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How To Choose A Business Program That's Right For You

For those who want plenty of job options, a career in business can be a top choice. Students who study business may go on to become entrepreneurs, managers, consultants or one of any number of other jobs.

While business offers plenty of opportunities, it can also be overwhelming for those who are new to the field. With so many degrees and schools available, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you. Fortunately, it's not as hard as it seems. Here are five easy steps that outline exactly how to choose a business program. When you're done here, check out our list of the 10 best business careers out there.

1. Visualize where your career is going

The first step to selecting the right business program is to understand what you hope to do with your degree. Business degrees may offer a variety of specializations including the following choices.

It's easier to determine how to choose a business major if you have a career path in mind. Spend some time exploring business careers to decide which area of business most interests you and select your major accordingly.


Show me the money: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chief executives had average incomes of $180,700 in 2014. Marketing managers have the second highest paid business occupation, and they earn average annual incomes of $137,400.


2. Take stock of your education needs

Once you know which career path interests you, it's time to evaluate the level of education you'll need to reach your final destination.

Associate degrees in business are available, but most employers are seeking job candidates with at least a bachelor's degree in business administration. If you hope to rise in the ranks to a leadership position, you may want to consider pursuing a master's in business administration, most commonly known as an MBA.

If you already have an undergraduate degree, you may be able to go straight to an MBA program. If you still need to earn your bachelor's degree, you have two options. You can earn a bachelor's in business administration or you could choose a different field with the intent of getting your MBA in the future.

For example, computer and information systems managers typically need both technical computer skills as well as business management skills. A student might choose to earn their undergraduate degree in computer science or information technology and then go on to study for an MBA in management.


In good company: Business is the most popular major for undergrads. The National Center for Education Statistics reports business majors accounted for 367,000 of the 1.8 million bachelor's degrees awarded during the 2011-12 school year.


3. Decide on the program format

By now, your program choices should be narrowing. You should know what major you'd like to pursue and which level of degree you need. The next step on how to choose a business program is to decide on a format.

Business degrees are delivered two ways: on-campus and online. On-campus programs may be best for students who thrive on face-to-face interaction and have time to attend classes during the day or on nights and weekends. On the other hand, online business degrees can be ideal for busy adults who have jobs and families which make it hard to commit to a classroom schedule.

If you're planning to earn an MBA, you have additional choices to consider. MBAs may be offered as full-time, part-time or executive programs. Full-time programs may require students to take time off work to devote to their studies, but some condensed programs can be completed in as little as a year. Part-time programs may allow students to continue working while studying but can take up to three years to complete. Executive programs are generally only available to those who already have extensive business experience.


Going virtual: Many highly respected business schools have put their MBA programs online. These include the business schools at Indiana University, University of North Carolina, Temple University and Arizona State University.


4. Weigh the options offered by each school

Now that you should know which business programs will meet your needs, it's time to whittle them down to which will fit your learning style and career goals. These are a few of the things to consider when selecting a business program.

  • Campus culture (for on-campus degree programs)
  • Asynchronous and synchronous requirements (for online degree programs)
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • Outcomes for recent graduates
  • Program focus (academic vs. practical)
  • Career support services

Most of all, you need to find a school that feels right to you. In addition, it needs to be an institution that stands behind its degrees and provides appropriate support to help its graduates succeed in the workforce. If you want to know how to find a business program that meets that last criteria, a quick look at retention and graduation rates as well as job placement for recent grads should tell you.


Take your time: The 2014 mba.com Prospective Students Survey found MBA students, on average, submitted their first application 4.5 years after completing their undergraduate studies.


5. Look off the beaten path

Finally, when looking for a business program, don't limit yourself to only the mostly highly ranked schools. While they may provide an excellent education and a stellar credential for your resume, they also tend to be highly selective and very expensive.

According to an analysis conducted by website Poets & Quants, the top ten MBA programs in the U.S. accepted only 16.4 percent of applicants in 2014. U.S News & World Report found the ten most expensive private business schools in the country had average tuitions of $62,000 during the 2013-2014 school year.

Rather than insist on a big-name business school, take some time to explore lesser known institutions that may deliver a similar quality education for less money.


Head north: The Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario may not be as well-known, but its graduates got high marks in the Bloomberg Recruiter Report.


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Figuring out how to choose a business program can seem overwhelming, but these five steps should help make your decision clear. Start by learning more about education paths for careers in business today.

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Sources:
1. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#13-00002. Most popular majors, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=373. Types of MBA programs, The Princeton Review, http://www.princetonreview.com/business-school-advice/types-of-mba-programs4. Best Online MBA Programs, U.S. News & World Report, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/mba/rankings5. Acceptance Rates for the Top 50 U.S. Business Schools, John A. Byrne, Poets & Quants, march 26, 2015, http://poetsandquants.com/2015/03/26/getting-into-an-elite-business-school-remains-extremely-tough/6. The Bloomberg Recruiter Report, http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-job-skills-report/7. 10 Most Expensive Private Business Schools, U.S. News & World Report, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/the-short-list-grad-school/articles/2014/08/19/10-most-expensive-private-business-schools8. 2014 mba.com Prospective Student Survey, GMAT, http://www.gmac.com/~/media/Files/gmac/Research/prospective-student-data/2014_surveyreport-mba-com_prospective_web-release.pdf