What Is a Business Degree?

| Genevieve Carlton

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Students have a lot of options when it comes to earning a business degree.

Business is the most popular major for undergraduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A business degree prepares graduates for careers in many industries, including healthcare, marketing, information technology, and financial services. Business graduates often enjoy above-average salaries and strong job growth.

This article explores business degrees at every level, helping illuminate what you can do with a business degree and what your future earning potential could be.

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What Kinds of Business Degrees Are There?

Students can earn business degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral levels. Each degree can provide focused training for specific business career paths after graduation. For example, graduates with bachelor's degrees qualify for entry-level positions like operations research analyst and budget analyst. Supervisory roles like financial manager or marketing manager often require a master's degree in business.

Professionals can increase their earning potential and job opportunities by earning higher degrees. As the following chart shows, professionals with bachelor's degrees in business earn more than those with associate degrees, and individuals with master's degrees earn more than those at the undergraduate level.

Some roles also require graduate-level degrees. For example, many employers prefer to hire managers and executives with MBAs or master's degrees in management.


Associate Degree in Business

An associate degree in business introduces students to core business fields like accounting, marketing, human resources, and finance. Through these foundational courses, learners explore business principles, marketing strategies, and laws and regulations governing corporations. Students can further focus their studies by choosing an associate degree in management or an associate degree in entrepreneurship.

Completing an associate degree typically takes two years, and graduates can find work as lodging managers, bookkeepers, and financial clerks. Graduates can also transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor's degree in business, which takes an additional two years of study. Many career paths in business require a bachelor's degree. You can learn more about the best associate degrees in business administration from our guide.


Bachelor's Degree in Business

A bachelor's degree in business teaches students to analyze data, supervise teams, and make business strategy decisions. Undergraduates can specialize their degrees by choosing a bachelor's in business management, which emphasizes management skills, or a bachelor's in entrepreneurship to become a business founder. Many programs also offer electives or concentrations in human resources management, healthcare administration, or logistics.

In many industries, a bachelor's degree meets the minimum requirement for entry level roles.

With business degrees, graduates work as market research analysts, accountants, and management analysts. Earning a bachelor's degree generally takes four years for full-time students. Learn more about the best bachelor's programs in business with our guide.

What's the Difference Between a BBA, a BA in Business, and a BS in Business?

A bachelor's in business administration (BBA) often includes more business courses and fewer general education requirements, focusing on a practical education. Students pursuing bachelor of arts (BA) in business degrees take more humanities and social science courses. They must often meet a foreign language requirement, too. A bachelor of science (BS) in business includes courses that focus more on STEM topics. For example, BS students may need to take statistics, advanced math, or economics.

Each of these bachelor's degree options typically require 120 credits and four years of courses, though specific graduation requirements vary.

Business Majors

Within business, undergraduates can choose from more than a dozen majors, including accounting, finance, marketing, and human resources. Students can also earn degrees in specific industries, like healthcare administration, hospitality management, or supply chain management. Average salaries vary depending on the major.

Business Career Outlooks by Major
Major Average Salary
Accounting $70,750
Entrepreneurship $60,470
Finance $71,790
Healthcare Administration $60,610
Hospitality Management $55,610
Human Resources $61,180
International Business $67,920
Marketing $62,380
Supply Chain and Logistics $63,380
Source: PayScale
Bachelor's in Accounting

This core area of business teaches students how to create financial reports, conduct audits, and follow accounting laws and regulations. Undergrads take courses in managerial accounting, financial accounting, tax accounting, and forensic accounting. Graduates can find work as accountants and auditors. With graduate-level classes, they can also become certified public accountants.

Bachelor's in Entrepreneurship

An entrepreneurship degree prepares students for careers as small business owners. Classes cover management, planning new business ventures, and finding capital. Students learn how to create business plans, conduct product research, and file the necessary paperwork to launch new businesses. In addition to making their own opportunities as entrepreneurs, graduates can find work in sales or venture capital firms.

Bachelor's in Finance

Finance undergrads take courses in financial accounting, investment strategy, and portfolio management. The degree also introduces majors to financial services management, business finance, and financial analysis. Graduates find work in the financial services sector, usually as financial analysts, budget analysts, and financial managers.

Bachelor's in Healthcare Administration

A healthcare administration degree trains undergrads in business practices specific to the healthcare industry. Majors learn how to manage outpatient care centers, hospital units, residential care facilities, and other healthcare organizations. In addition to careers in healthcare management, the degree can lead to opportunities in community health, public health, and public relations.

Bachelor's in Hospitality Management

A hospitality management degree can lead to careers in industries like food service, lodging, and the entertainment industry. In addition to studying management practices and the hospitality industry as a whole, majors may specialize their degrees with classes in restaurant management, hotel management, or trade and tourism management.

Bachelor's in Human Resources

Businesses in every industry rely on human resources professionals to manage their employees and distribute compensation and benefits. Human resources students learn about payroll management, labor laws, training and development, and dispute resolution. Graduates can pursue careers as human resources specialists and human resources managers.

Bachelor's in International Business

A degree in international business introduces undergrads to the impact of globalization on business. Majors study things like global supply chains, international business regulations, and trade policy. Graduates can seek careers in international corporations and government organizations as buyers, managers, and trade compliance officers.

Bachelor's in Marketing

A marketing major trains undergrads in marketing, digital media, public relations, and advertising. During the degree, majors learn how to make a marketing plan, implement that plan, and measure its effectiveness. They also study marketing research, management, and communication. Degree-holders find employment as marketing specialists and marketing managers.

Bachelor's in Supply Chain and Logistics

A business degree in supply chain and logistics introduces students to the complex process of procuring and distributing goods and services on a large scale. Students learn how to monitor the movement of goods throughout the supply chain while improving efficiency and effectiveness. Graduates can find work in manufacturing, information technology, and healthcare.


Master's Degree in Business

A master's degree in business trains graduate students in advanced business practices and techniques. At the graduate level, an enrollee can earn a master's in management, which provides focused management training, or a master of business administration (MBA) degree. An MBA generally takes two years to complete, though some accelerated programs offer one-year master's degrees. Earning a master's in management typically takes one year.

During a master's program, business students explore high-level business management concepts like operations management, organizational behavior, and leadership theory. These programs often incorporate internships to provide practical experience. Many MBA students also specialize their degrees with concentrations, such as entrepreneurship, project management, finance, and international business.

Graduates with master's degrees in business can pursue leadership roles in many different fields. For example, they can work as financial managers, marketing managers, and operations managers. They can also pursue executive-level roles, like CEO or COO.

MBA Concentrations

While graduate students can earn general MBAs, most programs also offer concentrations, which prepare graduates for careers in specific industries. Some concentrations offer higher average salaries than others, as the following table shows.

MBA Career Outlooks
MBA Average Salary
Executive MBA $117,090
MBA in Entrepreneurship $100,390
MBA in Finance $99,140
MBA in Healthcare Administration $82,360
MBA in International Business $95,190
MBA in Management Information Systems $102,350
MBA in Project Management $82,580
MBA in Sustainability $79,410
Source: PayScale
Executive MBA

Designed for experienced business professionals, an executive MBA (eMBA) helps mid-career managers and supervisors build on their skills. Students learn about organizational behavior, executive leadership, and project management. Graduates typically use their degrees to pursue leadership roles in their current company or transition into a new field.

MBA in Entrepreneurship

An entrepreneurship concentration trains MBA students to develop business plans, secure financing, and launch new businesses. The curriculum often includes classes in small business management, franchising, and venture capital. Graduates can become entrepreneurs, work for venture capital organizations, or apply their entrepreneurial training to roles in management.

MBA in Finance

With an MBA in finance, graduates can work as financial managers and financial decision-makers in the financial services industry and related fields. Students learn to manage organizational finances, use financial information to make business decisions, and navigate financial regulations. The degree leads to opportunities with corporations, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies.

MBA in Healthcare Management

An MBA in healthcare management blends business and healthcare training to prepare graduates for leadership roles in healthcare organizations. Learners explore quality management approaches, organizational challenges common to clinical settings, and the role of healthcare informatics in improving patient care. Graduates can find work in hospitals, medical offices, and the health insurance industry.

MBA in International Business

An international business emphasis examines the global marketplace for services and products. Students explore international business practices, global supply chain issues, and globalized companies. This specialization also explores technologies that facilitate international business and help companies connect with producers, distributors, and consumers around the world.

MBA in Management Information Systems

An MBA in MIS teaches degree-seekers to manage data and information systems for businesses. This degree combines business and technology training to prepare graduates for roles like MIS manager or IT manager. Professionals learn to solve information systems problems and meet the data management needs of large organizations.

MBA in Project Management

A concentration in project management teaches enrollees to oversee large-scale projects, from conceptualization through execution. Learners study budget management, time management, and cost projection. They also learn how to delegate responsibilities, manage teams, and use project-based approaches in the workplace. The focus prepares graduates for careers as project managers across a variety of industries.

MBA in Sustainability

An MBA in sustainability trains graduates to pursue careers in environmental policy, sustainable business practices, and energy policies. Professionals with this degree can help businesses maximize their profits, improve their public relations, and manage environmental risks. Enrollees explore risk management, business sustainability, and law and regulations related to sustainability.


Doctoral Degree in Business

As the highest degree in business, a doctorate prepares graduates for research, academic, and leadership positions. At the doctoral level, a student can earn a Ph.D. in business administration or a doctorate in business administration (DBA). A DBA trains students for roles in business, such as chief executive officer, while the research-focused Ph.D. more typically leads to academic careers, like business professor.

During doctoral programs, business students focus their studies on business theory, management, marketing, or other specializations, often within a specific industry. A doctorate requires a significant time commitment; earning the degree generally takes 3-6 years, after completing a master's degree. As a result, prospective students should carefully consider whether they need a doctorate to reach their career goals.

Learn more about online master's in management programs and online doctorate in management programs from our helpful guides.

What Can You Do with a Business Degree?

A business degree trains graduates for careers in growing industries like healthcare, technology, and financial services. During a business degree, students take courses in marketing, accounting, finance, and management.

In addition to learning career-ready skills, majors can also specialize their degrees around their professional goals. For example, students interested in healthcare can take courses in health services management, while those pursuing tech jobs can take information technology classes.

This section introduces the primary industries where business graduates find work. Business degrees can also lead to opportunities in marketing, communication, politics, and human resources management.

Healthcare

In the healthcare industry, business majors oversee teams that provide medical services, manage medical records, and consult on business best practices. For example, medical and health services managers, also known as healthcare administrators or healthcare executives, help healthcare organizations run smoothly. They make sure organizations follow applicable laws and regulations, set departmental goals, and supervise staff members.

Similarly, nursing home administrators oversee elder care facilities, and health information managers maintain patient records. A bachelor's degree in business administration with coursework in healthcare management prepares graduates for these roles.

Classes on medical terminology, health information systems, and human resources administration also provide valuable training for healthcare jobs that do not require clinical training. Employers hiring for management-level roles may expect candidates to have master's degrees.


Technology

The information technology sector needs professionals with a blend of business and technology training. For example, computer systems analysts and IT managers use their business training to advise organizations on how to improve efficiency and effectiveness through the use of technology. In these roles, professionals examine computer systems and procedures to create business solutions and advise executives on technology-related decisions.

A career in technology doesn't always require a computer science degree. Instead, many tech professionals hold bachelor's degrees in business technology or information technology. Supervisory positions often require previous work experience or a master's degree. Employers may look for candidates with MBAs specializing in information technology management, management information systems, or information systems.


Financial Services

The financial services industry employs business graduates in roles like financial manager, procurement manager, financial analyst, and financial examiner. In these roles, professionals evaluate financial data to help businesses make decisions about their investment strategies and financial health. They also evaluate an organization's efficiency andstudy economic trends to anticipate changes in the market.

Financial managers oversee employees charged with creating financial reports. They analyze market trends to increase profits, create plans to reach long-term organizational goals, and advise executives on financial decisions.

Most financial services careers require candidates to have bachelor's degrees in business, usually with a concentration or coursework in finance. Related majors like economics, accounting, or management can also help graduates pursue finance jobs. Some management-level roles may require a graduate degree.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Business Degree?

Many career paths in business offer above-average salaries and strong job growth projections. In roles like engineering manager, marketing manager, financial manager, and IT manager, median salaries reach six figures. To qualify for these management-level roles, candidates often need graduate degrees, although a bachelor's degree and relevant work experience may meet requirements in some companies.

The following table provides career outlook and earning potential data for different business careers.

Business Career Outlooks
Career Median Annual Salary Job Growth (2019-2029) Typical Degree Needed
Computer and Information Systems Managers $146,360 10% Bachelor's
Architectural and Engineering Managers $144,830 3% Bachelor's
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers $135,900 6% Bachelor's
Financial Managers $129,890 15% Bachelor's
Sales Managers $126,640 4% Bachelor's
Top Executives $104,690 4% Bachelor's
Logisticians $74,750 4% Bachelor's
Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents $69,600 -7% Bachelor's
Human Resources Specialists $61,920 7% Bachelor's
Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners $50,600 8% Bachelor's
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Business Professional Organizations

AMA specializes in business and management. The association offers courses in management skills, communication, and project management. Members can also participate in virtual training, online seminars, and certificate programs. AMA's skill assessment tools help professionals strengthen their professional abilities, while the association's online management training series helps new managers grow their careers. This support network for entrepreneurs and business leaders offers collaborative learning experiences for its members. The organization hosts global events to connect leaders, offers a forum to discuss issues with business owners, and organizes chapter events in local areas. It also offers executive education opportunities help young entrepreneurs build their careers. AMA is the largest professional organization devoted to marketing in the U.S. It offers career and professional development tools for members, including training sessions, bootcamps, and webinars. AMA also offers professional certifications, publishes academic research, and provides data for a variety of areas of marketing. PMI connects over three million professionals who specialize in project, program, and portfolio management. The institute offers education opportunities and professional development courses, publishes research, sets professional standards, and hosts events with networking opportunities. Members can also pursue professional certifications. BPA represents more than 45,000 members specializing in business and information technology education. The association offers professional development resources, tools aimed at students, and networking opportunities. Students can earn a BPA student certification, which involves completing online training, projects, and life skills development plans.

Accreditation for Business Programs

Accreditation indicates that an institution has met high standards for educating students. For a business degree, it is best to attend a school that holds regional accreditation.

In addition, business programs often hold specialized accreditation from independent agencies, which evaluate their curricula, faculty qualifications, and degree requirements. For example, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is one such accrediting organization.

Accredited programs meet high educational standards, ensuring that students get the education they pay for. Often, only an accredited degree meets the requirements for professional certifications and licenses.

Frequently Asked Questions

true Is a Business Degree Hard?

The difficulty of a business degree depends on your personal aptitude and interests. Driven and attentive individuals can succeed as business majors, especially if they seek out degrees that apply to their personal and professional goals.

What Is the Best Business Major?

Within business, majors can specialize their training in areas like finance, accounting, international business, and marketing. Some programs also offer specializations in healthcare administration, e-commerce, and entrepreneurship. The best business major is one that fulfills a student's personal career aspirations and interests.

What Do You Get From a Business Degree?

During a business degree, students study core topics in business, like marketing, finance, accounting, and human resources. The degree also trains students to analyze data, design and implement business strategies, and evaluate an organization's effectiveness. Business graduates can find work across many growing industries.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Business?

Earning a bachelor's degree in business generally takes four years, and an MBA takes an additional two years. Accelerated programs can offer a faster route to the degree, though they are often more challenging.

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