Business Degree Guide
Resources on this page
Compare your options for online and traditional brick-and-mortar business programs.
Compare your personality to the character traits of successful business students, and see how you measure up.
You can study business at all degree levels. See which is best for you based on your career goals.
Get a head start in school by checking out the courses you'll take in an accredited business program.
Discover How You’ll Study Business
Business degree programs are offered online and in a traditional classroom setting, with some schools providing hybrid degree programs that blend online coursework with face-to-face study. The right choice for you depends on your schedule and the way you like to study.
A disadvantage to online programs is that they do not offer as many opportunities for interaction or networking as traditional programs, so if you are just beginning your career, you should emphasize building connections with people while you get your degree.
Even so, an online MBA can be a good choice for current professionals who have already begun to establish their careers but would like more upward mobility. An online MBA program can fit into a business professional’s schedule, and some employers are willing to sponsor their employees during their MBA studies.
Before You Apply: Decide if Business is a Good Fit
To decide if business is the right fit for your personality, you can compare yourself to characteristics that businesspeople typically possess. Smart businesspeople are able to process information quickly in order to make effective decisions that improve work processes and increase productivity.
If you want to study business, you should be able to:
- Work well with others
- Identify and solve problems
- Understand how to use data to make decisions and to measure performance
- Manage multiple objectives at the same time
- Communicate clearly, both orally and in writing
- Develop conflict resolution and people management skills
- Have a specific interest in continually learning one or more areas of business
If most or all of these characteristics describe you, you are likely to enjoy studying business.
You should also know that after graduation, business can be a stressful career, especially if you want to work in a fast-paced technology startup or in a high-growth corporate environment. Unless you plan to start your own business, you should plan on working for many years in varying roles as an individual contributor before having the opportunity to manage. If you desire to grow into a leadership or executive role, you must be willing to make decisions that will affect anyone who works with you and you must remain committed to your growth as an individual and as a manager along the way.
Regardless of your career path you should ask yourself if you want to be dedicated to your business job. At times, you should expect to work as long as it takes to finish a task—which is often more than a typical 40-hour workweek. The work you do will require attention to detail even while managing several projects and balancing multiple responsibilities.
You must also have the capacity to get along with people of all backgrounds because your peers, partners, and customers are varied. You will have to communicate, negotiate and compromise with them daily.
Before you get started go
Talking to people who have practiced business in a variety of environments is the best way to find out if business is the right path for you. This will serve a dual purpose of helping you to build your network of relationships, which are essential to your success as a businessperson. Additionally, you should look through online business resources, including linkedin.com and the Wall Street Journal, to develop an accurate picture of the business world.
Still Interested? Determine What Type of Business Degree is Right for You
Business is a broad field comprised of many academic areas and subsequent career paths. As you study business, you’ll learn about topics like marketing, accounting, finance, operations, sales, human resources, and logistics. A traditional or online degree in business will teach you about all the major areas of business operation, providing a broad base of knowledge that will let you pursue a wide range of business jobs.
In contrast, specialized business degrees, such as economics, marketing, and logistics, will give you a deeper understanding of a specific business competency. Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself whether a general business degree or a focused degree is best for you. When deciding how you will study business, think about the following:
Define your educational and career aims
A general business degree is best suited to students who are unsure what business career they want to pursue. General business classes online or in a traditional classroom will provide you with valuable knowledge for starting a career and supplement another skill set such as technical expertise or writing ability. The skills you will learn by studying business, like analytical thinking, data management, balancing budgets, and communication, and will be applicable to many careers and you won’t be pigeon-holed into pursuing just one position.
If you know you want to pursue employment in a corporate system, own your own business, or work as a middle manager, you should earn a general business degree, which will afford you greater flexibility should you choose to specialize later on in your career. A general business degree is also a good idea if you are interested in pursuing an MBA later on, as many MBA programs require the same courses as the advanced portions of general business bachelor’s degrees. This will provide you an advantage in your MBA studies.
Finally, if you aren’t sure what area of the field you want to pursue, a general undergraduate business degree exposes you to areas that you might choose to pursue as a specialization, whether professionally or through more advanced degree work.
Determine how specialization can help your career
Despite the broad foundation a general business degree provides, it is not the best choice for every student. The hiring market is saturated with business graduates, so a general business degree will make securing employment challenging if you are not able to distinguish yourself from other applicants. One way to stand out among a crowd of business degree-holders is to earn a degree in a specialized area of business.
For instance, if you know that you want to work as a financial analyst on Wall Street, it makes more sense to earn a typical four-year finance degree as opposed to a general business degree, which will simply introduce you to finance. On the other hand, if you want to be a bookkeeper or administrative assistant, a typical two-year online associates degree in business is sufficient. Most corporations prefer candidates who have an MBA or other graduate business degree for business careers in upper management positions. If you have the time, get an MBA while you can from an online or traditional program, before the demands of work get in the way.
Beware of licensing requirements
In certain business positions, you will need a license to perform some of the duties of the job. Accountants, for example, must receive a license to use the title of Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and this license requires you to take a specific curriculum as part of your business degree and to pursue post-graduate certification. Other business professions, such as customs brokers, also require licenses. For these fields, a general business degree is not a good choice and you should earn a focused degree in accounting or finance instead. Of course, this is not just the case with accounting, but is true of several business-related careers, so you should carefully research the concentration you want to study before choosing whether to earn a general business degree or a more focused one.
Explore Your Business Degree Options
Business degrees can be earned at any level of education. Students at traditional schools or accredited online business schools can earn the following types of degrees:
Associate’s Degree in Business
Best for: Students who want general business knowledge; students who are unsure they want to commit to the business field; students interested in positions as administrative assistants or bookkeepers
Length: 2 years
Credits required: 60 credits
- Introduction to Business
- Business Law
- Marketing Principles
- Public Relations
Bachelor’s Degree in Business
Best for: Students interested in beginning a corporate career; students interested in starting a business
Length: 4 years
Credits required: 120 credits
- Business Ethics
- International Management
- Organizational Behavior
- Business Statistics
- Leadership and Human Relations
Master of Business Administration
Best for: Professionals who want to advance their careers; executives who want to become familiar with other areas of business
Length: 1–3 years
Credits required: 45–60 credits
- Financial Accounting
- Microeconomic Analysis
- Decision Support Models
- Ethical Leadership
- Supply Chain Management
Doctor of Business Administration
Best for: Experienced professionals and academics interested in applying business research to advance their organization
Length: 3–6 years
Credits required: Varies; dissertation required
- Qualitative Research Methods
- Management Research in Practice
- Organizational Research
- Dissertation Proposal
PhD in Business
Best for: Business professionals and researchers who want to conduct academic research or teach at the college level
Length: 3–6 years
Credits required: Varies; dissertation required
- Economic Foundations of Strategic Research
- Econometric Methods
- Finance Research Workshop
Find Out What Business Programs Will Teach You
Whether you pursue traditional or online business degrees, you will take the following business courses at accredited institutions:
Human Resource Management
Information Systems Management
Supply Chain Management
How do I choose the best business program?
Consider the following when you look into business programs:
Investigate the value of accreditation
Specialized business accreditation differs from school accreditation. A school can be accredited as a general provider of education but not have the specialized accreditation that guarantees that its business programs meet current professional standards. Therefore, when looking at a school’s accreditation, you should check for specialized accreditation from the Association to Advance Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Schools accredited by these agencies have met standards set by academics and professionals in the business field and an accredited business degree will be respected by potential employers.
Explore your program’s internship opportunities
Although internships are not always essential for employment in the business world, completing one will improve your chances of being hired. Internships provide networking opportunities and practical experience, both of which are valuable for securing your first position in the business world. If you want to improve your chances of getting a job, make sure you find an internship opportunity before graduation.
Examine business school rankings
Online business degree rankings can be found through organizations like U.S. News & World Report, which uses a peer assessment survey to rank schools on overall business strength as well as strength in a variety of specializations. Schools are ranked based on several factors including the academic rigor of their curriculum and the experience of the faculty. All schools that appear in these rankings have specialized business accreditation from the AACSB.