The business degree is, simply stated, the most popular type of degree offered in American colleges. An oft-quoted reduction by Roaring 20’s President Calvin Coolidge observes that “the chief business of the American people is business.” If the recent batch of college grads is any indication, this oversimplification still carries weight. Indeed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1,895,000 bachelor’s degrees were conferred in 2014 and 2015. Of those, 364,000 were business degrees. Taken together, various types of business degrees account for the largest number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually.
But what is a business degree, and is it right for you? Moreover, should you pursue a Business Administration Degree, a Business Management Degree, or even some area of specialization like human resources, economics, or information technology? What kinds of jobs will you qualify for and what kind of salary could you earn with your business degree? Should you consider advancing toward an MBA or some other graduate level business degree? In other words, what can you do with a business degree?
Sorry to bombard you with a ton of challenging questions, but if you’re going to survive in the world of business, you have to stay on your toes. And you should also know what you’re getting into. Business is a pretty broad and encompassing term. In fact, when you really think about it, the idea of a business degree is kind of vague. It’s up to you to fill in the details.
If you’re already convinced then…well…that was really easy. But hey, you do you. Here’s a look at The 30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration Degree Programs.
If you’d like to learn more first, check out these 10 things you should know before getting a business degree:
1.What Does a Business Degree Mean to You?
First things first. What do you hope to do with your business degree? If variety is the spice of life, then the business degree is among the spiciest of all bachelor’s degrees. Indeed, this is a degree program that you will have a chance to shape. While most bachelor’s degree programs start with the same basic building blocks — business theory, organizational management, micro- and macro-economics — you will have the chance to hone your focus as you advance. Do you see yourself as a self-starter? Take classes in entrepreneurship. Do you hope to become a leader in a large corporate enterprise? Pursue courses on organizational psychology and corporate ethics. Do you view yourself as an innovator? Consider courses in organizational transformation. A business degree can mean a lot of things, and there are several different types of business degrees — business management, business administration, etc. — that carry their own requirements and areas of focus. You don’t have to figure it out all at once. But as you get a better sense of how you’d like to channel your business degree, work with your advisors or professors to create an academic program that makes sense for you.
For a more detailed look at the various types of business degrees you could earn, check out What Can I Do with a Business Degree?
2. Never Too Late for a Late Start
Business degrees are certainly popular among traditional college-age students. But non-traditional students, or adult learners, are part of a growing population of online college students. This means that, increasingly, colleges must serve students who already have some real-world experience. For many such students, a business degree is a great way to go, whether it helps you attain the knowledge and credentials to advance in your field, provides you with the insight to further your own enterprise, or it gives you the freedom to change career paths. Don’t let your age deter you from furthering your business education, and don’t presume that because you have already been successful in your field, you couldn’t still achieve greater things with the help of a business degree.
If any of these scenarios applies to you, check out the following articles and find out how a business degree could help advance your career:
- Small Business Owners and Online College
- Business Education for Accidental CEOs and Entrepreneurs
- 9 Tips for Making a Mid-Career Change
3. In the Money?
The potential to earn a good living in business is obviously pretty high. Indeed, on its surface, business is largely about the creation of wealth. This means a business degree or an MBA can provide a clear path to a great career and high earning potential. But this is also where the sheer popularity of the business degree can be considered a drawback. Without a doubt, this degree places you in a huge pool with tons of other candidates, almost 400,000 more every year in fact. How can you avoid treading water with the rest of the flock? Well, bear in mind that the median salary can vary significantly for different business-related roles. Check out the stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a sense of which are among the better-paying roles in business, then set your sights on the one that best combines your passion and skills with your desired earning potential. Also bear in mind that there are additional steps you can take to improve your earning potential.
4. Get Certified
One such step is to pursue professional certificates, either general or specific to your area of specialization. A certificate is typically conferred to indicate that you have met basic qualifying standards — according to an independent professional or educational association — demonstrating certain professional skills, knowledge, or specialized training. This can help highlight special marketable skills in areas such as IT, human resources, Six Sigma management, etc. In some instances, these certificates may even be required in order for you to advance past a certain hierarchical threshold in your organization or industry. Based on your intended area of focus, find out which certificates you might benefit from or be required to obtain. These can help you land a new job or propel you upward within your current organization.
To learn more, check out Best Online Business Certificate Programs.
5. MBA? No Need for a Biz Major!
If you’re looking for other ways to raise your earning potential, or advance within your organization or field, an MBA could be your best bet. Just like certificates, the MBA could set you apart from other candidates in the job market. Perhaps its greater appeal though is the ability of the MBA to create pathways to advancement to those already working in the field. If you are a working professional looking for a new set of skills, ways to update existing skills, or credentials to bust through to the next level in your company, an MBA could get you there. What’s more, a lot of employers are willing to provide financial support to employees who are dedicated to leveraging new skills and credentials to the long-term benefit of the organization. Talk to your employer if this is something you’re interested in pursuing. And don’t sweat it if you majored in communications, or accounting, or even graphic design during your undergraduate years. This isn’t a deal-breaker for a graduate business degree. In fact, many MBA programs are attracted to candidates with diverse interests and experiences.
To learn more, check out The 50 Best Online MBA Programs.
And for a complete look at the various levels and different types of business degrees available, check out Business Administration — From College to Career.
6. This is a Test (or is it?)
Thinking you might want to pursue your MBA? Well, depending on where you choose to earn that advanced degree, you may be required to pass the GMAT or GRE. Either of these standardized exams may be a barrier to entry before you can begin working toward your master’s degree in business. If you happen to be a strong test-taker, this may not be a huge concern for you. But if you aren’t particularly enthusiastic about standardized testing, or exams, or proctors, or #2 pencils, then there are a few things you should know. First, if you are an adult learner with some real-world experience under your belt, some colleges or universities may actually allow you to forego the GMAT or GRE. This is often decided on a case by case basis, and is something you may need to determine with the assistance of an advisor. Second, there are actually some excellent colleges and universities that eschew these standardized tests altogether, offering students top-notch MBA Programs, no GMAT required.
To learn more, check out The Best Online MBA Programs, No GMAT Required.
If your intended MBA program does require GMAT or GRE scores, find out how to ace your exam at our Test Prep Source.
7. Get Tech Savvy
Standardized testing may be optional in some cases, but the technology is not. The proliferation of web technology, cloud computing, and mobile communication devices has forever transformed the business landscape. Being tech savvy is no longer considered a bonus in business. It is a requirement. You must become comfortable with the basic functions of a computer and smart-phone, capable of using web resources to obtain credible information, prepared to navigate technology with awareness of the security risks, and possessed of the basic skills needed to telecommute where necessary. We’re not trying to scare you but this is stuff you’ll need. For adult learners in particular, who have not had the same formative experiences with this technology as have millennial students and job candidates, this is critical stuff. You’ll need it to survive and, at the risk of sounding harsh, you’ll need it to remain relevant. Make sure that the process of earning your business degree, at any level, includes a heathy dose of practice with the relevant technology.
8. We’re Going Global
Speaking of web technology, it has opened up more than just a new technological frontier. It has also erased borders between nations. Business is conducted across time zones, through language barriers, and through differing cultural lenses. In fact, many of the top business degree programs provide a significant academic focus on subjects like globalization, multinational corporate organizations, and intercultural business etiquette. Some programs even give you the chance to study business abroad. These are important opportunities and experiences, and may help to prepare you for an increasingly diverse, interdependent, and global business community.
If you are interested in studying business abroad through an exchange program, take a look at The 100 Best Business & Economics Programs in the World Today.
9. Talk the Talk
There are plenty of ways to channel your business eduction, but very few of them lead to a career where you get to be a wallflower. A job in any business capacity requires you to be a social animal. Effective communication is essential in business. Your ability to express yourself, both verbally and in the written medium, can be a strong determinant of your future potential. You may need to give presentations. You may need to write reports. You might need to create a sales pitch that members of your team will ultimately use out in the field. Or you may simply require the gift of gab to schmooze at happy hours and lunch-meetings. There are a lot of different ways to do business, but your talent at crafting and delivering a message, as well as reading and taking cues from partners, colleagues and clients, will be tantamount to your success. A business degree will give you lots of opportunities to practice business writing and public speaking. Use those opportunities to get good at it.
To find out how those skills might apply to your future job, check out these 100 Business Careers.
10. Stop, Collaborate, and Listen
Finally, remember how important it is to play well with others. Business is all about collaboration, partnership, the nurturing of relationships, and the fostering of shared opportunities. You can’t go it alone, so you’d better get good at working with others. Sometimes this may mean working on a team of equals. Sometimes, it may require you to delegate responsibilities to others. And let’s be honest, if you’re just starting out, in most cases it means knowing how to work under the authority of others. This is true whether you have a really cool boss who plays bass for a ska band on the weekends or you work for a cartoonish supervillian that you’re pretty sure is a soulless vampire. Point is, you have to be ready, willing and able to work with, and for, all kinds of personality types. As you pursue a business degree, pay close attention to subjects like I/O Psychology and organizational culture. Here, you’ll gain a better understanding of human behavior within organizations, and you’ll gain the skills to navigate this behavior while forging successful working relationships.
If you’re interested in earning a business degree but time or money are a factor, consider the following options. Each of these provides a convenient, flexible, and accessible path to an affordable business degree: