The idea of getting an MBA and coasting to a six-figure salary is a prospect that’s just too good to pass up… If only it were that easy.
The science of organizing and harnessing the efforts of large groups of people in the modern enterprise is a subject itself worthy of intensive study. And, like other sciences, it lends itself to specializations in distinct niche areas: accounting, marketing, finance, among others.
You won’t be coasting to success when pursuing a degree in any of these fields. They require hard work and years of study to earn. And even after all that, you can only expect to be eligible for an entry-level position in the big corporate machine. You’ll start off on the lowest rung with a long climb in front of you, but on the way up you can expect to start realizing that dream of getting paid a hefty salary for putting your talents to work.
The right kind of business degree will help you understand the underpinnings of how markets and corporations interact and thrive, and will set you up to secure your spot in that corner office faster.
Career Options The Come With Business Degrees
When you talk about getting a degree in business, what you’re really talking about is getting a master key to unlocking job prospects in any kind of company in the world. Everyone needs a manager, everyone needs accounting, everyone needs to market their business.
Depending on your specialty and degree level, this key can also unlock almost any kind of salary you can imagine. Master’s degrees, naturally, will help you command the highest rates, regardless of your specialty, but a degree or certificate at almost any level will set you up to get started in the field. Doctoral salaries will be similar to those for master’s degrees, since they usually represent a branch into academic matters instead of another step up the hiring ladder.
To give you some idea, here are some base salaries for various jobs in the different business degree specialties. The data are drawn from Robert Half’s 2018 Salary Guides and the Graduate Management Admission Council’s MBA Salary Research Report.
General Business Degree
Depending on the level of your degree, a business degree can get you anything from a job in the mailroom to a position as CEO. Business degrees, and specifically master’s of business administration (MBA), are increasingly in demand in every American industry and offer jobs at every conceivable pay rate.
|Degree||Sample Job||Salary Range|
|Associate’s||Purchasing Assistant||$28,500 – $48,000|
|Bachelor’s||Senior Executive Assistant||$55,000 – $85,000|
|Master’s||Management Analyst||$80,292 – $90,000|
Marketing represents a slice of creativity in the largely left-brained world of business. The salary structure in these positions tends to be more like a pyramid than a ladder—the talent pool at the top can make astronomically more than the crowds of aspiring marketers at the bottom. But there are livable mid-range salaries available in the field as well.
|Degree||Job Title||Salary Range|
|Associate’s||Billing Clerk||$27,750 – $57,250|
|Bachelor’s||Auditor||$37,500 – $65,000|
|Master’s||Tax Services Manager||$85,000 – $162,250|
|Degree||Job Title||Salary Range|
|Associate’s||Photographer||$35,250 – $78,750|
|Bachelor’s||Media Planner||$43,500 – $95,000|
|Master’s||Marketing Director||$81,750 – $168,750|
The high-powered world of finance has plenty of rewards to spread around. American banks and financial institutions are flying high and paying top dollar for talent. Even businesses not directly involved in finance recognize the benefit of having qualified money managers on staff, and pay accordingly.
|Degree||Job Title||Salary Range|
|Associate’s||Mortgage Processor||$27,750 – $53,000|
|Bachelor’s||Performance Analyst||$51,250 – $97,750|
|Master’s||Controller||$104,250 – $199,000|
Regional Adjustments For Earning Potential
Although those general ranges are a good guideline for salaries at each level of education, don’t think you’re going to make the same salary in Dubuque as you would in New York City, even in the same role. Regional variations can add or subtract up to 30 percent on a baseline salary due to regional demand and cost of living.
These are the adjustments suggested by Robert Half for a handful of representative cities around the country:
- New York : +40.5%
- Los Angeles : +31%
- Chicago : +23.5%
- Dallas : +10%
- Miami : +6.5%
- Saint Louis : -0.5%
- Atlanta : +6%
- Seattle : +21%
Things to Consider When Selecting a Degree Program in Business
Not only do you have to decide what school you’re going to attend, but you also have to decide what kind of degree you want to earn in business.
If you are considering associate’s programs, then transferability is probably your primary concern. Two-year degrees are primarily designed as a cheaper path to a four-year degree, but that only works if you can transfer your associate’s credits to a four-year school. This is typically governed by transfer agreements between state or regional schools—find out what agreements are in place for each college.
A post-baccalaureate certificate is roughly equivalent to a bachelor’s degree while a post-graduate certificate is roughly equal to a graduate degree. Both assume that your base degree is in a different subject area.
Art Versus Science
At all levels and in most types of programs you’ll see degrees in both arts and in science. These labels offer a clue about the content of the program.
Bachelor’s, master’s, or associate’s of arts degrees offer a more traditional, liberal arts-oriented college education. They serve to produce well-rounded graduates with a broad array of knowledge and critical thinking skills as well as business-specific knowledge.
Science degrees, on the other hand, are more narrowly focused on the technical and professional subjects of the field. They are considered more topical and may offer better preparation for immediate entry into the field.
Particularly when you investigate more advanced degrees, like master’s and doctorates, you’ll find that different schools have different strengths. Some have stronger connections to technology, while others may be better know for their preparation for careers in finance.
Carefully investigating the backgrounds of the faculty can give you a big clue about what industries and skills are most strongly represented. It’s a bonus if the faculty are either still involved in private enterprise to some degree or have recently had actual business experience.
Different schools acquire different reputations around their core competencies. If they make a list available, check into what companies and industries graduates tend to end up in. If you’re looking for a job in those industries, then you just found the right school.
The location of the school can have a real impact on both the faculty and graduate connections. Business schools in New York have a world of finance industry talent to draw on, for example, and their local grads are quite likely to end up in that orbit. That’s great networking for you and tends to reinforce the school’s competency in that field.
It also has an impact on internships that are available and capstone and other cooperative projects you might undertake as part of your program. Businesses that are near the school are the most likely candidates to participate in these. So if you’re hoping to land a summer gig at Apple, you probably shouldn’t be looking at schools in Florida.
Online programs are becoming de rigeur today and offer the ultimate in convenience, but it’s still worth shopping your options carefully to make sure you’re getting what you want out of the program. Online studies allow you to complete your course work on your own schedule and from any location in the world. That’s a combination that’s hard to beat, particularly at the master’s level, where you probably already have a job and commitments.
You don’t want a program where the regular onsite curriculum has just been slapped online and a department secretary’s Dropbox account has been borrowed for turning in assignments. If you’re dealing with an accredited school, and better yet, a program that has received specialty accreditation, you can be sure the course delivery software and curriculum have been carefully considered and put together to make it easy to succeed.
Degrees In General Business and Relates Niches
If you’re the entrepreneurial type or have an acumen for management, you’re probably not going to be interested in the structured nature of accounting, the intense analytics of finance, or the more creative work involved in developing slick marketing campaigns. And here in lies the beauty of business – there’s a niche for everyone bright and ambitious enough to dig in and do the work, and no business can run successfully without all these components adding their piece to the puzzle.
When it comes to curriculum, for bachelor’s degrees, and to a less extent associate’s, you can expect a full array of traditional liberal arts courses like writing, history, art, and languages. You will also have the opportunity to take many elective courses, inside or outside the field.
With an AS or BS these classes will be minimized in favor of more practice-oriented courses.
For master’s and doctorate degrees, you will find courses that are focused almost exclusively on a high-level study of the subject matter itself. Electives will be fewer and usually also more focused than at the bachelor’s level.
Business degrees tend to be the most multipurpose and so also tend to have the most specializations available. You can find bachelor and master degrees that offer focus areas in any other three types of degrees discussed here, along with other options like:
- Global Management
- Health Management
- Real Estate
Curriculum – You’ll find that all business degrees have many general business courses in their core curriculum. MBAs and bachelor and associate degrees in business, however, have more of these and in more detail, including:
- Business strategy
- Ethics and leadership
- Supply chain management
- Cost and project management principles
- International business
- Management Information Systems
Business degrees, particularly the more advanced ones, also usually have a sampling of the courses offered for other specialties. Find out more about MBA options and other degrees in general business.
In the business world, the CPA designation remains one of the most coveted and respected credentials, even among executives who have long since graduated from the ranks of the accounting department. This means that for many accounting students, the ultimate test of a program’s quality is in how many graduates go on to pass the uniform CPA exam, and even better, how many pass on the first try. Even if you’re not planning on going for your CPA, this gives you an excellent proxy for evaluating the effective strength of the school curriculum and instruction efforts.
Because the CPA exam includes a certain minimum credit requirement, you’ll want to make sure that the programs you enter have a relatively easy path to that magic 150 credit hour requirement. Some bachelor’s degrees in accounting are structured as 5-year programs to offer extended options for the extra 30 credits; in other cases, you may find a program that integrates bachelor and master’s tracks.
Curriculum – If you’re going into accounting, you’re going to have to love numbers. You’ll study math-heavy subjects like:
- Financial, Managerial, and Tax Accounting
- Legal and Ethical Accounting Requirements
You will also have some cross-over exposure to a series of general finance courses. Learn more about undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting.
Marketing degree programs are differentiated primarily by focus. The influence of big data has been massive in the marketing field and many programs are now offering a heavy emphasis in analytics. Others remain focused on the traditional marketing training in branding, strategy, and communication.
Although all good programs will hit each of these topics, it’s clear from the curriculum where their focus is. You should be sure to pick a school that aligns with your career plans.
Curriculum – Marketing degrees may have the least overlap with other business degrees, but they still include a lot of general business knowledge. On top of that, however, you’ll find a lot of classes that are focused on arts and entertainment, as well as psychology and the principles of individual decision-making. Courses include:
- Market analysis
- Marketing strategy
- Market research
- Advertising and promotion strategy
- Buyer strategies
- Marketing psychology
Find out more about earning an undergraduate or graduate degree in accounting.
For finance degrees, location may be king. Chicago, Boston, and New York dominate the American banking and investment industries. Schools in or around those hotbeds of financial activity are most likely to offer the experience and the connections you’ll need to get ahead when you graduate. Because finance and accounting are closely related, you might also look at CPA exam pass rate information in these programs when considering them.
Curriculum – As a finance major, you’ll have significant exposure to all of the accounting core curriculum subjects. However, you’ll find that most of them also include a financial management focus versus a strict accounting approach. You’ll also have additional classes in:
- Micro and macroeconomics
- Statistics and analysis
- Financial institutions and markets
Accreditation Standards for Degree Programs in Business
No matter what level of education you are looking at or what school you are considering attending, you need to make sure the program has been properly accredited before you enroll.
Accreditation is simply the process of being assessed and found competent to provide the education that is being advertised by the degree. At the most basic level, schools are properly accredited in the United States by one of six regional agencies, each of them in turn recognized by the Department of Education (DOE).
- Accrediting Commission for Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (North Central)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
These accreditors look at a school’s policies and procedures for conducting such routine educational business as:
- Selecting and promoting faculty
- Testing and grading students
- Setting course curriculums
- Handling administrative elements of degree programs
- Setting and upholding academic standards
It’s important to note that this isn’t a cookie-cutter approach; each school is allowed and encouraged to come at subjects with various pedagogical approaches. But it does set a baseline of professionalism and recognition that your future employers will be looking for.
Specialized Business Accreditation
Beyond the basic accreditation that any modern university should have, business schools should seek out and achieve additional accreditations specific to their subject matter.
The DOE also recognizes various specialized accreditation agencies. The ones that are relevant for business programs are:
- The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
- International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE)
They assess business degree programs just as the regional accrediting agencies look at colleges overall. But they drill down on the specific subjects and concerns involved in business education.
You’ll want to make sure any program you enter has also achieved one or more of these specialized accreditations over and above regional accreditation.