Business Degree Guide: Courses, Best Colleges, Careers & Salary

in Research   Posted on December 3, 2020  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

Business is an ever-evolving field where professionals from different educational backgrounds make the most of opportunities to start their business careers and flourish. According to PayScale (2019), business is among the most common degrees earned by college students; and a business degree is also a great investment for the future (PayScale, 2019). For business major students, career opportunities have grown over the years from being finance and entrepreneurship-focused to having more diverse options, which include business analysis and consultancy, managing social media platforms, and many more.

Despite the wealth of selection and growing opportunities for business majors, students and degree holders are still faced with challenges brought about by the dramatic changes not only in the business education environment but also in the professional setting (Shae, et. al, 2014, p. 137). Some academic institutions struggle to keep up with the rapidly changing business industry, which can affect a student’s level of proficiency and preparedness to survive and thrive in such a competitive world. Meanwhile, in the corporate world, challenges can include job security, higher wages, and better working conditions (Ow, 2019).

What can you do with a business degree? In this article, we will explore the answers to this question by looking into the current state of business career opportunities. We also will delve into the income possibilities of various specializations, as well as get a glimpse of what awaits business degree holders in the near future by observing trends and using data-driven projections.

business careers

What is a Business Degree?

A business degree is an umbrella term for a wide range of studies that focus on the learning and application of business concepts across various markets and industries (TBS Staff, 2019). Business degrees touch on a wide range of disciplines, including entrepreneurship, management, communications, marketing, economics, and more to help students prepare for a career in business whether as an entrepreneur or as a corporate employee. According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, business was the most sought after degree in the school year 2017-2018.

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5 Most Popular College Majors

(S.Y. 2017–18, based on the number of conferred bachelor's degrees)

5 Most Popular College Majors
Business: 386000


5 Most Popular College Majors
Health professionals and related programs: 245000

Health professionals and related programs

5 Most Popular College Majors
Social sciences and history : 160000

Social sciences and history

5 Most Popular College Majors
Engineering: 122000


5 Most Popular College Majors
Biological and biomedical sciences : 119000

Biological and biomedical sciences

Source: NCES

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Key Business Degree Statistics

Business is one of the most popular fields of study among postsecondary students around the world. In the United States, business degrees are the most popular types of degree offered at colleges and universities. Globally, AACSB (Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of business education around the world, conducted a study that showcased the enrollment landscape of accredited academic institutions that offer business degrees across the globe. While the study reveals that undergraduate students dominated the business degree student population, the percentage of students taking postgraduate degrees are significantly lower in the Americas compared to other regions.

  • During the school year of 2017-2019, there were 386,201 students who took bachelor’s degrees in the field of business, thus placing business degrees on top of the bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions.
  • A study for the school year 2016-2017 reveals an aggregate enrollment of 1.9 million students across 653 academic institutions from different parts of the world (AACSB, 2018).

Source: AACSB

  • In 2017, European Union countries had a total of 4,774,730 students who finished tertiary education and 1.1 million of them majored in business administration (Eurostat, 2020).
  •  Business analysis was the 8th highest paying job in the U.S. for bachelor’s degree holders (PayScale, 2020).

What Are the Requirements to Study Business?

Business degrees cover a wide range of programs for undergraduate students, which are more academically focused, and postgraduate studies which focus more on practical professional development (Tucker, 2019). For undergraduates, among the more common business studies are accounting and finance, business management and/or administration, marketing, and economics.

Bachelor’s degree entry requirements

Depending on the country and the academic institution, entry requirements for undergraduate business degrees vary. In the U.S., for example, universities and colleges require high school diploma, good G.P.A. or grade point average (some universities or colleges require at least 2.5 G.P.A. while others require 3.5 G.P.A.), transcript of records, letters of recommendation, A.C.T. and/or S.A.T. test scores, etc. (Best Colleges, 2018). Some universities and colleges may also invite applicants for an interview or a personal statement. In the United Kingdom, universities require good General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) results. In South Korea, the applicant must pass the eight-hour College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), especially if the applicant is aiming for top universities (Moon, 2018). Bachelor’s degree in business often takes three to four years to complete.

Master’s degree entry requirements

Just like the entry requirements for an undergraduate degree, master’s degree requirements vary depending on the school and it usually takes one to two years to complete. In the U.S., universities require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited academic institution within or outside the country. While it is not required to have an undergraduate degree in business studies to apply for a master’s degree in business, some schools may have particular prerequisites. These prerequisites may include coursework in communication, marketing, etc., depending on the master’s degree program an applicant plans to take (The Best Master’s Degrees, n.d.).

For MBA applicants, professional experience is taken into consideration as admission officials would like to see actual “evidence of growth, discipline and leadership” (Kowarski, 2020). There is no rule that dictates how much work experience is required to qualify for an MBA program, as this varies depending on the assessment of the school admission officials. On rare occasions, a student can get into an MBA program right after completing a four-year degree if the applicant has “exceptional academic credentials” (Kowarski, 2020).

Other requirements are the following (MastersPortal, 2019):

  • Resume
  • Personal statement
  • Proof of English proficiency (handwritten or computer-based)
  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score
  • At least two to three years of professional experience for MBA applicants

In Europe, business schools require the following:

  • GMAT, Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), and/or other passing admission test scores.
  • English language certificate

Below are the master’s degree programs available to applicants (, 2019):

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA). Programs under this type of master’s degree are commonly required for leadership and managerial positions. Among the concentrations available for MBA are leadership, finance, business analytics, human resource management, and more.
  • Master of Arts Business Degrees (MA). MA degrees include business communication and international business and policy, both of which involve coursework in liberal arts.
  • Master of Science Business Degrees (MS). The degrees under this type are often more technical and include studies that focus on mathematics and/or science. Master’s degrees under MS include business analytics and marketing.
  • Specialized Master’s Degree. There are master’s degrees in business that are more focused on specific subjects, such as Master of Accountancy.

Doctoral degree entry requirements

Master’s degree holders can pursue their studies further by choosing either Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or PhD programs (Erskine, 2013), which can be completed in a minimum of three years. Entry requirements vary depending on the school and the type of doctorate degree.

  • PhD. This doctorate degree in business is for candidates who would like to pursue an academic research career in order to contribute to business knowledge or theory. An example of this type of doctoral degree are PhD in Law Business, PhD in Business Administration, PhD in International Business Management, and more. Below are some of the basic entry requirements for those who would like to pursue a PhD in business (Best Colleges, 2018):
    • An undergraduate degree in business, finance, or economics.
    • Minimum GPA
    • Depending on the institution, professional experience may be required
    • Letters of recommendation
    • Passing GMAT scores
  • DBA. This type of doctoral degree focuses on professionals who would like to focus on theoretical knowledge and its use and application in business practices. Among the degrees under this type of doctoral degree are DBA in International Business Communication, DBA in Sustainability Management, and more. Entry requirements for DBA programs are similar to PhD except for the following:
    • Master’s Degree in Business Administration
    • At least three years of professional experience

business degree enrollment percentages

How Much Does It Cost to Study Business Degree?

The cost of tuition fee varies depending on the program and the type of institution. On top of tuition fees, there are other costs to consider, such as room and board. According to College Board’s Trends in College Pricing for school year 2018-2019, the average annual cost for a four-year bachelor’s degree program was $8,600 if enrolled in a four-year program in a public institution and $34,920 if enrolled in a four-year program in a private, nonprofit institution, excluding room and board.

average salary of business degree graduates

Master’s degree programs cost an average of $8,850 in public institutions and $30,450 in private nonprofit academies. Tuition fees for doctoral degree programs cost $11,120 in public institutions and $44,020 in private nonprofit schools (College Board, 2018, p. 9).

Source: College Board 2018

The Best Universities to Study Business

Based on the rankings published by QS World University Rankings for 2020, the top three universities when it comes to business and management studies are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, and Harvard University, all of which are located in the United States. Meanwhile, the California Institute of Technology takes the fifth spot and the University of Chicago got the tenth place.

Source: QS World University Rankings 2020

Four universities from the United Kingdom entered the top 10 and they are the University of Oxford (4), University of Cambridge (7), University College London (8), and Imperial College London (9). Among the top 10, only the ETH Zurich—Swiss Federal Institute of Technology from Switzerland—is neither from the U.S. or the U.K. It occupies the sixth spot.

The university rankings are based on several performance indicators, including citations per faculty, international students, international faculty, faculty student, employer reputation, and academic reputation.

top business management universities

Possible Careers for Business Majors

According to Buchanan et al., (2007, p. 282), the ability to achieve career growth is a strong motivating factor behind an individual’s decision to pursue a post graduate business degree. Unlike social work students who are more strongly influenced by their desire to gain further knowledge, students taking a master’s degree in business are chasing after professional advancement. Previous studies also agreed that high starting salaries and employment opportunities are among the strongest motivations behind a student’s choice to become a business major.

A survey of 1,200 employers from different parts of the world reveals that more companies planned to hire business majors in 2019 compared to the actual hiring in 2018 (GMAC, 2019, p. 11).

The employer respondents were particularly interested in hiring more business talents with master’s degrees (GMAC, 2019, p. 11):

Source: GMAC 2019

The study also reveals that startup up companies prioritized hiring master’s degree holders with marketing specializations in 2019, compared to Fortune Global 100 and 500 companies that were after business talents with master’s degrees in information technology and supply chain management (GMAC, 2019, p. 24).

As for business talents with doctoral degrees, below are some career options:

  • Management consultants. Also called “management analysts,” the career outlook for this position is around 14% growth rate from 2016 to 2026 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Professor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in academic institutions for business graduates with DBA and PhD are projected to grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026.
  • Market research analyst. Business talents with doctoral degrees who can take the position of market research analyst directors can have a median salary of $162,035 annually (, n.d.).

How Much Do Business Majors Earn?

Median starting salary varies considerably depending on the company, industry, and region. In 2019, the median annual base salary for a new bachelor’s degree hire in the United States was $55,000 and $115,000 for new hires with MBAs (GMAC, 2019, p. 5). PhD holders can earn between $150,000 to $175,000 if they pursue the academic route and become university/college business professors (AACSB, n.d).

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) among 134 employers in the U.S., the projected average salary for the class of 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in business-related fields is $57,939. For master’s degree holders, the projected average salary is $75,197. No data is provided for PhD and DBA degree holders.

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Median starting salary offered by U.S. companies to master's degree holders in 2019

(in U.S. dollars)

Median starting salary offered by U.S. companies to master's degree holders in 2019
MBA: 115000


Median starting salary offered by U.S. companies to master's degree holders in 2019
Master of Data Analytics: 85000

Master of Data Analytics

Median starting salary offered by U.S. companies to master's degree holders in 2019
Master of Finance: 85000

Master of Finance

Median starting salary offered by U.S. companies to master's degree holders in 2019
Master in Management: 80000

Master in Management

Median starting salary offered by U.S. companies to master's degree holders in 2019
Master of Accounting: 75000

Master of Accounting

Source: GMAC; Business School Hiring Report: Corporate Recruiters Survey 2019

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Famous People Who Studied Business

The field of study being pursued in college usually determines the career path of an individual. This, however, does not translate into reality for everyone. In the list below, you will find well-known and successful individuals who first did not go to college to study business, as well as those who received business degrees but decided to pursue a different career path.

  • Jack Ma. Ma first studied English before pursuing a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. He later co-founded the ecommerce giant Alibaba Group. He is currently number 17 on Forbes’ list of billionaires for 2020 and his net worth is $48.1 billion (Forbes, 2020).
  • Susan Wojcicki. The 16th employee of Google, Wojcicki rose to become the CEO of the world’s largest video streaming platform, YouTube. Like Jack Ma, Wojcicki did not originally pursue business studies. After completing her undergraduate studies in history and literature at Harvard University, she proceeded to complete a master’s degree in economics and business administration (Leskin & Vega, 2020).
  • Tim Cook. The current CEO of Apple first went to Auburn University to study Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering. He then attended Duke University where he completed his MBA (Leskin & Vega, 2020).
  • John Grisham. Before John Grisham became a best-selling author, he worked odd jobs and only decided to get a business degree while hitchhiking home. After attending three different colleges, Grisham eventually received his undergraduate degree in accounting from Mississippi State University (Birdsey, 2o2o).
  • Cate Blanchett. Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett completed a dual degree in fine arts and economics at the prestigious University of Melbourne in Australia (Birdsey, 2o2o).

Is a Business Degree Right For You?

According to Kim, et al., (2002, p. 28), the process of choosing a major is based on “expectations of gainful employment, hope of a more promising career, financial rewards, or personal interest.” Based on these considerations, business degrees can offer a broad base of opportunity in terms of career advancement across a wide range of industries. And while having a bachelor’s degree in business is enough to lay down a good career foundation, broadening your education, especially by pursuing a higher degree or other specializations could give you so much more. Getting more credentials will not only boost your skills and knowledge, but it can also improve your job prospects.


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