Business Majors Guide

Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Study Business?

A career in business is more varied than most people realize. Business degrees provide broad academic exposure to the critical elements that make organizations function efficiently. Thus, a business major can apply their skills to virtually any industry.

Students studying business receive an overview of the most important concepts related to business. They learn various business theories and are taught how they apply in the real world. Although a general degree in business doesn't provide the specialization that more targeted degrees do (such as in finance or accounting), it is still valuable in its generalist approach.

Types of Business Degrees

Business programs are a perfect fit for students seeking the flexibility of online degrees. The concepts and ideas taught in traditional business courses transfer exceptionally well to the online environment. Many students start their professional training with an undergraduate business or business administration degree, then proceed into the workforce. Others choose to pursue their education further, earning an MBA (Master's of Business Administration). Certificate programs, associate and bachelor's degrees, and master's degree programs can all be found either on-campus or online.

Certificate Programs in Business

Undergraduate certificates are best used as a compliment to other non-business degrees and may help advance your education and career. Generally, they allow non-business students the opportunity to develop a basic foundational understanding of how businesses operate. Core courses may include:

  • Fundamentals of Accounting
  • Marketing Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Intro to Finance

Associate Degrees in Business

If you're not ready to commit to a bachelor's degree, an associate degree provides a solid foundation of business knowledge. Earning an associate degree in business may help graduates obtain entry-level jobs at a variety of different corporations. Additionally, associate degrees are an excellent way to prepare for future coursework. Generally, you can save money by taking many of the courses required for a bachelor's degree prior to enrolling at a four-year institution. Please note that you should always research which credits will transfer to a bachelor's degree program if you select this option. Core courses usually include:

  • Introduction to Marketing
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Microeconomics
  • Applied Statistics

Bachelor's Degrees in Business

A bachelor's degree in business or business administration is commonly the minimum requirement for entry-level business careers. After completing a bachelor's degree program, you should understand basic marketing techniques, organizational concepts and issues, contracts and negotiations, and the fundamental accounting concepts that drive business decisions. This knowledge often prepares you to pursue a variety of positions in fields such as sales and marketing, financial services, economics, management, and more. If you are already working in the field, you may be able to apply any previous coursework or work experience toward degree credits. Typical course requirements include:

  • Financial and Managerial Accounting
  • Project Management
  • Strategic Business Planning
  • Corporate Finance
  • Concepts of Business Management

Master's Degrees in Business

A master's degree in business or business administration is typically required if you wish to pursue mid-level or upper-management positions within a large company. If you're interested in exploring advanced business and entrepreneurial concepts, a master's degree may also be right for you. MBA programs can be specialized or general in nature. Online programs are a great fit if you're a working adult looking to advance your current career. Generally speaking, earning a master's degree in business takes about two years and often requires completion of a capstone course, where you'll be required to demonstrate an understanding of all the materials and theories you learned throughout your education. Core courses may include:

  • Organizational Design and Development
  • Operations Management
  • Marketing Management
  • Financial Management

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Business?

Because a business degree provides a broad foundational education rather than specialized training, a business major can apply their degree to a nearly unlimited number of careers. Business graduates typically take on roles in management and marketing, but that's not their only option. There is an increasing need for these types of skills in government, international commerce, healthcare, arts, and nonprofit organizations. Business principles can serve as the backbone for economic, political, and social systems at all levels.

Sales Managers

Sales is one of the most important aspects of any business, and great sales managers help facilitate a company's growth. Sales managers lead and direct a company's sales team, although duties vary from one company to another. Most sales managers analyze both individual and team results. Then, they advise and instruct their sales representatives on how to improve their performance. Sales managers help motivate their team through goal setting and training programs. Additionally, a sales manager may be charged with hiring and firing, assigning sales territories, and maintaining relationships with distributors and customers.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor's degree plus work experience is typically required.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Certifications and licensure varies by industry.

Buyers and Purchasing Agents

Buyers and purchasing agents are tasked with buying goods and services created by others that can be resold for a profit. Common job requirements include selecting the appropriate commodities or services, choosing suppliers, negotiating for the lowest price, and awarding 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. This job may involve long and unusual hours. Traveling to conferences, trade shows, and to meet with clients may also be required.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor's degree plus on-the-job training is typically needed.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Certifications vary by job. Some popular certifications include the Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM), Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP), Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), Senior Professional in Supply Management (SPSM), Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB), and Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO).

Financial Services Sales Agents

Financial services sales agents help companies and individuals conduct sales and purchases in the financial marketplace. As a financial services sales agent, duties may include establishing relationships with new and potential clients, maintaining existing client relationships, advising clients on the purchase or sale of financial securities or commodities, executing buy and sell agreements, monitoring the performance of securities in the market, and analyzing an individual's or company's financial standing in relation to their stated goals. Specializations within the industry include brokers, investment bankers, sales agents, floor brokers, and more.

  • Minimum Educational Requirements: A bachelor's degree is usually required for entry-level jobs. Master's degrees are often required for advanced managerial positions.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Licensure is required by the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA) and varies by job title and duties. Well-known certifications include the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification and the Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

Human Resources Managers

Human resources managers connect an organization's employees with the upper-level management of the company. This means overseeing the company's recruitment and hiring practices, managing the company's benefits programs, consulting with management about employment regulations, handling employee concerns and disputes with management, and making recommendations on how management can utilize the talent at their disposal. Payroll and employee development may also fall under their umbrella of required duties.

  • Minimum Educational Requirements: A bachelor's degree in human resources or a related business field is typically required. Some companies may require a master's degree.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Certification is generally voluntary. Some popular associations include the Human Resource Certification Institute, Society for Human Resource Management, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, and WorldatWork.

Hospital and Health Services Administrators

Hospital and health services administrators make sure hospitals and clinics are running efficiently, balancing the compassionate need to provide healthcare with the need to maintain a healthy operating budget. Duties may include improving quality and efficiency, creating and monitoring departmental goals, recruiting and hiring new talent, preparing and analyzing budgets, maintaining facility records, ensuring compliance with legal requirements, and communicating with staff. Hospital and health services administrators can be found working in hospitals, nursing homes, private practices, and most other healthcare facilities.

  • Minimum Educational Requirements: Applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree, although master's degrees are often preferred.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Licenses and certifications often vary by the type of facility being managed.

Business Associations and Organizations

Because a business degree offers such a wide variety of employment opportunities, the number of associations and organizations available to business majors varies widely by industry. Certifications and association memberships should be tailored to fit specific careers.

For example, those interested in the field of accounting may wish to pursue the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Project managers may wish to obtain the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) through the Project Management Institute. Real estate agents are often certified by regional and state organizations.

Additionally, a number of associations and organizations welcome local business people to join their groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce seeks to advance the interests of business owners in both houses of Congress. Local Chambers of Commerce provide an excellent opportunity for business people to meet and network with one another. Meanwhile, service clubs like Rotary International, Lions Club International, and Kiwanis International also provide opportunities for business people to network and be of service to their communities and the global community at-large.


  1. Buyers and Purchasing Agents, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/buyers-and-purchasing-agents.htm
  2. Human Resources Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm
  3. Medical and Health Services Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
  4. Sales Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/sales-managers.htm
  5. Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/securities-commodities-and-financial-services-sales-agents.htm

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