Published March 22, 2024

Graphic of a tree with branches, each one leading to a different colored highlighted doorDeciding to pursue a graduate program—and choosing the program that’s right for you—were the first steps in your academic journey, but they will likely be followed by other important choices that will help you tailor your experience to meet your personal and professional goals.

For example, you may have the option to develop knowledge and skills in a master’s degree concentration or focus area—either formally or informally through your selection of electives. Whether you choose to do so, or opt to take a broader approach, you’ll want to ensure your choice is an informed one. Read on for insight into concentrations and areas of focus.

What is a Master’s Degree Concentration?

A concentration or focus area is a collection of courses within a master’s degree program that allows you to develop a specialized area of study, providing expertise that complements the broader scope of the degree. For example, for a master’s degree in environmental science, you may be offered the opportunity to specialize your studies by taking courses that have been collected into a focus area in climate and energy, conservation biology, environmental justice and equity, or other specific areas. In a data analytics and policy program, you may be able to focus your studies through a concentration in statistical analysis, geospatial analysis, political behavior and policy analysis, or public management.

Do All Master’s Degrees Offer a Concentration?

Not all master’s degree programs offer a concentration or formal focus area. If you’re in a program that doesn’t offer a concentration or focus area, you may still be able to tailor your studies to your interests and career goals through your choice of elective courses. By carefully selecting electives, you can effectively create an informal focus or specialization within your broader field of study. Alternatively, you can opt for electives that cover a range of subjects rather than focusing on one area.

How a Concentration Affects Your Career

Your chosen concentration should give you specialized knowledge—expertise that can help you stand out in the job market and make you a sought-after candidate for specific roles within your field.

For example, a master’s degree in biotechnology with a concentration in biodefense, bioinformatics, regenerative and stem cell technologies, or another area can help you move into a position that requires specialized knowledge in your area of choice.

Tips for Choosing a Master’s Degree Concentration

As you consider your master’s degree concentration or focus area options, you will want to consider your natural skills and talents, future career path, and the field you wish to enter or advance in.

Consider Your Strengths

Reflect on the subjects or areas within your field where you excel. A concentration that aligns with your strengths offers a solid platform for success. It allows you to leverage your existing abilities, potentially leading to exceptional performance and achievement both in school and in your career.

Moreover, consider any past experiences or projects that stood out as particularly engaging or rewarding. These instances often provide valuable clues about where your strengths lie.

At the same time, don’t shy away from exploring new territories or pushing boundaries. Sometimes, choosing a concentration slightly outside your comfort zone can lead to personal and professional growth. Assessing your strengths isn’t about limiting yourself but about making an informed decision that plays to your inherent advantages.

Think About Your Career Path

Envision where you see yourself in five, ten, or even twenty years. Consider the industries, roles, and responsibilities that resonate with your professional aspirations. A well-chosen concentration or focus area should serve as a stepping stone toward those goals.

Evaluate whether the concentration or focus area you’re considering aligns with your long-term professional objectives. Will it equip you with the skills and knowledge that are directly applicable to your desired career trajectory? Will it open doors to opportunities in your chosen field?

Research Your Field of Study

Start by examining emerging trends, key challenges, and areas with high demand in your chosen specialty. Look into the roles that pique your interest. Consult professional journals, industry reports, and reputable websites to gather insights.

You can also take advantage of networking events and online forums to meet and engage with professionals in your field. Their experiences can offer valuable perspectives on where the field is heading and which areas of specialization hold the most promise.

Keep an eye on the practical applications of each concentration, ensuring it aligns with your career goals. This research phase lays a solid foundation for making an informed decision.

Talk to Your Adviser or Other Faculty Members

Engaging with your academic adviser or other faculty members can guide you in selecting the right concentration or focus area. Schedule a meeting to discuss potential concentrations or focus areas and their relevance to your career objectives.

These experts may offer insights into the strengths and nuances of each option, shedding light on which aligns best with your aspirations. Don’t hesitate to ask about faculty expertise and ongoing research projects within each concentration, as this can impact your learning experience.

In addition, you can seek their advice on potential mentors or industry connections associated with your chosen concentration or focus areas. Remember, these professionals are there to assist you in making a well-informed decision that propels you toward success.

Check the Prerequisites

Before committing to a concentration or focus area, review the prerequisites to ensure you meet the academic criteria for the specialized coursework involved. This step prevents potential roadblocks and guarantees a smooth progression through your master’s program.

Evaluate your existing knowledge and skills against the concentration’s requirements. If there are gaps, consider bridging them with supplementary courses or workshops.

Earn Your Master’s Degree at JHU AAP

The Johns Hopkins Advanced Academic Programs division offers a range of flexibly designed graduate degree programs that prepare students for success in their field of choice. Many offer optional curated focus areas or areas of concentration.

At Johns Hopkins, areas of concentration have more defined requirements and appear on a student’s official transcript. Areas of focus, on the other hand, have requirements that are more loosely defined. Areas of focus do not appear on a student’s transcript.

Learn more about JHU AAP programs and take the first step toward advancing your career by exploring our diverse fields of study and contacting us today!

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