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Business Administration Degrees and Programs: What You'll Study


Business administration degrees are among the most popular college programs in the U.S., and with good reason. Armed with this versatile credential, you can potentially launch a career in any industry, from music to manufacturing, construction to consulting.

With a two-year associate's degree, you might find employment as a management trainee in the sales or retail industry, or jump into a role in office manager or project coordination. A bachelor's degree in business administration can give you the tools to take on administrative and managerial roles, while earning your MBA will help you take the big step into leadership positions such as CEO or CFO.

Hundreds of schools offer courses in business administration. Whether you choose a brick and mortar campus or an online-only option, expect to work closely with other students on challenging team projects that put business theory into practice.

Ready to locate the program that's right for you?

Associate's Degree in Business Administration

Whether you're looking to launch a new career or advance the one you've got, an associate's degree in business administration can help you find your footing in the business world. It can also be an important step toward a bachelor's degree. Programs typically focus on accounting, management and software applications. You'll most likely apply the techniques you've learned in a capstone course with real-world relevance.

Many schools offer concentrations in specific areas of business administration, including healthcare administration, human resources and information systems. Through career-oriented courses, these programs help students build the skills and industry background information to qualify for entry-level jobs in a specialty field.

Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration

Graduates of business administration programs typically come away with a strong grasp of business management principles, technical know-how and interpersonal skills.

With a bachelor's degree in business administration, you will qualify for vital roles in private, public and nonprofit organizations. You will be ready to work across industries as a business analyst, human resources generalist, operations manager or marketing specialist. Some business administration graduates also venture into entrepreneurship, creating their own successful enterprises from the ground up.

In general, course work for a bachelor's of business administration covers management principles and practices such as the following:

  • Communication
  • Organizational leadership
  • Resource management: people, money, time
  • Strategic planning
  • Business-oriented computer applications
  • Financial management
  • Business ethics

Students can also expect their program to cover core business subjects such as accounting, finance, information technology and marketing.

As an example of a typical course load, University of Phoenix offers the following program of 120 credit hours of undergraduate courses for Bachelor of Science in Business with a concentration in Administration:

Examples of Core Courses

  • Business Communications and Critical Thinking: Students will develop skills in critical thinking and decision making through the forms of written communication, including memos, emails, business letters, and reports. Other topics include communication ethics and cross-cultural communications, personal communication styles, solving organizational problems, and the evaluation of an organizations strategic direction.
  • Introduction to Computer Applications and Systems: Students learn to apply Microsoft® Office tools including work processing, spreadsheet, database, and presentation software to accomplish business objectives.
  • Management Theory and Practice: This course explores the rich field of management in theory and practice, and as both a science and an art. Students learn to apply management concepts to current workplace issues
  • Principles of Accounting I: This course covers the fundamentals of financial accounting as well as the identification, measurement, and reporting of the financial effects of economic events on an enterprise.
  • Principles of Accounting II: This course introduces accounting concepts in a business environment.
  • Business Research: Students will learn to apply an understanding of commonly employed business research techniques to improve a situation, solve a problem, or change a process.
  • Principles of Microeconomics: This course provides students with the basic theories, concepts, terminology, and uses of microeconomics.
  • Finance for Business: This course introduces the student to the essential elements of finance for business. Topics include: Financial planning, working capital management, capital budgeting, long term financing, and international finance.
  • Global Business Strategies: The manager's perspective in the fields of international payments, international trade, and investment are analyzed. Emphasis is given to the materials and concepts that illuminate the strategies, structure, practices, and effects of multinational enterprises.

Other classes may include such topics as marketing, quantitative analysis, business law and integrated business.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) Programs


With an MBA degree, graduates qualify for an extensive list of management roles. From corporate controllers to executive directors in nonprofit agencies and from independent consultants to business owners, graduates of MBA degree programs position themselves for diverse professional opportunities throughout their careers.

Students can choose a full-time MBA or part-time MBA program. Full-time MBA programs typically take two years to complete. Undergraduate students can enter into a BA/MBA track where they earn their bachelor's degree and MBA in a total of five years.

Additionally, for working professionals, busy moms and people with generally demanding schedules, pursuing an online MBA degree can be an ideal alternative to a traditional classroom program. While the curriculum may vary between schools, an accredited MBA online program delivers the same high-quality education and practical training as an on-campus program.

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) Programs

A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) prepares graduates to lead, consult and teach in corporate and academic arenas. Typically designed for applicants with management experience, DBA degree programs build on skills acquired through master's-level studies. Like a PhD, a DBA equips professionals with expertise in leadership and management principles and a higher level of competence in conducting research.

Students can earn their DBA in three to six years, depending on whether they enroll in a full-time or part-time program.

DBA studies usually involve classes in research and analytical methods; core management subjects such as strategic planning, managing change and solutions-oriented leadership; and the student's choice of specialization. Examples of specializations include international business, management, marketing and information systems.

Additionally, candidates for a Doctor of Business Administration degree must write and defend a doctoral dissertation and pass a comprehensive exam as part of the requirements for their degree.

What certification will I need?

Though business administration professions are frequently determined by degree types, there are certificate programs available in business administration, mostly to help develop executive education skills. If you specialize in a subfield of business administration such as human resources, accounting, finance, marketing and information technology, you'll find a wealth of professional certificates designed to help you advance in your career—many of which are conveniently available in the online format.

What will I learn in my courses?

Associate Degree

Those who pursue an associate's degree in business administration will find that the course work includes the following subjects:

  • Fundamentals of business
  • Management
  • Critical thinking
  • Project planning and implementation
  • Business software
  • Communications

Bachelor's Degree

In general, course work for a bachelor's of business administration covers management principles and practices such as the following:

  • Organizational leadership
  • People management
  • Strategic planning
  • Business-oriented computer applications

Students can also expect their program to include an introduction to core business subjects like accountingfinance, information technology and marketing.

MBA Degree

Curriculum for an MBA program covers the following topics:

  • Advanced management concepts and best practices
  • Organizational behavior and design
  • Ethical leadership
  • Strategic planning
  • International business
  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Information technology
  • Marketing

DBA studies usually involve classes in research and analytical methods; core management subjects such as strategic planning, managing change and solutions-oriented leadership; and the student's choice of specialization. Examples of specializations include international business, management, marketing and information systems.

How long will it take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, a business administration major can take the following time to complete:

  • Associate's degree programs, which provide entry-level opportunity, usually take two years
  • A bachelor's degree program takes four years
  • Master's degree programs and MBAs generally require one to two years
  • A DBA program generally takes three to six years to complete

Are online programs available?

Luckily, online programs in business administration are readily available for all degree levels, including associates, bachelors, MBA and DBA degree programs. Online programs include general business as well as almost every specialty area, including online programs in the following:

  • Computer Science
  • International Business
  • Finance
  • Human Resources Management
  • Health Care Management
  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • Entrepreneurship

How much will my education cost?

Bachelor's degree programs vary depending upon the institution you attend. According to College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2020-2021, the average annual cost* for a four-year, public institution runs around $10,5600 for in-state tuition and $27,020 for out-of-state-tuition.

The average annual cost for a four-year private non-profit school is $34,650. Master's degree program tuition at in-state public institutions costs an average of $9,751 annually, and doctorate program tuition costs around $11,120 annually at in-state public institutions.

Tuition Cost

Average annual tuition according to College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2020-2021. Reflects the cost of tuition and fees only. Prices do not include books, room, or board.

Bachelor's Degree Program in a Public Institution

In-state tuition: $10,560

Out-of-state tuition: $27,020

Master's Degree Program in a Public Institution

In-state tuition: $9,751

Doctorate Program in a Public Institution

In-state tuition: $30,000

Attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or online program.

Are there prerequisites?

Undergraduate: A strong college preparatory high school education is a good start for your business administration degree program. Courses in English, communications and social sciences are recommended. Mathematics courses, at least through pre-calculus, are highly desirable. If your school offers computer technology classes make sure you enroll, as these skills will be integral through college and into your career.

Graduate: A completed, four-year bachelor's degree in business administration or a related business field will prepare you for graduate school.

GRE and GMAT: The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is not required for admission to degree programs in the U.S. However, you may submit a score for review with your admission materials.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Accreditation shows that an institution or program meets standards of quality set forth by an accrediting agency, and that it is committed not only to meet those standards but to continuously seek ways in which to improve the quality of education and training provided. There are two types of educational accreditation: institutional and specialized.

The three main specialized accreditors for business administration degree programs include:

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB): AACSB International accredits degree programs in business administration and accounting at bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels

Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (ACBSP): ACBSP accredits business, accounting and business-related programs at the associate, bachelors, masters and doctorate degree levels world

International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE): The IACBE accredits business programs that lead to associate, bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees. It does not accredit institutions that only offer associate degrees in business

Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges, such as The Higher Learning Commission. Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges. There are six regional associations, each named after the region in which it operates (Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western). Learn more about accreditation.

Attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or online program.

What should expect my student-teacher ratio to be?

Students in undergraduate business administration programs will find a higher student-teacher ratio as many preparatory classes are often lecture-oriented and you can expect class size to be larger. As a rule, the further you progress in your education and field of specialty the smaller you should expect the ratio to become.


The ideal student-teacher ratio is around 14:1 according to U.S. News & World Report's Best Schools survey.

Online Programs

One classic criticism of online programs is that you're isolated from your teachers and classmates, but the opposite is often true. You may actually interact more with instructors and peers in online discussions, social media venues, and emails, than in a traditional classroom setting. The National Center for Education Statistics ranks the top 64 online universities on a number of factors, including student-teacher ratio. They found a range of 7:1–94:1 for their top 64 not-for-profit and for-profit schools.

Now that you've got the facts on business administration degrees, it's time to make the first move toward the business career that's calling you. Discover the program that's just right for you.