Guide To An Online Business Degree

portrait of Doug Wintemute
by Doug Wintemute
Published on November 22, 2021
Reviewed by Krystal Covington

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Business degree programs provide educational and professional flexibility that few others can match. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more students choose to major in business than any other discipline, and the field continues to grow with ample career opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of more than 1,650,000 combined business and financial occupations and management positions between 2020 and 2030.

Online business programs can lead to financially rewarding careers in the field as well. Median annual wages for business and financial positions far exceed the median yearly wage across all occupations. In this guide, we examine the benefits of attending an online business school and highlight different degree types, specializations, and program considerations for prospective students.

Why Earn Your Business Degree Online?

Students choose online business degrees for many different reasons. While online learning formats differ across schools and programs, most share similarities. The following list offers details on some of the most appealing benefits of an online business program.

Accessibility

Online business degree programs make training more accessible in multiple ways. With fewer travel and scheduling restrictions, prospective online students often have more study options. They can find schools with more accommodating entrance requirements, less demanding course loads, and fewer barriers for people with disabilities.

Flexibility

Online business programs feature plenty of flexibility, catering to different learning styles and scheduling demands. Through asynchronous online delivery formats, learners can study during the hours that work best for their schedules. Many online degree programs also offer accelerated pathways, allowing students to take heavier course loads and graduate more quickly.

Program Variety

With so many business degrees available, prospective online students can typically find programs that suit their needs. They can access business programs at every level that offer various business concentrations and learning structures. The extensive selection allows applicants to find the best program type and focus for their specific interests and career goals.

Affordability

Some online business schools provide lower tuition rates than on-campus programs, but students can access savings in other ways as well. Online students often save money on travel and room and board costs. They also have more programs to choose from. Many online business schools offer in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students.

Types of Business Degrees

Business degrees vary in terms of their concentration and level of learning. Associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs all offer something unique to students and lead to different careers. For example, associate degree programs offer foundational training, while in bachelor's programs students build upon this foundation and sometimes begin to specialize their studies. Master's degree programs can provide students with additional leadership skills, and doctorates typically lead to academic careers.

In the section below, we look at the differences between these program types and some of the main reasons students pursue them.

Average Annual Salaries for Business Majors by Degree Level

Source: PayScale, November 2021

Associate Degree in Business

To earn an associate degree in business, students typically earn 60 credits over two years of training. Associate degree programs mostly cover the principles and major facets of business, including finance, marketing, and human resources. Students round out their training with general education courses, laying the foundation for further studies and developing widely applicable soft skills.

Associate business degrees equip students with the skills and knowledge they need for several entry-level careers. Though students do not usually specialize at this level, they can strategically choose electives to develop an area of expertise. Some associate degrees include requirements other than coursework, such as internships and capstone projects.

Bachelor's Degree in Business

According to NCES, the most popular undergraduate major is business. Students in bachelor's degree business programs typically earn 120 credits over four years of school. Courses cover foundational information and intermediate skills in multiple subjects, including accounting, marketing, and operations. In such programs, students can gain the minimum requirements necessary to land many entry-level positions in business and finance.

In addition to the broad core and general education courses, students often take electives of their choosing. In many online business programs, they also get to choose a concentration through which they can develop specialized skills and access employment opportunities. Many online business schools also require learners to complete internships, which can help students determine their career goals.

Master's Degree in Business

A master's degree in business typically features 30-60 credits and two years of training, depending on the type of program. In these programs, learners can develop advanced business skills used to improve operations, decision-making processes, and leadership structures in organizations. These online business programs delve into advanced topics in accounting, marketing, human resources, data analytics, and business technology.

MBA programs differ from traditional online business degrees in that they focus more on leadership and areas like strategic and project management. Most online business programs feature internships and capstone projects. These practical assignments provide space for learners to put their training to use.

Doctoral Degree in Business

Doctoral degree programs in business vary in length and credit requirements. However, doctoral students typically complete 45-90 credits in 4-6 years. These programs help students develop advanced research skills and a theoretical understanding of management strategies. Many online business schools offer two types of degree, a Ph.D. and DBA.

The Ph.D. emphasizes research in preparation for a career in academia, whereas a DBA focuses on the practical application of theory for a leadership position in the field. While both degree types typically feature large projects, Ph.D. students conduct much more research for a dissertation. DBA students may complete internships and practicums.

Business Concentrations and Specializations

Business concentrations allow learners to point their training in a specific direction. By taking focused courses in a subdiscipline, students can develop specialized skills and signal their career interests to future employers. Here, we list some of the most popular business concentrations.

Accounting

Accounting concentrations equip students to work with organizations' and individuals' finances. Students who specialize in accounting may take courses in taxes, auditing, and professional ethics. The training may contribute to postgraduate certifications. According to the BLS, accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $73,560 in May 2020.

Business Administration

Business administration concentrations can cover a great deal of ground and may include courses in accounting, managerial economics, and business information systems. The training can lead to general business careers and various management positions. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for business professionals was $72,250 in May 2020.

Business Intelligence

Business intelligence concentrations focus on using business analytics and technologies for decision-making purposes. The training can include courses in data mining and coding and may lead to business analyst positions. According to the BLS, management analysts made a median annual wage of $87,660 in May 2020.

Business Management

Students with business management concentrations explore the many different roles of business professionals and various leadership strategies. The training may include many different courses, such as marketing, communications, and finance, while preparing graduates for several management roles. According to the BLS, people with management occupations made a median annual wage of $109,760 in May 2020.

Business Law

Business law can equip students with an understanding of the complex employment and labor law systems in the U.S. Learners may also take courses in international law, corporate governance, and professional ethics to prepare them for careers as human resources specialists. According to the BLS, human resources specialists made a median annual wage of $63,490 in May 2020.

Economics

With economics concentrations, students learn about the organizational production of goods and services in a global marketplace. Learners may take courses in econometrics, industrial organization, and statistical inference. Specializing in economics can lead to various analyst careers, including market research analysts, who made a median annual wage of $65,810 in May 2020, as per the BLS.

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship concentrations teach students about the processes involved in creating a business. Some possible courses may include entrepreneurship fundamentals, corporate innovation, and managing information technology. Career pathways can vary for those who specialize in entrepreneurship, but management and leadership training can lead to top executive roles. These professionals made a median annual wage of $107,680 in May 2020, according to the BLS.

Finance

Students with finance concentrations usually learn how to oversee the financial operations of an organization and use financial data to make informed decisions. Training may cover statistics, economics, and financial management. According to the BLS, financial analysts made a median annual wage of $83,660 in May 2020.

Hospitality Management

A concentration in hospitality management can prepare students to lead events and tourism organizations in the hospitality industry. Learners take courses in hotel and restaurant operations, hospitality marketing, and legal issues in the industry. Hospitality management can lead to many careers. People with lodging management occupations made a median annual wage of $56,670 in May 2020, as per the BLS.

Human Resources

Human resources concentrations delve into the many aspects of management and employee relations. Students with this concentration examine how hiring, benefits, and salary allocation impact performance and organization-wide goals. Courses in this concentration may include organizational behavior, business communications, and health and safety. According to the BLS, human resources managers made a median annual wage of $121,220 in May 2020.

International Business

International business concentrations examine leadership strategies and management processes for international organizations. Learners may take courses in international trade, global economics, and comparative employee relations in preparation for various management positions. According to the BLS, administrative services and facilities managers made a median annual wage of $98,890 in May 2020.

Marketing

Students with marketing concentrations learn how organizations market products and services to specific consumer groups. The training examines communications and branding, market research, and marketing campaigns and implementation. According to the BLS, advertising, promotions, and marketing managers made a median annual wage of $141,490 in May 2020.

Risk Management

In studying risk management, students examine ways of minimizing an organization's exposure to risk through data analytics and finance reviews. Courses may include risk financing and risk assessment strategies. According to the BLS, financial managers earned a median annual salary of $134,180 in May 2020.

Project Management

Project management concentrations focus on the different roles and strategies involved with leading large projects and teams. Some of the concentration's courses could include communications, project leadership, and project implementation and analysis. This specialization can lead to many different management positions, including industrial production management. Professionals in this field earned a median annual wage of $108,790 in May 2020, as per the BLS.

Public Relations

Professionals in public relations, or PR, assess and manage an organization's reputation through coordinated communications and operations. PR training may cover organizational behavior, strategic management, and communication ethics. According to the BLS, public relations and fundraising managers earned a median annual wage of $118,430 in May 2020.

Sports Management

In sports management concentrations, students learn to oversee the business components of professional sports teams, including marketing and operations. Courses in sports management may cover the legal aspects of the business, communications, and data analytics. These specializations may lead to several different business management and specialist careers. Compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists, for example, made a median annual wage of $67,190 in May 2020, as per the BLS.

Sustainability

Sustainability concentrations explore ways that organizations can implement sustainable policies and socially responsible development methods. Courses may include sustainable innovation, communications, and implementing social change. Of the career paths available with this concentration, training and development managers earn some of the highest median annual wages. According to the BLS, these professionals made $115,640 per year in May 2020.

Business Licensure and Certification

Few business occupations require licensure, but many business certifications exist that can help professionals hone their specialization and demonstrate mastery. In fact, some employers may require professionals to hold specific certifications for employment. Some of the most useful credentials include certifications for human resource managers, accountants, and financial managers.

The requirements vary by certification, but they may include holding a specific amount of professional experience, passing an examination, and renewing the license every 2-3 years. Some credentials allow professionals to conduct specific types of business, such as a Certified Public Accountant, who can file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What Are the Admission Requirements for Online Business Programs?

The admission requirements for online business programs depend on the school, the program, and the level of the degree. In general, an associate business degree features more open admission standards, whereas a bachelor's program may require a high school diploma and a minimum GPA for admission.

Admission requirements for graduate students can be even more rigorous. Master's and doctoral programs may prefer applicants to have professional experience and a specific undergraduate degree. For business programs with specific focuses, like accounting, prospective students may need certain prerequisite classes in subjects like mathematics.

While the requirements rarely differ for online and on-campus programs, online learners need to meet the technological requirements of their program. Students need the right equipment and skill sets. In addition to the typical admission requirements listed below, some applicants may also need to participate in an interview for admission.

Application

College and university applications can vary, but prospective students usually provide their personal information and indicate which programs interest them. Associate and bachelor's degree students typically use an application tool like the Common Application to send their materials to many schools using one form. Graduate students typically apply directly to their desired institution.

Test Scores

Schools often require prospective students to complete entrance exams, such as the SAT and ACT for undergraduates and the GRE and GMAT for graduate students. Test-takers typically need to earn a minimum score to gain admission to their ideal school. While COVID-19 has forced many institutions to provide test waivers for applicants, students may still need to complete these tests.

Letters of Recommendation

Prospectivestudents usually need to submit at least three letters of recommendation in their applications. These letters help schools learn more about an applicant from a former teacher or employer who knows what skills they can bring to the table. Letters of recommendation can also identify what strengths a candidate has and how well prepared they are for the program.

Essays

College application essays tend to differ depending on the program level. Undergraduate essays usually focus on the applicant's personal experiences and how they have prepared for their studies. Graduate application essays usually highlight the applicant's research interests and professional goals.

Official Transcripts

Official transcripts must be included in all applications. Online business schools use transcripts to determine a prospective student's GPA, prerequisites, and program preparedness. Transcripts can also lead to transfer credits, which can reduce the time and cost of a program.

How Do I Choose an Online Business Program?

Cost

Most prospective students consider program cost when choosing a school, but they should also look at the true program cost to get the fullest picture of their potential expenses. Students should consider the price of room and board, books, and additional fees. They should also keep in mind that attending school may prevent them from working as many hours as they typically do, reducing their income.

Aspiring learners should also evaluate how online and on-campus programs compare, as online business programs may require less travel and can be less expensive. Applicants might also want to look at the differences between private and public school costs, as well as in-state and out-of-state school costs.

Program Format

A program's format impacts when and how learners study, and it should play a big role in the decision-making process. Students in online business programs can often choose between synchronous or asynchronous delivery. Asynchronous programs allow students to attend class and turn in assignments whenever suits their schedule, which may allow learners to maintain a job during the day.

Prospective students should also consider their course load. Choosing between a part-time and full-time MBA, for example, can affect how long the degree takes and if students can work while they study. Many online business schools offer accelerated pathways for students who want to graduate more quickly.

Location

While location is most important for on-campus learners to consider when choosing a school, it matters for online students, too. Some online programs feature lab or in-person requirements that must be fulfilled at or near the school's campus. Prospective online students should investigate on-campus requirements and determine if they can satisfy them based on where they live.

They should also explore the support networks available to online students at various schools. They might also look into out-of-state institutions that offer in-state tuition rates.

Accreditation

Choosing a school and program with the appropriate accreditation should be priority number one for most students. All schools should possess regional accreditation in order to offer federal financial aid and satisfactory employment opportunities. Prospective students can find a list of accredited schools with the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Programmatic accreditation may not be mandatory for online business programs, but many employers value recognition from one of the leading industry organizations. Prospective business students can look for accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education.

Student Support

Student support services can vastly improve a student's educational experience and the value they get from their degree. Prospective online students need to ensure that they have the proper levels of support outside of their online business program, including access to an academic advisor and remote career services.

Many online business schools feature additional services that can help students excel. College mentor services, alumni network events, and business internships can make a big difference.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Business Degrees

Are online business degrees worth it?

Yes. Online business degrees can jumpstart careers in lucrative and in-demand fields. The flexible training offered by these programs can lead to careers in many management and business and financial occupations. The BLS projects these sectors to grow 9% and 8%, respectively, between 2020 and 2030.

Professionals with business careers also often do well financially. According to the BLS, people with occupations in business and finance earned a median annual wage of $72,250 in May 2020, far exceeding the median across all occupations. Management professionals earned an even higher median annual wage of $109,760, one of the highest of any major occupational group during the same period.

Can you complete a business degree online?

Yes. Many business schools offer programs that students can complete entirely online. Online business programs rarely differ from on-campus programs in terms of the educational content and the degrees offered. Online programs can, however, offer more flexibility for students with busy schedules.

Many online business degrees feature asynchronous delivery, which allows learners to study during the hours that suit them best. Asynchronous delivery can make heavy course loads manageable, as the material does not rely on real-time instruction. Online students who want a traditional learning experience can still find live, synchronous classes.

How much does an online business degree cost?

The cost of an online business degree varies by institution, location, and program type. According to NCES, the average undergraduate program cost roughly $24,620 per academic year in 2018-2019. The average graduate degree cost $19,790 per academic year during the same period.

Prospective students can save money by earning transfer credits, inquiring about work experience credits, and exploring different types of tuition discounts. Learners should also look into the many forms of financial aid, including scholarships and grants, loans, and work-study programs.

What is the #1 business school in the U.S.?

The top business school in the country depends on a variety of factors, and specific students have their own needs and goals — a school that's best for one learner may not be best for another. According to our rankings, some of the best online schools include Northeastern University, Indiana University, Bloomington, and California State University, Los Angeles.

In terms of top online business schools, the best MBA programs, according to our rankings, include the University of Florida, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and University of Southern California. To find their ideal college or university, prospective students should identify their priorities and locate the schools and programs that come closest to meeting them.

What are the best majors in business?

The best majors in business depend on the individual and their personal and professional interests. According to the BLS, some of the highest-paying business fields are finance, marketing, and human resources. In May 2020, marketing managers earned a high median annual wage of $141,490.

Some of the fastest-growing positions can be accessed with business training, as well. The BLS projects positions for operations research managers will grow 25% between 2020 and 2030. Openings for financial examiners are projected to grow 18% during the same period.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Business Degree

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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