There's a strong case to be made for business administration as one of the foundational skills of the global economic system, and formal university training in business disciplines can give you invaluable historical context and insight for your own journey up the career ladder. Whether you want to focus on management, accounting, human resources, finance, IT or another aspect of the business world, you can find the training you're looking for at campus-based as well as online business schools all over the country.
Business is one of the most popular subjects among U.S. online education courses, and for good reason. Formal business education can be beneficial to an inordinately wide range of careers, particularly those with a management or executive advancement track, and the course material loses very little in translation to the distance education environment.
According to data pulled from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) database, business programs are well-represented in the classroom as well as on the web. Take a look at how many campus-based and online business programs there are in each region of the U.S.:
|Region||No. of schools offering business degrees||No. of schools with at least one online business degree|
|Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI)||512||128|
|Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO)||152||61|
|Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK)||417||147|
|Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD)||385||195|
|Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV)||1016||391|
|Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI)||554||203|
|Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.)||517||186|
|New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME)||191||77|
|Total (all 50 states)||3744||1388|
Entry-level business degrees
When you're looking to work toward a valuable business skillset and a stable, rewarding career, your first step has got to come from somewhere. Undergraduate degrees in business can be great for getting your foot in the door of your chosen industry, and they're available at campus-based and online business schools all across the country. Here's a quick primer on the first few levels of business education:
- Associate degrees - Traditional as well as online business degrees at the associate level tend to consist of courses that cover the basics of marketing, business communication, business law, ethics, economics and management. There are not many business careers that commonly list an associate degree as an employment requirement — most either ask for a bachelor's degree or a high school diploma, with or without prior work experience — but completing the four semesters of coursework necessary to earn an associate degree can give you a formidable head start on the graduation requirements for a four-year degree.
- Bachelor's degrees - The bachelor's degree is the standard entry-level degree for a plethora of career tracks in the business world, from accounting to marketing to management. Although generalized study of business administration is available at the bachelor's level, students at campus-based and online business schools are often encouraged to choose a subject concentration in which to specialize their study. Common concentrations include marketing, logistics, banking and finance, accounting, international business, information systems, project management, business analysis, healthcare management and more.
- Non-degree study - If you're looking to get just a few business courses under your belt, either to build skills for an existing job or to test the waters for a possible move into further education, non-degree certificate programs might be just what you're looking for. The subject matter covered in certificate courses tends to vary quite a bit, but common subjects of study include organizational behavior, management and marketing principles, business ethics and economics.
Online business schools have been around almost as long as the public Internet itself, and the education delivered by today's hybrid and fully online business degrees is essentially equal to that available from strictly campus-based institutions. Online business degrees do typically cost somewhat less than traditional ones, and they tend to be easier to work into your schedule alongside your existing responsibilities, but the differences don't go much further than that.
Advanced-degree business programs
Some business students go straight into an MBA or other advanced program after graduating — there are multiple schools of thought on that course of action, as you'll see — and others run up against an educational barrier to further advancement in their careers after spending a few years in the workforce on the strength of their bachelor's. Whichever camp you belong to, here's some general info on what to expect if you end up deciding to go back for a campus-based or online business degree at the bachelor's level:
- Master's degree programs - The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is not only the most popular business degree at the graduate level, it's the most popular of all graduate degrees in the country and has been for years. Since it can be earned part-time or full-time, on campus or online, business schools often have an array of specialized MBA programs with similar subject concentrations to those available at the bachelor's level. The MBA isn't the only graduate business degree, of course, it's just the most prevalent — schools are increasingly moving away from the one-size-fits-all MBA specialization model and beginning to offer business master's degrees that are more closely tailored to an individual field.
- Doctorate programs - Students who want to take a more scholarly approach the business world are prime candidates for post-graduate study. Business doctorate programs commonly take shape as either Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programs, although some institutions may offer a Doctor of Management (DM) degree as well, and the differences between them are subtle. Students seeking a Ph.D. in business typically aim to conduct research and develop new theory in the discipline, while DBA students tend to focus on using new research findings alongside existing theory to break new ground in the practical application of business principles.
- Graduate and postgraduate certificates - Non-degree graduate work abounds at both traditional and online business schools, often designed to deliver comprehensive competencies that don't warrant your embarking on a full master's degree program. Certificates in such subjects as business analytics, innovation, real estate, leadership, entrepreneurship, information systems management and more can be found, and credits earned in accredited non-degree programs may also count toward certain graduate degrees.
Unless you go straight into an MBA or similar program after earning your bachelor's, chances are that you'll be invested in a career track before you see fit to seek out graduate business training. Institutions that offer online business degrees often have administrators who understand the difficulty of going back to school in the face of other responsibilities, and the learn-from-home format tends to be fairly compatible with a career-focused lifestyle.
Q&A with an expert
Why would you encourage someone to consider a degree in business?
A business degree is particularly beneficial, as nearly every organization employs applicable practices whether it is a nonprofit organization or one for profit. Having a business education helps you obtain a degree that is multifaceted and useful in any field you may choose.
What are the most common educational paths to business careers?
The most common educational pathways to a career in business are formal and informal. A formal education consists of earning a degree in one of the four core areas: finance, accounting, marketing, and leadership or management. Informal pathways focus on obtaining work experience. This occurs by working ones way up the proverbial ladder, starting at the bottom.
What are the pros and cons of pushing straight through to an MBA vs. getting some experience in the workforce before entering graduate school?
An MBA is a graduate degree and thus students should be ready to study at a different level. A professor does not always lead these courses. Instead, the professor acts as a facilitator of the discussion. Students are actually learning from the experience of each other. For this reason, schools want you to possess some experience so that you can contribute to the discussion. Furthermore, students are able to leverage their experience. You gain a better understanding of the lessons and their applicability when you have experience.
What advice would you have for someone who's just started out on the path to a business degree?
Seek out additional outside experience. Serve on a nonprofit board or participate in community groups. This experience allows you to network with people in the community while building up your portfolio of experience. This makes for an easier transition upon graduation.
Types of business careers
Here's a table of some occupational categories that employ graduates of traditional and online business schools, along with some salary and job growth information pulled from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) databases:
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Business Teachers, Postsecondary||$103,330||84,230||14.7%|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||$152,860||391,430||11.3%|
|Food Service Managers||$58,960||219,160||10.8%|
|Operations Specialties Managers||$132,680||1,853,660||10.1%|
|Training and Development Managers||$121,730||35,690||8.1%|
|Public Relations and Fundraising Managers||$131,570||72,460||7.8%|
|Business Operations Specialists||$73,890||5,022,640||7.4%|
|Administrative Services Managers||$106,050||283,570||7.3%|
|Human Resources Managers||$126,700||143,580||7.1%|
|General and Operations Managers||$123,880||2,289,770||6.9%|
|Other Management Occupations||$100,900||2,510,140||6.4%|
|Advertising, Marketing, Promotions, Public Relations, and Sales Managers||$141,500||717,220||6.3%|
|Business Operations Specialists, All Other||$76,960||1,060,580||6.3%|
|Emergency Management Directors||$82,570||9,550||4.9%|
|Farm and Home Management Advisors||$52,700||8,020||4.5%|
|Advertising and Promotions Managers||$133,090||25,260||3.2%|
|Architectural and Engineering Managers||$148,970||188,290||2.8%|
|Industrial Production Managers||$113,370||181,310||0.7%|
Common misconceptions about business degrees and careers
There's a lot of information passed around about campus-based and online business degrees, and unfortunately not all of it rings true. Before you enroll, make sure you're not harboring any of these misconceptions about business as an academic discipline:
Misconception: Business degrees only lead to boring office jobs.
- Fact: A solid business education can take your career just about anywhere you want it to go. For example, if you want to focus on helping people live healthier lives, you can take your business skills to a nursing, health care or physical therapy facility. If you want to be a part of the exciting world of tech startups, combining a business degree with training in software development or computer programming can help you get started. Even the early childhood education field needs good business minds, to give schools the know-how they need to best marshal their resources and help educational materials companies successfully bring their products to market.
Misconception: So many people get business degrees that they're practically worthless.
- Fact: It's true that business is the most common degree subject at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but the growth of the job market and the ubiquitous value of many business skills makes it unlikely that business degrees will lose their value anytime soon. What's more, degrees in finance, marketing and accounting can prepare you for occupations where the employment projections indicate growth much faster than the national average.
Misconception: Employers don't respect online business degrees.
- Fact: Back when online degrees first hit the career market, the unfamiliarity of the concept brought about some skepticism among HR agents and hiring managers. That was decades ago, however, and online business schools have been around long enough now that most employers don't bother asking or even wondering whether your degree was earned on campus or online. As long as you attend a reputably accredited program, most employers should understand that your education is legitimate.
How can I enroll in an online business degree program?
Individual institutions have their own particular admissions standards and enrollment policies, but the first step toward enrollment is inquiry. Take a look through our listings below, find a few schools that look like they might be a good fit for you and get in touch to find out what your next steps should be.
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed December 20, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
- School pages, accessed December 20, 2015: Business Management Associate Degree, Western Kentucky University, http://www.wku.edu/professionalstudies/businessmanagement.php; Associate Degree in Business, Penn Foster College, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/business-management/business-management-associate-degree; Associate of Applied Science in Business Administration, Kaplan University, http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/business/business-administration-associate-degree.aspx; Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, New England College of Business, http://www.necb.edu/online-degrees/bachelors-degrees/bachelor-of-science-in-business-administration; Bachelor's Degree (BS) in Business Management, University of the District of Columbia, http://www.udc.edu/programs/business_management; Business Degrees, Excelsior College, http://www.excelsior.edu/programs/business/bachelor-degrees; Business Degree Program, University of the Potomac, https://potomac.edu/bachelor-degree/business/#tab-id-3; Business Management Certificate Program, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/undergraduate-certificates/business-management/curriculum/; Business Administration Certificate Completion Plan, Liberty University Online, http://www.liberty.edu/media/1270/CRT_Business%20Administration%202012.pdf; Undergraduate Certificate in International Business, http://www.ggu.edu/programs/business-and-management/undergraduate-certificate-in-international-business; Full-time Master of Business Administration (MBA), The Ohio State University, http://fisher.osu.edu/ftmba/; Online MBA Program, New England College of Business, http://www.necb.edu/online-degrees/masters-degrees/master-of-business-administration; Graduate Degree Business Programs, Sam Houston State University, http://www.shsu.edu/academics/business-administration/graduate-programs/index.html; Graduate Business Programs, Portland State University, http://www.pdx.edu/sba/graduate-business-programs; Ph.D. in Business Administration, University of North Carolina Charlotte, http://Ph.D.-business.uncc.edu/; Ph.D. Program, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/programs/Ph.D.; Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/doctoral/doctor-of-business-administration; Doctor of Management, Colorado Technical University, http://www.coloradotech.edu/degrees/doctorates/management; Graduate Business Certificates, University of Denver, http://daniels.du.edu/academic-programs/certificates-professional-development/graduate-business-certificates/; Graduate Certificate in Business Management, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/certificates/business-management/curriculum
- Primary Difference between a Doctorate in Business Administration & a Business Ph.D., Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, accessed December 20, 2015, http://bestbizschools.aacsb.edu/doctorate/programs/dba.html
- "The Hottest New MBA Is Not an MBA at All," Fortune, Ethan Baron, December 8, 2015, accessed December 20, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/12/08/specialized-business-masters/
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed December 20, 2015: Buyers and Purchasing Agents, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/buyers-and-purchasing-agents.htm; Financial Examiners, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-examiners.htm; Budget Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/budget-analysts.htm; Fundraisers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/fundraisers.htm; Administrative Services Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/administrative-services-managers.htm; Sales Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/sales-managers.htm; Personal Financial Advisors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm; Accountants and Auditors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm; Public Relations Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/public-relations-managers.htm; Top Executives, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/top-executives.htm;
- May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed December 20, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
- Interview, David Moriarty, conducted December 17, 2015