Over 20 percent of undergraduates in U.S. colleges and universities are business majors -- nearly twice the second most common major (social sciences and history). This has held steady for 30 years now. But what, exactly, can a business degree can do for students once they graduate from college? Is a business degree recommended for those looking for career opportunities outside the traditional business environment? What about online business degrees -- recommended, or not? Just what is a business degree, anyway?
What is a business degree?
In 2009-10, approximately 1,650,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded. The largest number, 358,000, were awarded in business, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Business degrees are available at all postsecondary academic levels:
- Associate degree: A 2-year program that provides liberal arts and business course work to prepare graduates for some entry-level business management positions
- Bachelor's degree: A 4-year program that provides more advanced business course work, usually in a concentration such as entrepreneurship, finance, human resources, information technology, marketing, accounting and risk management.
- Master's degree: Master's degree programs, which can take from 1 to 3 years to complete, generally fall into two categories, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a master's degree in a specific business area such as economics, statistics, taxation, organizational behavior, actuarial science and more.
- Doctoral degree: Doctoral degrees, which can take from 4 to 5 years to complete, include a Doctor of Business Administration or a Doctor of Philosophy in business. Most graduates either pursue research in the field of business or teaching careers in postsecondary academia.
What is the most common business degree?
According to the NCES, the most common business degree is a bachelor's degree, although the business degree that gets the most press coverage is usually the MBA.
What are the advantages of earning a business degree?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, many business careers are projected to have significant growth potential between 2010 and 2020. Most also generally require a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions, with a master's degree preferred for those wishing to attain upper-management positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What are the advantages of earning a business degree online?
In addition to learning important business skills such as time management and meeting deadlines, students may discover a number of other very real advantages to studying online:
- Convenience: No more driving to campus, looking for a parking space and spending the better part of the day in a lecture hall.
- Flexibility: Students can study whenever they want, wherever they are. They can continue to work and avoid disrupting life with their families and friends.
- Accessibility: Easy access to teachers and other students in distant locations is achievable online.
- Technology: Computers and the Internet have become the lifeblood of almost every business.
What are the disadvantages of earning a business degree online?
There may be some disadvantages to studying business online:
- College experience: Attending college is about more than just earning a degree -- it is also about socialization, memories that can last a lifetime, and enduring friendships.
- Networking opportunities: Particularly in the business world, who you know may be an important career advantage, and those studying solely online may be at a disadvantage in this area.
- Personality conflict: Online students need focus and self-motivation. Those who are easily distracted or who procrastinate may not flourish in the online environment.
- Degree unavailable online: Some top business programs only offer full-time residential programs.
- Bias: Even though many top colleges and universities now offer online business degree programs, some companies still cling to the belief that on-campus degrees are better than those earned online.
What can you do with a business degree outside of business?
Almost all careers, whether in the arts, education or medicine, have a business component. According to articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Chronicle of Higher Education, job recruiters are looking for candidates who are innovative thinkers. Some recruiters are snubbing business graduates because they see business curricula as narrowly focused and lacking in the liberal arts background that they associate with critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Consequently, many colleges and universities nationwide are diversifying their business curricula to add more exposure to the liberal arts.
Pursuing a business degree and taking the liberal arts electives that recruiters say provide a broader perspective and skill set could take today's business graduate in any number of career directions in almost any career discipline.