Degrees Needed for Business Careers

When it comes to business careers, more so than almost any other field, education pays. Often, the amount of money and time spent on education will be counterbalanced by the increased salaries professionals receive upon graduation, in the same amount of time the program took to complete. For example, an associate’s degree will pay for itself as well as for the time spent in the program within two years of graduation (as it typically takes two years to complete these programs). A bachelor’s degree will pay itself back within four years of graduation (as it takes four years to complete), and so on.

So salary is a big difference. From a purely financial viewpoint, it makes sense to go as far as one can. That depends on how much one appreciates academia, for one. On the other hand, it depends on the amount of financial resources one has to spend.

Many business professionals choose to upgrade their careers in a stair-step process, by completing their bachelor’s degree, working in the field for a number of years, and then returning to school for an MBA or PhD. Alternatively, some individuals complete an associate’s, work, and then return to complete their bachelor’s degree.

More than in any other area, business programs focus on experiential learning, as well as scholastic, which prepares graduates for a professional career. This fact distinguishes business schools from other professional schools, such as law school or medical school, which aim to prepare individuals mentally for the challenges of their future careers, but often fail to prepare them for day-to-day requirements.

Obtaining an online degree is an important option to consider for many individuals, as these programs usually offer considerably more flexibility in terms of hours and location than most geographically based campuses. While these programs do not have the history and prestige that many universities have, they can offer an educational level that is competitive. Anyone interested in receiving a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from online programs should check to see whether the program has its Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation.

Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree in business can be a great way to improve job quality and move up in the world. These programs aim to prepare their graduates for careers in business, by teaching either comprehensive understanding of business or more technical knowledge. They do not take long to complete (half the time of bachelor’s degrees), and the jobs they lead to tend to pay significantly above the national average. Additionally, the diversity of programs allows students to become specialists in a niche, increasing both confidence and expertise.

Courses vary quite a bit across the educational institutions offering them. Some provide core components, with abilities to specialize beyond that. In these cases, it is common to see basic levels of mathematics and generalized business courses. Others, however, do not provide core components. Check community colleges or online programs for more details.


Associate’s degrees in business usually take two years to complete, though statistics show that roughly 6% of attendees take courses part-time, and require more than two years to finish. For the amount of time required to complete them, the specialization they support can provide a rapid and significant return on investment.

Many associate degree programs are available online, which means that they are convenient, fairly inexpensive, and available to be taken year-round. They can also be used as the backbone for a bachelor’s degree, in case students wish to continue their education. (See Bachelor’s Degree for more details.)

Some examples of jobs and salaries one may obtain with an associate’s degree include:

  • Retail Store Manager – $45,000
  • Administrative/Office Manager ¬– $37,000
  • Administrative Assistant – $37,500
  • Operations Manager – $60,000
  • Executive Secretary or Administrative Assistant – $40,000
  • Executive Assistant – $46,000
  • Office Manager – $39,000

Associate’s degrees are available in the following areas, to name a few:

  • Accounting
  • Acquisitions
  • Advertising
  • Applied Management
  • Banking & Finance
  • Bookkeeping
  • Business Administration
  • Business Analysis
  • Business Management
  • CPA
  • Casino Management
  • Communications
  • Conflict Management
  • Contract Management
  • Crisis Management
  • Customer Service
  • E-commerce
  • Economics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Event Management
  • Fashion Merchandising
  • Financial Management
  • Financial Planning
  • Forensics Accounting
  • Fraud Management
  • Hospitality Management
  • Human Resources
  • Informational Management
  • International Business
  • Internet Marketing
  • Labor Relations
  • Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Negotiation
  • Non-Profit Management
  • Office Management
  • Operations Management
  • Organizational Management
  • Private Sector Management
  • Project Management
  • Property Management
  • Public Administration
  • Public Relations
  • ROI Methodology
  • Retail Management
  • Risk Management
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Secretary Training
  • Supply Chain
  • Tax Preparation
  • Technology Management
  • Travel and Tourism

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in business administration represents the undergraduate level of business degrees. Representing four years of coursework, the bachelor’s shows a significant improvement in job prospects and average starting salaries above the associate’s, which makes it an attractive possibility to anyone considering one of the various business careers.

Under normal circumstances, pursuing a bachelor’s requires a high school diploma, though no business courses are necessary. Even without a diploma, there are currently a number of online bachelor programs available, which have a wide variety of prerequisites. Some of these require a diploma, while others do not.

Depending on the educational institution, a bachelor’s in business may be either a bachelor of science (BS) or a bachelor of arts (BA). This is a difference in name only, and does not reflect a difference in the intensity or training of the program. Generally speaking, the bachelor’s degree is awarded for roughly two years of coursework toward business in four years of attendance as an undergraduate.

Another benefit of the bachelor’s degree is that it allows the student to explore the various subfields within business, whereas most associate’s degrees do not provide the same opportunity. A general overview of the various fields in business is provided, and students graduate with a broader understanding.

This, in turn, allows for greater flexibility in job selection, as far as considering the job market upon graduation, as well as shifts in responsibility for any given career. In other words, graduates are better able to secure and adjust effectively to promotions.

Some examples of job opportunities, with the average salaries associated with them, are listed here to give a general idea of what to expect after graduation in terms of opportunity and income:

  • Staff Accountant – $45,000
  • Financial Controller – $77,000
  • Retail Store Manager – $42,000
  • Human Resources Manager – $61,000
  • Operations Manager – $60,000
  • Senior Accountant – $55,000
  • General/Operations Manager – $67,500

In comparison to the average salaries of individuals with an associate’s degree in business, jobs acquired after graduation from a bachelor program are significantly more lucrative, making the bachelor’s degree an attractive option for anyone interested in starting a career in business.

Master’s Degree

The master’s in business administration (MBA) is a postgraduate business degree which prepares individuals pursuing business careers to apply their conceptual knowledge to the real world. Under most circumstances, it requires three years to complete the course requirements for an MBA; however, there are plenty of part-time programs, allowing students to work and attend night classes, which take more time to complete.

An MBA teaches both academic and hands-on material, so there is plenty of collaborative work with peers, as well as individual coursework and lectures to attend. The training prepares students for all aspects of a career in business, which includes academic, interpersonal, and experiential skill-sets.

The MBA is often a requirement for many of the top executive positions, such as those in senior management, chief executive officers, and chief financial officers. As such, there are a wide variety of companies that groom their top management staff by funding their master’s degree programs. It is therefore a good idea, if considering an MBA, to ask potential employers if they consider paying for their employees’ education.

But even beyond the potential positions that an MBA opens up, average salaries show a significant increase for business professionals with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA. In fact, it is an educational step that usually pays for itself within the first two or three years after graduation.

For most MBA programs, applicants need to have completed an undergraduate degree, though this degree does not necessarily need to have been with a major in business. In addition, the GMAT must be taken, and letters of recommendation, preferably from undergraduate professors, must be delivered to the institutions to which one is applying. Application essays are also an important part of the process of admission.

Below are some of the average incomes of professionals who have graduated from MBA programs in the U.S.

  • Senior Financial Analyst – $71,000
  • Financial Controller – $80,000
  • Project Manager, Information Technology – $94,000
  • Chief Financial Officer – $135,000
  • Marketing Director – $110,000
  • Chief Executive Officer – $170,000
  • Human Resources Manager – $64,000


A doctorate in business represents the highest level of business degrees. As such, it requires more work, dedication, and perseverance than the other levels of education. While there are some extremely niche-oriented professions that require a doctorate, the vast majority of business people with a doctorate do not pursue business careers. They obtain a doctorate to teach business.

There are a number of different types of doctorates in business; however, most educational institutions offer two. One of these is almost always a PhD, which is the preferred degree for future professors. Others, including the Executive Doctor of Management (offered by Case Western), or the Doctor of Business Administration (offered at Harvard’s business school) come in second regarding professorships, but may be the better option for candidates wishing to obtain their doctorate on a part-time basis.

In terms of money, professors in business make more, on average, than other types of professors. From an assistant professor to a professor with tenure, the average salaries are between $110,000 and $142,000.

PhD students are required to take at least two years of coursework in preparation for exams. The majority of institutions require the completion of both oral and written requirements before the next phase of education is begun. During the next phase, candidates are expected to begin a dissertation, which represents approximately two years of research and writing.

The dissertation cements the largest discrepancy between the MBA and doctorate, as it not only represents a professional’s ability to understand and to apply research, but also to contribute to a given field.

Although the foci for study vary depending on program, most of these differences are in name only. For instance, Harvard calls its finance specialization “Business Economics,” and there might be some important reasons for the nuance, but the focalization is the same as it is at the Kelley School of Business (where it’s called “Finance”).

Some of the most common specializations are included below:

  • Accounting
  • Decision-Making
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Finance
  • Health Policy
  • Information Systems
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Strategy
  • Technology and Operations Management

The good news is that most PhD programs will pay a stipend to their students; however, this stipend is often much less than business professionals are accustomed to receiving. For this reason, many candidates acquire a significant amount of business experience prior to enrolling in a program. They save up the money to live comfortably for the duration of their attendance.