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What degrees are available in business administration?

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There are three core degree paths in business administration: associate, bachelor's and master's. Each provides a different level of education and takes a different amount of time to complete. The degree you choose determines the business administration roles available to you and can significantly influence your salary.

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"A degree in business administration is probably the most universal degree you could ever earn," said Ralph Griffith, BA, MBA, DBA, an associate professor of entrepreneurship at Lenoir-Rhyne University. It's also a versatile degree that can open the door to many business careers.

Depending upon the degree level you're pursuing, your coursework will both stay the same and differ. Your first two years (essentially an associate degree level) cover introductory subjects and classes designed to give you the basics of business admin. As you progress to third and fourth year studies your classes incorporate humanities and subjects other than business, that will give you a well-rounded education as well as focus on your area of specialty.

Once you've earned your bachelor's and decide to do a postgraduate program such as a master's degree or an MBA, you'll dive into your area of specialty and complete in-depth, advanced courses that prepare you for management or administrative roles.

Associate degree

An entry-level business degree for people who want to enter the field quickly. It takes two years to complete and can qualify you for roles such as human resources assistant or marketing associate.

What subjects will an associate degree cover?

You'll take general intro courses in a variety of subject areas and earn credits towards your bachelor's degree in an associate in business administration program. These programs are designed to give you a well-rounded introduction to business and help you decide what you may later be interested in focusing upon for your career.

Your class schedule may look something like this:

  • Introduction to international business
  • Business law I
  • Management accounting
  • Principles of finance
  • Marketing strategies
  • Leadership in business

Bachelor's degree

A bachelor's in business administration is a foundational degree that can give you the education you need for managerial or administrative roles. Most roles in business administration will look for at least a bachelor's degree from candidates. A bachelor's will take four years to complete if you study full time.

What courses will I take to earn my bachelor's degree in business administration?

You'll likely take business administration classes or select a concentration to focus your efforts in a bachelor's degree program. Some of the areas of specialty you may choose from include:

  • Accounting
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Finance
  • Healthcare administration
  • Human resources
  • International business
  • Marketing
  • Project management
  • Public administration
  • Sports management

Here are examples of a business administration course you could take within your area of specialty:

  • Accounting: Intermediate accounting
  • Entrepreneurship: Business plan preparation
  • Finance: Corporate finance
  • Healthcare administration: Healthcare quality management
  • Human resources: Employee and labor relations
  • Marketing: Digital marketing
  • Project management: Resource estimating and scheduling
  • Public administration: Public fiscal management
  • Sports management: Sports marketing

Your bachelor's program could include other generalized classes such as these:

  • General education credits
  • Micro and macroeconomics

Master's degree

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a great way to get the education you need to pursue leadership, executive and other advanced roles in business administration. A master's can take 18 months to two years to complete.

What business administration topics are covered during an MBA?

You'll be required to focus on your specialty area of business administration in a master's or MBA program. Besides coursework in your concentration you'll take advanced classes in areas that prepare you to lead and inspire:

  • Advanced business core classes such as operations and technology management, global political economy, data-driven decision-making, ethics and social impact
  • Leadership
  • Data analytics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Global management
  • Finance
  • Supply chain management

The majority of your coursework focuses on your area of specialized study and emphasis.

Can you earn a business administration degree online?


No matter the business administration degree path you choose, online options are available. Online programs are an increasingly popular option because of the flexibility they offer. They could be the only option for working students, parents of young children, people who live in remote areas or far from schools that offer programs that fit their needs, or anyone else who needs an option beyond traditional campus learning.

Online programs are an increasingly popular option because of the flexibility they provide, and they're available for all business administration degrees.

Students in online programs receive the same education as students in traditional on-campus programs. They are able to attend class by listening to recorded lectures and reviewing learning materials at their convenience. Online students can use teleconferencing to talk with professors, get help from a tutor or study with fellow students.

Which degree is right for you?

The right degree for you depends on your personal circumstances, goals and other factors. For instance, it's important to consider things like timing, finances and goals.

Keep in mind that you don't have to decide right away. You can always start with an associate or bachelor's degree and then go back to school later. Your experience in the workforce might even be beneficial in future classes.

How soon do you want to enter the job market?

As a rule, the higher the degree you're pursuing is, the longer it will take to complete your education. That means it's faster to earn an associate degree than a bachelor's or master's.

What can you afford?

Advanced degrees are a bigger financial commitment. Since they take more time, you'll spend more money earning them.

What are your career aspirations?

The career you imagine for yourself could dictate the education you'll need. For instance, if you want to work as a marketing manager, a bachelor's degree might be a great fit. If your goal is a leadership or executive role, you'll need to earn an MBA.

How much do you want to earn?

As a rule, earning an advanced degree means a higher salary. You might pay more to earn a bachelor's degree, but it's likely you'll have a wider choice of jobs and a higher salary when you graduate.

Why is accreditation important?

What should you look for in a program? "Number one, I would look for an accredited program," said Griffith. "Accreditation means that schools have been vetted, and they are legitimate schools with great histories and programs and lots of alumni."

This applies to online or on-campus business administration programs. Accreditation matters because:

  • Accreditation means your program has met the standards needed to deliver quality education and set you up for success.
  • You won't be able to transfer the credits you earn to another school later if your program isn't accredited. This could make it difficult to transfer schools or to earn an advanced degree in the future.
  • You won't be able to apply for federal financial aid unless you attend an accredited program. You can't receive loans, grants or other aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if you attend a program that is not accredited.
  • Many professional certifications require education from accredited schools and programs. Without an accredited education, you won't be able to earn these career-boosting credentials.
  • Employers might look for candidates who have degrees from accredited programs. You could have trouble getting hired without an accredited degree.

Accrediting agencies

The following organizations accredit business administration programs and list the programs on their websites.

AACSB: The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is a global nonprofit that grants national accreditation to undergraduate and graduate business administration programs. Only 30% of U.S. business schools have AACSB accreditation, widely regarded as the highest level of accreditation for business schools.

ACBSP: The Accreditation Council for Collegiate Business Schools and Programs accredits smaller private and public schools that offer associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral-level business degrees that focus on teaching.

CHEA: The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is an umbrella group for 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities. It recognizes 60 school and program-specific accrediting groups, including the AACSB and ACBSP.

DEAC: The Distance Education Accrediting Commission grants accreditation to online programs that are at least 2 years old.

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Srakocic

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Ralph Griffith

Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, Lenoir-Rhyne University