What can you do with a business degree? While your mind may want to focus on administrators and CEOs, business careers are not strictly limited to management positions. As a field of study, business encompasses one of the largest varieties of specializations available, including popular areas like finance, marketing, human resources, and accounting. All business careers play an important role in helping companies achieve their overall goals: producing products or services, creating jobs, and turning a profit.
With ever-increasing globalization, advancing world economies, and growing consumer demand for the best goods and services, business lies at the center of nearly every enterprise in the world. For professionals on a business career path, this generally makes for a comforting level of job security and plenty of advancement opportunities.
Between 2016-2026, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster-than-average growth for jobs in the business and financial sector at a rate of 10%. By reading this guide, you will gain an in-depth understanding of the education options available for aspiring business professionals and the types of business careers you can pursue.
Business Employment by State
When it comes to providing an environment for business professionals to thrive in, some states make greater strides than others. Several factors can impact the success of a state's business sector, including tax laws and incentives used to attract entrepreneurs. In these areas, Texas, Florida, and South Carolina frequently rank as the most business-friendly places in the United States. Factors like population demographics (i.e., availability of an educated workforce) and climate can impact business employment, too.
A state devoted overwhelmingly to agricultural industries, for example, might not be the best place to locate the corporate headquarters of a global tech company.
Business Employment Snapshot
While some lucky entrepreneurs can achieve success without formal education, attending college is the most popular method for developing the skills and knowledge desired by professionals in the business sector. But what can you do with a business major? Does earning a master's degree always lead to greater job opportunities? In the sections below, we investigate some of the most commonly asked questions about business education by exploring the advantages of each level of college degree.
Associate degrees, which typically consist of 60 required credits, combine general education (e.g. math, science, English) courses with a focused major core of the student's choice. An individual may pursue an associate to immediately enter the workforce upon graduation or to use as a transfer degree, fulfilling up to half of the credit requirements of a bachelor's. The relatively short time frame and financial commitment required by an associate program make this degree ideal for students seeking a basic, foundational education at a low cost.
Students can pursue several business specializations at the associate degree level. Popular majors include accounting, management, and marketing. These business fields offer a variety of entry-level career opportunities to associate degree holders. Accounting majors can obtain employment as assistants, bookkeepers, and clerks.
Management graduates may find work as store managers or department supervisors. Marketing majors often secure positions in sales, market research, and business operations. Entry-level careers for associate degree holders also typically offer excellent advancement opportunities with increased job experience or additional education.
Many students complete associate degree requirements on campus at local community colleges, technical schools, or universities, but associate degrees are also readily available in online formats. Distance education makes it easy for students to advance their career prospects without sacrificing current work schedules or family obligations. Whether you seek a gateway to entry-level work or a stepping stone to a higher degree, the average two-year associate program timeline is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to break into the business world.
Currently, four-year undergraduate programs are the most popular choice when it comes to the American pursuit of a college education. According to data collected in 2018 by the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately half of all higher education graduates earned their diploma for bachelor's-level study. Earning a bachelor's generally requires the completion of 120 credits. Degree plans consist of general education courses, major courses, and, in some cases, minor or concentration courses.
For the aspiring business professional, a bachelor's program can provide many study options. Some undergraduates choose to enroll in a general business or business administration program, which offers fundamental education and skill development with plenty of flexibility to pursue work in multiple industries, specializations, and job roles.
Other popular business-related bachelor's degrees include those in accounting, human resources, and entrepreneurship. Graduates of these specialization areas frequently find work as certified public accountants (after obtaining licensure), human resource managers, and small business owners.
Whether obtained on campus or through an online school, bachelor's degrees require about twice as many major-focused courses and electives as associate degrees. This provides students with an enhanced skill set and body of knowledge specifically geared toward their career interests.
A baccalaureate curriculum, for example, may require individual classes on micro- and macroeconomics, while an associate degree might only cover these concepts in a larger survey course on economic principles. The broad scope of a bachelor's program also adequately prepares business professionals to handle the academic demands of additional, graduate-level studies.
Master's programs generally require 30-70 credits of coursework, depending on the school and specific discipline. While undergraduate degrees focus on general education and the development of field-specific foundational knowledge, graduate programs focus solely on the student's specialization of choice. Enrollees can develop advanced theoretical knowledge and applied skills relating to profession-specific needs and issues. Applicants typically need a bachelor's degree in a closely related field to gain entry into a master's program.
Business professionals can pursue graduate education in many fields, including accounting, human resources, logistics, and marketing. Master's degrees in these disciplines often lead to higher salaries and promotions to managerial status. Earning a master's in economics or finance typically fulfills the minimum education requirement for advanced employment in research or government.
If the study of a narrow discipline does not appeal to you, professionals interested in graduate school can consider an MBA. These programs provide an intense but broad study of leadership, finance, and strategy, allowing for great employment flexibility.
MBAs are the most popular master's degrees in the U.S., prompting an increasing number of schools to offer them. Students can complete on-site or online MBAs in part-time and accelerated formats. Competency-based programs even allow students to convert qualifying professional experience into credits. Whether pursuing a narrow discipline or a broad MBA, master's degrees in business thoroughly prepare graduates for advanced leadership roles, work in research and government, or the pursuit of a terminal degree.
A doctoral degree is the highest level of college education a person can obtain. Completion requirements of these advanced postsecondary programs varies depending on school selection and field of study. Generally, students can expect to earn between 48-90 credits before graduation.
Doctoral degree plans consist of a combination of advanced classes and intensive dissertation work. A dissertation requires the development and defense of research, investigation, and original scholarly ideas and viewpoints, often in response to a problem or issue present in the student's field. This crowning academic achievement can take several years to complete.
A flexible doctor of business administration (DBA) adequately prepares students for careers in academic and non-academic pursuits alike. The DBA provides experienced business professionals with advanced skills required for strategic planning and decision-making, which means graduates often find work as senior-level consultants, executives, and directors of operations.
DBAs commonly offer concentration options in fields like human resources, finance, marketing, and accounting. While a business graduate with a terminal degree can effectively apply their knowledge and skills in the professional sector or academia, aspiring university professors should know that job competition can be intense.
This advanced level of higher education is not for everyone. Completing a doctorate requires a significant commitment of time and money. As many professionals can secure leadership and managerial positions with a master's or even a bachelor's, the overall cost of a terminal degree may outweigh the potential benefits. Prospective students should carefully examine their goals before diving into a doctoral program.
Career Paths in Business
The idea of pushy parents encouraging their new college freshman to major in a "realistic" business field is a prevalent stereotype in popular culture. While students should feel free to pursue the field that best aligns with their personal and professional interests, there is no denying a certain level of truth lingers behind this stereotype. Business careers are undeniably numerous, varied, and always in demand. Accounting clerks, assistant managers, investment bankers, and CEOs all work under the large umbrella of the business field.
In addition to a brief specialization description, each subsection below contains a link to a corresponding page where you can explore more in-depth, career-specific information regarding education options, employment outlooks, and other relevant resources.
Explore Accounting Careers
Accounting involves the recording and management of financial records. College programs require rigorous study of math, accounting principles, and economics. Associate degrees can provide entry-level work, but certified accountants typically need a bachelor's.
Explore Business Administration Careers
Business administration relates to the management of all business operations, including resources and people. Administration degrees focus on leadership, finance, and decision-making. Careers of varying seniority are available with all degree levels.
Explore Business Intelligence Careers
Business intelligence utilizes data in the generation of actionable information for executives and decision-makers. Programs provide training in relevant technology and analytical skills. Most employers require business intelligence analysts to hold a bachelor's.
Explore Economics Careers
Business economics uses theory and quantitative methods to analyze and guide decision-making. Economics programs provide broad analytical training, which proves useful in many fields. Minimum education requirements vary depending on the job.
Explore Entrepreneurship Careers
Entrepreneurship is the process used to create or establish a new business or organization. College programs focus on innovative thinking, ethics, and business fundamentals. Motivated entrepreneurs can engage in business at any education level.
Explore Finance Careers
Finance explores the study of money management: investments, assets, and liabilities. Degrees focus on the development of applied skills and theoretical knowledge. Entry-level finance careers are obtainable with an associate or bachelor's.
Explore Human Resources Careers
Human resource management involves recruiting, hiring, and managing employees. College programs offer training in communication, leadership, and legal/ethical knowledge. Many human resources jobs require a bachelor's degree at minimum.
Explore Logistics Careers
Logistics studies the supply chain, or how goods and services move from manufacturer to customer. Degrees in the field can develop student knowledge of business operations and management. A bachelor's satisfies minimum education requirements for most jobs.
Explore Management Careers
Management requires planning, organization, and the direction of business operations and employees. Students in this field can learn communication and leadership skills. An associate degree allows graduates to pursue some entry-level management jobs.
Explore Marketing Careers
In business, marketing involves promoting products/services and building customer relationships. Marketing programs develop student skills in communication, data analysis, and critical thinking. Many entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree.
Explore Public Relations Careers
Public relations is the dedicated management of spreading information to promote positive reputations of businesses and individuals. PR students develop communication, research, and writing skills. Many PR jobs require at least a bachelor's.
Meet a Business Professional
Eleni Cotsis is a talent acquisitions professional specializing in working with startups building remote teams. She graduated in 2015 from Seattle University with a BA in business administration, majoring in international business. A California native, she is currently located in Medellin, Colombia where she organizes the Women Entrepreneurs of Medellin community and runs a local job listing newsletter.
- What would you say were the most useful skills you gained in your business program?
The most useful skills I gained in my business program were probably centered around project management, working with people to obtain a specific goal, and how to network.
- What was the job search like after you graduated? How did you find yourself on your current career path?
I always wanted to live abroad and to work with an international company. I always loved working with entrepreneurs and startups. So, my job search after I graduated was skewed towards global and local startups with opportunities in other countries.
Currently, I am working as a talent acquisitions executive at a U.S.-based startup. I live in Medellin, Colombia and work remotely. I moved to Medellin in 2015 and was able to connect with local entrepreneurs as well as startups with remote operations. I started working as a freelancer in marketing and worked with U.S.-based startups with marketing operations in Medellin. I started doing some recruiting for them to build out their teams locally and in the U.S. and really started getting more interested in recruiting and employer branding.
- What type of person thrives in a business program?
I think for a business program to be valuable, a student needs to find opportunities to apply what they learn outside of the classroom. That is where the best learning opportunities come from. Someone who would thrive in a business program would be someone who is a self starter and can get involved in activities where they can get hands-on experience.
- What does continuing education look like for you?
Continuing education for me would need to be a mix of classroom learning, meaningful projects outside of the classroom, and long-term network building opportunities.
Professional Resources for Business Majors
Founded in 1939, AFA works to advance the study of financial economics. It conducts and disseminates research through the Journal of Finance; hosts an annual meeting; and features a job board where users can search for positions in academia, government, and the finance industry. Graduate students can submit their work for consideration at the annual conference and apply for travel grants to attend.
AFWA supports women in accounting and financial positions. It offers a host of scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students in the field, organizes regional events and the national Women Who Count conference, and maintains a job board. It also conducts an annual survey of accounting and financial firms to help members chart their business career paths in the industry.
Representing more than 200,000 black professionals, NABA seeks to bridge the opportunity gap for people of color in accounting, finance, and business-related professions. It provides education and professional development resources, supports awareness and access programs for college students, offers more than $100,000 annually in scholarships, and hosts an online career center.
AMA serves as a community for marketers and marketing academics. It publishes four scholarly journals, plus online case studies, whitepapers, and other resources. Aspiring marketers can review AMA's expansive career center, which features a job board, resources for students considering careers in academia, and advice on topics such as updating your resume and finding scholarships.
AMA focuses on providing training resources to new and established managers. Members can read articles and whitepapers, listen to podcasts, watch webinars, complete online training modules, participate in web forums, and receive individual consultations. Business students can join for a discounted membership fee.
SHRM represents more than 285,000 human resources professionals around the world. Its website features guides and toolkits for HR practitioners, career planning and professional development resources, and issue-oriented online communities. SHRM also administers two professional certifications to help members signal their expertise in the field.
IAAP helps administrative professionals develop and excel in their roles. The association offers regional training and networking through 19 branch locations and hosts several national summits and conferences. IAAP also certifies professional development programs, hosts a job board, and gives achievement awards to exceptional administrative professionals.
EO acts as a global network for entrepreneurs. Founded in 1987, it now helps to connect more than 12,000 business owners and entrepreneurs across 54 countries. EO offers a paid entrepreneur training program; a free mentor matching program; and publicly available podcasts, webinars, and professional development resources. It also manages the Octane Blog, which discusses news, insights, and best practices in entrepreneurship.
NASP offers online training resources on subjects like building influence and contact marketing. It also administers certification programs for professional salespeople and professional sales leaders. Additionally, NASP advertises job opportunities and allows members to post their resumes on its website.
APICS represents more than 45,000 supply chain management professionals around the world. It offers three professional certifications in inventory management; supply chain management; and logistics, transportation, and distribution. It also hosts an annual conference, a regional seminar series on topics like demand management and material requirements planning, online training webinars, and virtual career fairs.