Business professionals conduct a wide variety of job activities to boost sales and revenues, improve cash flows, and increase an organization's profitability. Given their valuable expertise, these individuals are usually in high demand. They also enjoy lucrative salaries and many career opportunities across sectors.

The following guide outlines key information about how to pursue careers with a business degree, including discipline-specific professional paths and practical information on how to launch and build a career in business.

Career Paths in Business

A business degree qualifies graduates for a variety of challenging and well-paid careers; the examples below represent a few of the most popular specialization areas. Each field contains many concentrations and subspecialties, which opens myriad possibilities to students planning their future careers.

Business Career Outlook

Conventional wisdom suggests that a business degree is one of the best educational investments you can make. Capable business professionals are in demand across many industries, and these job paths typically offer lucrative wages. The business world remains highly competitive by nature, but those who perform well and provide value to their employers can advance to prestigious positions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that many business and finance professions will see high growth rates between 2018-2028. Note that the BLS lists a bachelor's degree as the minimum educational level needed to secure an entry-level position in most business fields.

Business Employment in Your State

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How to Start a Career in Business

While some successful entrepreneurs are self-taught, the majority of business professionals begin by earning a degree in finance, economics, business administration, or a specialized business field. Some professions are accessible to those with only certificates or associate degrees, but a bachelor's degree is generally the minimum credential necessary to land an entry-level position that offers advancement potential. Many emerging business professionals elect to earn a generalist or specialized MBA to further boost their resumes.

An internship, field placement, or work-study practicum represents another common experience that students complete on their journey toward a business career. These opportunities deliver important experience and expand your professional network.

Education

Students can pursue three main variants of a business degree: two-year associate degrees, four-year bachelor's degrees, and advanced graduate degrees that generally take 2-4 years to complete. Graduate degrees break down into two further categories: master's degrees -- usually configured as an MBA -- and doctorates.

Associate Degrees

Associate degrees combine general education courses with a major core of the student's choice. Students can enter the workforce or transfer to a bachelor's program upon graduation. The relatively short time frame and financial commitment required by these 60-credit associate programs may appeal to students seeking a basic, foundational education at a lower cost.

Students can pursue several business specializations at the associate degree level. Popular majors include accounting, management, and marketing. These business fields offer some entry-level career opportunities, including assistant, bookkeeper, and clerk positions.

Many students complete associate degree requirements on campus at local community colleges, technical schools, or universities, but associate tracks are also readily available in online formats. Distance education makes it easier for students to advance their career prospects without sacrificing their current work schedules or family obligations. Whether you are seeking a gateway to entry-level work or a stepping stone to a higher degree, the two-year associate program timeline is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to break into the business world.

Bachelor's Degrees

Four-year undergraduate programs are the most popular choice for aspiring business students. These 120-credit programs include general education courses and major courses, and they may also offer minor or concentration courses.

Some undergraduates enroll in a general business or business administration program, which provides a fundamental education and skill development with plenty of flexibility to pursue work in multiple industries.

Other popular business-related bachelor's degrees include accounting, human resources, and entrepreneurship. Graduates of these 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. Students develop an enhanced skill set and body of knowledge specifically geared toward their career interests.

A baccalaureate curriculum may require individual classes on micro- and macroeconomics, while an associate degree might only cover these concepts in a larger survey course. The broad scope of a bachelor's program also prepares business professionals to handle the academic demands of graduate-level study.

Master's Degrees

Master's programs generally require 30-70 credits of coursework, depending on the school and discipline. These programs explore advanced theoretical knowledge and applied skills related to a specific profession. Applicants typically need a bachelor's degree in a related field to gain entry into a master's program.

Business professionals can find master's programs in fields including accounting, human resources, logistics, and marketing; these degrees often lead to higher salaries and management-level positions. Alternatively, earning a master's in economics or finance typically fulfills the minimum education requirement for advanced employment in research or government positions.

Another graduate option is an MBA. These programs provide a broad study of leadership, finance, and strategy, providing graduates with employment flexibility.

MBAs are the most popular master's degrees in the U.S. 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 can prepare graduates for advanced leadership roles, work in research and government positions, or the pursuit of a terminal degree.

Doctoral Degrees

A doctoral degree is the highest level of education a person can obtain. Completion requirements for these programs vary depending on the school and field of study. Generally, students need to earn 50-90 credits to graduate.

Doctoral degrees include a combination of advanced classes and intensive dissertation work. A dissertation requires students to develop and defend original research. These programs can take several years to complete.

A flexible doctor of business administration (DBA) prepares graduates for careers in academic and non-academic contexts. For instance, experienced business professionals can gain strategic planning and decision-making skills that translate to careers as senior-level consultants, executives, and directors of operations. DBAs commonly offer concentration options in fields like human resources, finance, marketing, and accounting.

This level of education is not for everyone. Completing a doctorate requires a significant commitment. 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.

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs represent a practical and relatively inexpensive alternative to formal business degrees. They typically take the equivalent of one academic year or less to complete, and they usually focus on a narrow, highly specific skill or proficiency. In broad terms, certificate programs come in two main forms: undergraduate and graduate.

Undergraduate certificates primarily appeal to people with high school diplomas or college-level schooling in fields unrelated to business. They usually offer a generalized or introductory treatment of the subject matter, helping learners build familiarity with business topics and their associated workplace skills.

Alternatively, graduate certificates attract students who have completed bachelor's degrees in relevant fields. Established business professionals seeking to expand or update their skill sets may also pursue graduate certificates.

Undergraduate certificates may help students qualify for entry-level jobs with limited long-term potential, while graduate certificate programs diversify the qualifications and credentials of people already positioned for career advancement. To learn more, you can explore examples of certificate programs in business fields like accounting, finance, or marketing.

Certifications and/or Licensure

Some business careers require practitioners to hold valid, active licenses. In other cases, optional certifications enhance job opportunities by building your knowledge of specialized concepts and demonstrating your commitment to personal and professional development.

Accounting and project management are two examples where these credentials can be important. Many accountant roles require workers to hold a license, such as a CPA (certified public accountant) or CMA (certified management accountant) credential. You can obtain these licenses by completing the necessary schooling and passing a standardized examination that tests your specialized knowledge.

Alternatively, optional project management certifications, like the CAPM (certified associate in project management) and PMP (project management professional) credentials, can help you stand out in a competitive job market, even if they are not generally listed as hard requirements for a job.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is a critical aspect of ongoing career development. In highly competitive fields like business, even proven professionals feel a constant need to learn new skills, broaden their perspectives, and update their training. As such, many employers offer direct access to continuing education programs as part of their employee benefits, and many working professionals return to school to enhance their credentials by earning additional certificates or degrees.

The advent of online learning has broadened the availability of continuing education opportunities, moving these beyond the traditional classroom to the benefit of busy professionals who value flexibility. Professionals with higher-level degrees and established careers in business may be interested in graduate certificate programs, while MOOCs (massive open online courses) may appeal to individuals seeking to explore their interest in a particular topic without making a big commitment.

Upgrading to a higher business degree offers another career-boosting option. For example, individuals looking to advance beyond the career limits imposed by holding only a bachelor's degree in business commonly pursue an MBA. A growing number of prestigious business schools offer entirely online MBA programs, allowing learners to earn this coveted credential without the need to interrupt their careers or maintain a physical presence on a college campus.

Next Steps

Networking is also critical for landing jobs and pursuing career advancement. Emerging business professionals should take every opportunity to build their networks through internships, socializing with colleagues, and participating in organized activities like trade shows and conferences.

Professional organizations offer another valuable networking path. Many offer discounted membership to business students and recent graduates. Leading examples include organizations like the American Finance Association, the American Management Association, and DECA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is business a good career?

Experts and educational review organizations consistently list a business degree as one of the best degrees a student can get. Private enterprise drives the U.S. economy, and qualified business professionals benefit from strong demand and access to a multitude of rewarding, lucrative job paths.

How do I start a career in business?

Some people rely on experiential learning and self-teaching to start their business careers; however, for most, the journey starts in school. An associate degree may suffice for those seeking a fast way to transition into an entry-level business role, although ambitious, career-minded people generally seek at least a bachelor's degree.

What are the highest-paying jobs in business?

Entrepreneurship offers near-unlimited earning potential, depending on your ideas. Beyond this, the BLS reports that personal financial advisors, management analysts, financial analysts, and financial examiners all earn median salaries above $80,000. Marketing represents another well-paid career path, with marketing managers earning median salaries of more than $135,000.

Is a business degree worth it?

From a return on investment perspective, a business degree offers one of the most favorable value profiles of any postsecondary program. Careers in business pay well, professionals with business degrees benefit from high demand in many industries, and qualified workers generally enjoy excellent access to well-paying jobs.

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