Business Administration Majors Guide

Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Study Business?

A career in business is more varied than most people realize. It can involve the obvious functions such as management and marketing, but there's an increasing need for business majors to apply their skills in government, international commerce, health care, arts, and nonprofit organizations. Business principles can serve as the backbone for economic, political and social systems at all levels.

Your business degree can be applied to virtually any industry and can also be used to help you start your own business. Many students start their professional training with an undergraduate business or business administration degree and proceed to graduate school or an MBA (Master's of Business Administration). Many working adults take online college courses in everything from business management to financial planning, making it easier to advance or change careers even after you've started working.

A business degree provides a broad exposure to all the crucial elements that make an organization function well. It doesn't provide the specialization that more targeted degrees do (such as finance or accounting), but is valuable in its generalist approach. You'll get an overview of many functions in the business world and base your studies on how these functions interact.

What makes a good business major? Any business degree will involve working with numbers and statistical analysis, so you should be comfortable with math. You should also have the ability to 'see the big picture' when it comes to organizational structures, taking into consideration the goals of the group, considering the raw materials or rough data, and developing plans to move projects forward. As a business school student, you should have the ability to communicate concise written and verbal information, excel at team work, and work well under sometimes sustained pressure.

Why Get a Business Degree?

With over one million college graduates entering the American workforce every year, employers' expectations are rising. Business is one area where continuing education--even for established professionals--is crucial in order to remain competitive. A results-oriented business education, one which combines real-life applications with established theories, is important for your success in our increasingly global and technologically sophisticated business world.

A college degree in business is a highly practical area of study, since the curriculum provides students with so much real-world experience--and thus a smoother transition from school to career. Even so, students are advised to be prepared for the constant changes in the job market. Instead of focusing your studies on a high-demand field, pursue a path that is more in line with your own interests and talents. There's no way to predict how the market will change, so look at your education as a jumping-off point rather than a definitive line to a specific job title or industry. Take the time to do an assessment of what you have to offer, your interests, and your ultimate goals and needs.

Depending on which area you specialize in, the many hats you could wear would include: problem solver, innovative thinker, compulsive listener, and confident pioneer.

Types of Business Degrees

Whether you study on campus or online, college courses in business and business administration can lead directly towards fast-track positions. Your business degree will develop your leadership skills and train you to approach obstacles with proven methods and innovative solutions. Business degree programs generally include courses in accounting, finance, management, quantitative analysis, and computer applications. You'll also study organizational behavior, ethics, change management, social interaction, and business-based research.

Deciding which degree to earn depends on your own interests, qualifications and goals. From associate degrees to Ph.Ds, there's a huge variety of curricula and individual course options. Many business degree programs have an emphasis in one particular function, such as management, communications or e-commerce.

Associate Degrees in Business

If you're not ready to commit to a full bachelor's degree in business or business administration, associate degrees provide a solid foundation for future coursework. You'll enhance your career options and have applicable credits for a bachelor's, should you decide to go for one in the future.

Browse associate degree programs in business.

Bachelor's Degrees in Business

A bachelor's degree in business or business administration is generally the minimum requirement for entry-level business careers. As a graduate of a bachelor of business administration (BBA) program, you will be prepared to pursue a variety of entry-level positions in fields that include accounting, financial services, economics, personnel resources, and sales and marketing. If you're already working in one of those fields and want to advance or switch careers, consider online business administration degrees, most of which are tailored towards the needs of working adults. Some schools award college credit towards your business degree based on your previous coursework and work experience.

If you are already a working professional with industry certification in insurance, financial planning or banking industries, an online bachelor's degree in business professional studies allows you to combine that official certification with a the courses you need to get your bachelor's degree in business. Professional certifications often involve quite rigorous exams after extensive academic training, but do not provide you with an actual bachelor's degree. Rather than starting from scratch, these programs specifically acknowledge your accomplishments and tailor your curriculum to fill in the courses you need to obtain a degree.

Browse bachelor's degree programs in business.

Certificate Programs in Business

Undergraduate certificate are best used as an enhancement to your education or career. Working professionals who need new expertise in a specific area benefit the most from certificate programs. These short, self-contained programs can be completed in as little as 16 semester hours of credit and are most often offered in specific fields such as marketing, e-commerce, accounting and so on.

Browse certificate programs in business.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Business?

If you think of a business degree as a general foundation rather than a specialized training program, then you can visualize the endless selection of careers that are open to you.

In sales, your focus is to connect and build relationships with consumers. The job descriptions can range from point-of-sale work (connecting directly with the consumer) to advertising, career counseling, marketing management, product representation, realty, and travel and hospitality.

As healthcare takes on a more business-like approach--HMO, after all, stands for Health Management Organization -- health care management degrees have become astronomically popular. Business-oriented healthcare degrees are designed to help professionals handle increased costs, human resource logistics, diverse economic considerations for patients, and insurance regulations.

In the nonprofit sector you'll find many of the same types of job descriptions and titles, but the motivating factors differ from regular business, and the economic constraints are unique. Nonprofit organizations need qualified business professionals to make their programs work, to service consumers and investors, and to uphold responsible financial management practices.

Business managers

Business managers will generally have a bachelor's degree in business or business administration with a specialization appropriate for their industry. The common job description is to develop, oversee, and organize operations, and the hours are often longer than lower level careers. 

Retail managers

Retail managers look after all aspects of profitable operations where goods are being sold. They hire and train staff, manage inventory, maintain sales floor displays, and uphold good customer relations policies. A college degree is preferred and many larger retailers provide comprehensive training programs. Retail managers can move into buyer positions for larger retailers and increase their earning potential.

Purchasers and buyers

Purchasers and buyers choose the appropriate commodities or services, choose suppliers, negotiate the lowest price, and award contracts that ensure the correct amount of product is received on time. An excellent understanding of consumer purchasing trends within the context of production, distribution, and merchandising factors is important. Your job can involve long and unusual hours and travel as you attend conferences, fashion shows or trade fairs. Demand for this career has slowed since the streamlining technology of the Internet, so an advanced education will be important for competing and retaining the jobs that are available. 


As a trader, you'll advance faster with a master's degree in business administration (MBA). This career demands an aggressive personality which thrives on the risk of buying and selling of stocks, bonds, and options.

Hospital administrators

Hospital administrators make sure hospitals and clinics are running efficiently - balancing the compassionate need to provide health care with the need to maintain a healthy operating budget. An undergrad can work with a health care to gain experience before pursuing his or her master's degree in business, public administration, or health services administration, which is preferred at this level.

Certification and Licensure

You'll need to tailor your certification to your specific career. As a business professional, you'll want to obtain official certification and /or licenses as required for your field. For example, there are designations such as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA) for accountants; Certificate in Financial Planning (CFP) or Registered Financial Consultants (RFC) designation for financial planners; Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) for project managers; and regional real estate licenses for realtors.

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