surged from 250 for the class that graduated in 2008, to well over 1,800 for the class that enrolled in fall 2011,” says Gary Hochberg, director of specialized masters programs at Olin.
Olin offers three specialized masters programs — the master of accounting (MACC), master of science in supply chain management (MSSCM) and master of science in finance (MSF).
Though relatively new — Olin’s specialized masters programs launched in 2005 — a recent rankings survey published by The Financial Times places the master of science in finance program at number two in the U.S. and number 19 worldwide.
“Specialized finance programs have been around in the U.K. and Europe for longer than they have in the U.S.,” Hochberg says. “We’re very much of a new kid on the block and that makes us particularly honored to be ranked side-by-side with some of the pioneers and leading institutions in this field.”
Specialized masters degrees offer outstanding value, Hochberg says.
“These are shorter programs than the typical full-time MBA,” he says. “Also, our high ranking in finance, coupled with quality of our faculty and research intensive nature of the university add a high degree of return on investment for students.”
One-hundred percent of recent graduates of the supply chain management and accounting programs had full-time job offers within 90 days of graduation. For finance, that number was more than 93 percent.
“The program completely changed my career opportunities,” says former student Hannah Cowan. “The curriculum was incredibly well put together for teaching me everything from the basics of business and finance to complex operational decision-making and people management skills.”
Cowan, a 2009 graduate of WUSTL’s School of Engineering & Applied Science, has used her masters of supply chain management degree, which she earned in 2010, to propel her career with the Supply Leadership Development Program at Diageo, a global manufacturer of adult beverages.
“Through the practicum project, I also had the opportunity to stretch myself further by applying those lessons to real problems submitted by top companies,” she says. “My advisers, the faculty and the school all provided such valuable support in drafting my resume, perfecting my interview skills, and pushing me to have the courage and confidence to get the kind of job I really wanted.”
The practicum project is part of the masters in supply chain management curriculum and provides students with an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in hands-on projects for corporate partners of Olin’s Boeing Center for Technology, Information and Manufacturing (BCTIM).
Collectively, Olin’s specialized master’s programs have seen a 25 percent increase in applications over the past several years, mostly from students in China.
“Our reputation in mainland China is quite large in relation to our program’s relative size,” Hochberg says. “This provides us with a real boost in visibility there. It’s difficult for workers to advance without a graduate degree in China, and the reputation of U.S. schools continues to grow there.”
Specialized master’s programs are tremendously popular globally and Hochberg says the Olin programs in particular are attractive for incoming students.
“The bottom-line cost advantage is that the specialized master’s programs are shorter in duration and therefore less costly in terms of tuition and housing,” says Nikki Lemley, associate director of specialized master’s programs.
“Olin’s MACC, MSSCM and MSF in corporate finance programs are designed to be taken over a one year period; however, the MACC and MSSCM programs can be taken over three semesters,” Lemley says.
The MSF quantitative track is designed to be three semesters in length. Many of our international students are attracted to the three-semester options so that they can pursue an internship between the second and third semesters.”
The average age of Olin specialized masters programs students is 23. Consequently, Lemley says, an indirect cost advantage is that “the SMP will position our students to expedite their career trajectory within their organizations as a result of their deeper knowledge and skills in the subject areas.”
“Of all the elements of my education obtained in the master of accounting program, I would say I am most grateful for the diverse student body and the rigor of the classes and professors' expectations,” says Samantha Murphy, who graduated in 2010. She currently works for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“Compared to my peers, I believe that I think outside of the box more consistently and explore alternative routes for solving the same problem,” she says. “The structure of many of my classes at Olin instilled this skill within me and I am grateful.”
Hochberg says the specialized master’s programs emphasize immediate, real-world application of issues discussed in class, which students can apply as soon as they start working.
“I think the biggest benefit to me of the MSF program was the combination of the quantitative coursework in financial engineering with broader coursework in corporate finance and investments,” says Neil Goodson, who graduated from the masters in finance program in 2009 and is working as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, D.C.
“The well-balanced curriculum enabled me to understand not only the mathematics behind modern-day finance, but also the economics that drive corporate investment decisions,” he says. “When I joined the Federal Reserve, I was well prepared for the data analysis required for the job, but I also had an understanding of the ideas and concepts that drove research and policy.”
Hochberg says the programs will continue to focus on the intersection of theory and practice.
“We strive to provide students a deep foundational knowledge that will immediately help their organization,” he says.