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Business Degree & Career Guide
What to expect from a business degree program
As a versatile degree that can prepare students for careers across nearly every industry, business is one of the most popular fields of study for college students of all levels.
Business programs are available at all post-secondary education levels, from associate to doctorate degrees, making this an ideal choice for students regardless of where they are in their college journey. Students who earn a degree in business go on to work in fields like marketing, finance, human resources, project management, international business, and more.
Individuals with business skills are in demand, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting faster-than-average job growth for business and financial occupations during the next decade. According to their estimates, there will be more than 911,000 new business-related job openings, on average, per year through 2032.
Types of business degrees
For students starting their post-secondary educational journey or switching careers from a different field, an associate degree in business can provide a solid foundation in business skills and concepts. The curriculum will introduce students to business basics like finance and accounting, communication and business writing, business information systems, marketing, economics, and more. Depending on the program, students may also be required to take some general education courses and complete an internship. An associate degree in business will prepare students for entry-level jobs.
Degrees available: Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), Associate of Business Administration
Minimum credits: 60
Average length of program: 2 years full-time
A bachelor’s degree in business prepares students for entry- and mid-level jobs by covering essential introductory and intermediate theories and skills. The core curriculum for these programs includes coursework in crucial business areas like analytics, marketing, finance, accounting, communications, management, and more. Many programs allow students to specialize in one of these areas, creating a valuable depth of knowledge. Internships are common for bachelor’s in business degree programs.
Degrees available: Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA)
Minimum credits: 120
Average length of program: 4 years full-time
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Students of all educational and professional backgrounds choose to pursue an MBA, one of the most flexible graduate degrees available. From general MBAs open to all students to executive MBAs designed for seasoned professionals, this degree teaches the advanced business principles and skills students need to seek high-level or leadership roles. Students can also choose to get an MBA in a specific area, such as finance, marketing, or entrepreneurship, for focused study in their area of interest. The curriculum for an MBA may also include internship and capstone project requirements.
Degrees available: Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Minimum credits: 36
Average length of program: 2 years
While an MBA will qualify an individual for most of the highest positions within the business world, some students may choose to go further and earn a doctorate in business, the terminal degree in this field. A DBA will help students develop highly advanced and specialized skills through coursework, independent study, and hands-on learning experiences. Those who earn a DBA can go on to serve as chief executives of companies, start their own businesses, conduct research in business-related areas, and teach at the post-secondary level.
Degrees available: Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA)
Minimum credits: 60
Average length of program: 2 years
Because business encompasses such a range of aptitudes and fields, there are several specialization options open to students in business degree programs. Students should note the difference between earning a business degree with a specialization in a particular field, and earning a degree in that specific area of study. A business degree with a specialization will include general business-related courses and in-depth study in the concentration area.
Some popular business specializations include:
Accounting: Students learn how to maintain and report financial records for individuals, businesses, and organizations. Individuals interested in becoming certified public accountants (CPA), auditors, or account managers may find this specialization beneficial.
Entrepreneurship: This concentration is ideal for students who want to own and operate their own businesses. Students will learn critical skills in management, operations, finance, innovation, marketing, and more to help them be successful business owners.
Finance: Students who want to focus on financial management, investments, strategy, and risk management may pursue a finance specialization. This versatile concentration can lead to employment as a financial advisor, budget analyst, and chief financial officer.
Healthcare administration: Operating healthcare facilities and systems requires specialized business skills, which is why some programs offer healthcare administration or management as a concentration. In addition to marketing, finance, and human resources in healthcare settings, programs also introduce medical-specific topics like coding and billing, healthcare law and policy, and bioinformatics.
Human resources: This concentration covers all essential topics in the human resources field, including recruitment, employee training and development, compensation and benefits, performance management, labor relations, and organizational behavior. With an HR concentration, graduates can work as HR managers, talent development specialists, recruiters, or benefits coordinators.
Information technology: A specialization in information technology allows students to combine technical and business skills. The curriculum will include courses in project management, database development and applications, and enterprise systems deployment to prepare graduates for jobs as database administrators, IT specialists, app developers, and more.
International business: For those who want to engage in business on a global level, a concentration in international business will provide the necessary training. Students will study foreign trade, international communications, global supply-chain management, importing and exporting, and more.
Marketing: Students who want to work as brand managers, market research analysts, or chief marketing officers may wish to specialize in marketing. This concentration develops students’ skills related to digital and social media marketing, brand management, market analysis, research, and more.
The Best Business Degree Programs
This list features some of the best business degree programs in the U.S. The schools on this list are non-profit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with high-quality standards for post-secondary education.
We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, faculty, reputation, student resources, and admission, retention, and graduation rates. We also compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others. Using this data, we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.
Because their skills are applicable in most workplace settings, business majors are employed in nearly every industry, including healthcare, finance, retail, tech, education, and more.
Most entry-level and some mid-level jobs are available to students with undergraduate degrees, while earning an MBA can help professionals develop skills for leadership or management positions. Career progression in the business field can be linear or nonlinear. Some workers may focus on rising through the ranks at a particular company, while others may develop a career specialization over time or follow an entrepreneurial path and start their own business.
Overall, the job outlook for occupations in business and finance is strong. According to the BLS, there will be 911,400 new job openings per year, on average, through 2032.
Some fast-growing occupations in the business field include:
Project management specialists coordinate the various moving pieces of projects both internally at companies and externally between clients. They work in various settings and often work as part of teams. Key responsibilities include developing project plans, communicating with all parties to determine project objectives and deadlines, monitoring budgets, reviewing and approving modifications, and more.
Also known as consultants, management analysts help companies and organizations run more efficiently. They often work on a contractual basis and may specialize in specific industries like healthcare, education, or government. They focus on gathering and analyzing information about an organization, developing new strategies or systems to improve efficiency, and writing reports detailing findings.
A financial manager oversees the finances of an individual, company, or organization. Their responsibilities include preparing financial reports and forecasts, directing investments, advising management on budgeting decisions, managing employees within the finance department, and more. Financial managers work across many industries, including banking and insurance, healthcare, government, and more.
Should I get a business degree in person or online?
Earning a business degree online can be convenient and cost-effective, but it doesn’t mean this learning environment is right for everyone. How a student earns their degree depends on their individual preferences and logistical needs.
With online programs, students have the advantage of being able to learn anywhere, at any time. This flexibility can make a degree much more accessible for individuals who are working, raising children, caring for family members, or living far from a brick-and-mortar school. However, students in online programs must be comfortable learning autonomously and holding themselves accountable for completing assignments and lessons on time.
Students who may need more learning support or learn better through discussions and hands-on projects may find they’re better suited for an in-person program. Another option is to seek out hybrid programs, which include online and in-person classes.
Is a business degree worth it?
Earning any type of degree is an investment of time, money, and energy. But for those students who are able to prioritize their education and focus on developing their skills and knowledge, a business degree can be very rewarding.
From an ROI perspective, business is a lucrative field to enter. The median annual salary for business and finance occupations is $76,850, compared to the median annual salary for all jobs, $46,310. Pay increases as employees move up the ranks, with managers earning a median annual salary of $107,360.
Demand is expected to be high for business and finance employees throughout the next decade, which means individuals with business educations should see relative job stability. A business degree teaches a variety of transferable skills, including communications, public speaking, problem-solving, analysis, leadership, and more, enhancing graduates’ employability across industries.
How can I choose the business degree program that's right for me?
First, gain clarity on your educational and logistical needs. Decide what type of degree you’re seeking and whether you want a general business program or a specialization. Determine whether you want to enroll in an on-campus or online program.
With parameters set, research various schools and programs that meet your criteria. Confirm that any schools you’re considering are accredited. Visit the school’s website, speak to admissions counselors, follow programs on social media, and attend virtual or in-person information sessions to learn more. Students should gather as much information as possible about the program’s curriculum, faculty, admissions requirements, cost, financial aid resources, and student support services. Compare schools based on how well they meet your criteria and apply to the programs that meet all or most of your needs.
How much does a business degree cost?
The cost of a business degree will vary depending on the type of institution, the degree level, and in some cases, the student’s residency status.
For the most accurate information, students should speak to a financial aid representative. Students should also keep in mind that, in addition to tuition, there are also expenses for room and board, university fees, personal technology, transportation, and more.