Business Degree Overview

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A business degree can be your ticket to a huge spectrum of career opportunities, from management, sales, and finance to entertainment, entrepreneurship and organizational leadership.

A business degree, whether in business administration, business management, or finance, focuses on learning and applying business concepts across different industries and markets, blending economics, entrepreneurship, management, communications, marketing, and more to prepare you for a career in business. Business degrees prepare graduates for work in several settings and fields, from startups and self employment to corporate marketing and management.

On the surface, the idea of a business degree seems pretty self-explanatory. But this discipline covers a lot of ground. Whether you're hoping to work in a big corporate office or aspiring to open your own restaurant, whether you're a team player or a lone wolf, whether you see yourself in an accounting firm, on a marketing team, or in a human resources department, there's a business degree that makes sense for you.

Business principles apply to every sector of our economy, and many aspects of our personal lives, for that matter. Therefore, most business degree programs are multidisciplinary in nature, touching on a broad and overlapping set of subjects. Your course of study will incorporate everything from economics and entrepreneurship to organizational management and interpersonal communication.

And as you advance in your business degree program, you'll have the opportunity to choose courses with increasingly specialized focus. From consumer goods, food services, and hospitality to real estate, apparel, production and everything in between, a degree in business gives you the tools and qualifications to mold the career you envision for yourself.

What Kinds of Business Degrees Are There?

Associate Degree in Buisness (AAS or AS)

An associate degree in business can be an excellent way to get the ball rolling. Associate degrees are typically awarded by two-year institutions or community colleges. Here, you'll take several introductory level courses, learn basic business principles, and take a handful of courses providing an overview on sub-disciplines like accounting, marketing, and organizational management. The cost per credit for an associate degree is often lower, which makes this a great way to save money, even if you ultimately plan to earn a bachelor's degree in business. Remember, if you do plan to do so, be sure before beginning your associate program that your credits will transfer to most public and private four-year institutions. Alternately, you can parlay your associate degree into entry-level work in the business world, though your qualification for advanced management or leadership roles may be limited.

What Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program?
  • Business Law
  • Business Writing
  • Financial Accounting
  • Global Business Issues
  • Introduction to Marketing
  • Principles of Management
What’s the Difference Between an AAS and an AS?

An associate degree in business administration (AAS) provides a foundational overview of business principles as well as instruction in entry–level skills. An associate in the science of business administration (AS) will, in addition to providing this foundational overview, develop practical computing and spreadsheet skills, and may include some hands–on volunteer or internship work.>

Bachelor's of Business Administration (BBA,BSBA,or BABA)

The bachelor's of business administration (BBA) is conferred upon students who have completed a full program of general, advanced, elective, and concentration-specific courses, typically at a public or private four-year university. A bachelor's degree in business centers around a set of core subjects designed to provide you with the principles, knowledge, and skills needed to navigate today's business landscape. You'll develop managerial, communication, and leadership skills. From there, you'll have the opportunity to choose courses based on a concentration. You can also pursue this concentration through case projects, internships, and apprenticeships. This degree is the basic threshold for employment at a variety of top firms and organizations.

What Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor's Program?
  • Accounting
  • Business Ethics
  • Business Law
  • Economics
  • Information Systems
  • Operations Management
  • Marketing
  • Supply Chain Management
What’s the Difference Between a BBA, a BSBA, and BABA?

You have a few options as an undergraduate business student, including a bachelor’s of business administration (BBA), a bachelor’s of science in business administration (BSBA), and a bachelor’s of arts in business administration (BABA).

A BBA will typically provide a broad overview of business with an emphasis on management, marketing, and economics. With a BSBA, core courses are more mathematical in nature, with a greater focus on finance and analytics. A BABA will offer both a business concentration and a parallel liberal arts education.

Master of Business Administration (MBA or MS)

A master of business administration is an advanced degree. Though the master's degree program will cover much of the same territory as a bachelor's degree-management, accounting, finance, etc.the coursework will typically bring a greater scientific and analytical depth to subject matter. This is a great move if you plan to pursue a leadership role in your career.

Your program may be general in nature, or specialized according to your area of interest. You will also typically complete a capstone course, where you will be expected to synthesize and demonstrate the knowledge and skills obtained from your study. A master's will typically take two years, though in some cases, you may be able to merge your bachelor's studies into a master's degree program. This can reduce the commitment of time, and sometimes, money. Master's business degree programs often offer flexibility for full-time, part-time, online and traditional students, particularly because so many candidates will pursue this degree while already advancing a professional career. An online MBA program is a great option for student's seeking the most flexibility.

If you’re not sure where to start on your MBA/MS program, check out:
What's the Difference Between a DBA and Ph.D. in Business?

While we're on the subject of advanced business degrees, aDoctorate in Business Administration (DBA)is a professional doctorate focused on the practice and application business. The Ph.D. candidate is instead focused on scholarship and research in the field. The DBA will make contributions to the industry. The Ph.D. will make contributions to the research, discourse, and education surrounding the industry.

What Can You Do With a Buisness Degree?

You've probably picked up on a theme here. You may be asking yourself What can I do with a business degree? As you can see, the answer is: a lot! Your business degree can be the key to a pretty huge doorway. The practical knowledge and skills you'll gain in pursuit of your degree will prepare you for an almost infinite number of professional possibilities. It's all about what you want to do with that knowledge and skill. It's also about where opportunity knocks. It could happen in any one of these business and finance careers:

  • Actuaries
  • Accountants and Auditors
  • Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate
  • Budget Analysts
  • Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators
  • Cost Estimators
  • Financial Analysts
  • Financial Clerks
  • Human Resources Specialists
  • Insurance Underwriters
  • Loan Officers
  • Logisticians
  • Management Analysts
  • Market Research Analysts
  • Meeting, Convention and Events Planners
  • Operations Research Analysts
  • Personal Financial Advisors
  • Purchasing Managers, Buyers and Purchasing Agents
  • Statisticians

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. How could it be? When you get a degree in business, your opportunities are almost too many to name. You might parlay that knowledge into an enterprise or an idea unlike any the world has ever seen. That’s the beauty of a business degree. It can take you as far as you’re willing to go.

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

Your salary prospects with a business degree may vary according to the exact path your career takes. However you approach your career, your prospects with a business degree have the potential to be bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in business and financial operations is projected to grow 10% between 2016 and 2026, adding about 773,800 new jobs to the labor market over that period. The median annual wage across all business and financial occupations as of May, 2018 was $68,350. The BLS also lists the following career–specific median salaries for the same period:

Position Median Salary
Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners $49,370
Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents $54,440
Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate $54,980
Fundraisers $56,950
Training and Development Specialists $60,870
Human Resources Specialists $60,880
Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialists $63,000
Loan Officers $63,040
Market Research Analysts $63,120
Cost Estimators $64,040
Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators $65,670
Labor Relations Specialists $67,790
Insurance Underwriters $69,380
Accountants and Auditors $70,500
Logisticians $74,600
Budget Analysts $76,220
Financial Examiners $80,180
Management Analysts $83,610
Financial Analysts $85,660
Personal Financial Advisors $88,890
Medical and Health Services Managers $99,730
Top Executives $104,980
Chief Executives $183,270
Human Resources Managers $113,300
Compensation and Benefits Managers $121,010
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Paying Business Careers

  • Compensation and Benefits Manager

    — $121,010

  • Human Resources Manager

    — $113,300

  • Chief Executives

    — $183,270

  • Top Executives

    — $104,980

  • Medical and Health Services Managers

    — $99,730

  • Personal Finance Advisors

    — $88,890

  • Financial Analysts

    — $85,660

  • Management Analysts

    — $83,610

  • Financial Examiners

    — $80,180

  • Budget Analysts

    — $76,220

Business Licensing and Certifications

When it comes to obtaining a certification or a license to practice your profession, your options are as varied as the nature of a business degree itself. Your specific area of concentration will usually dictate any kind of licensing or certification you might require to legally work in your field.

For instance:

If you pursued a business degree with a focus in accounting, you will require a Certified Public Accounting (CPA) license. Managing payroll duties for a large firm may require you to become a Certified Payroll Professional (CPP), a status awarded by the American Payroll Association.

To become a practicing Actuary, you'll need to obtain a license, which you can do either through the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) or the Society of Actuaries (SOA). Both require completion of specific certification courses and exams.

Indeed, this is something you should bear in mind if you intend to pursue a specific professional concentration. In addition to your undergraduate or postgraduate education, your business degree may require specific licensing or certification. In some cases, you can pursue such certification in tandem with your regular coursework. In other cases, such a CPA, you may be able to continue directly from your undergraduate education, earning the requisite credits to obtain your certification through your college or university.

In any case, if you are pursuing a business degree with a specific concentration, you should try to get a sense, in advance, of what types of certifications you may ultimately need in order to practice. This should help prepare you for the greater investment of time and money that certification will demand.

There are other licenses or certifications that may not be required of your career, but which could help to advance your prospects. You may obtain a business certificate to advance your knowledge and credentials in a specific area of business or you might find that certain business certificate programs are valuable or even necessary to advance professionally. Certificate programs can run the full gamut of subject matter, duration, and accessibility. Some certificate programs can be pursued in tandem with your undergraduate or graduate studies. Others may require completion of your degree program as a prerequisite.

Non-mandatory but potentially valuable certifications may include:

Before entering a licensing or certification program, be sure that it is awarded by a reputable association or group. Most associations or groups will require you to complete an education program or workshop to earn your certification.

Notable Business Associations

Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Some organizations invite you to join after completing a business degree. Others may allow you to join as a student. Look for business associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.

Business Management
Sales & Marketing
Human Resources
Accounting & Finance

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