For college-bound or college-age students interested in the corporate world or even professionals with years of experience under their belts, a business degree may seem like a no-brainer. After all, if you want to work in a business, you should have a business degree... right?
As it turns out, there are many types of business degrees, and whether they're the right decision for you is largely dependent on your goals, field(s) of interest and career aspirations.
There are many types of business degrees, each of which will prepare graduates to work in a different career field. Below are some of the common types of business majors and what they each entail.
In this field of study, students learn how to report on business' or individuals' financial activities. They also learn how to crunch the numbers and convey information on financial transactions to others in an organization.
Students in this field learn how to run businesses on a day-to-day basis. This includes learning about operations, analyzing a business' strengths and weaknesses, maximizing profit and handling tough environments.
Like accounting, this is a numbers-heavy field of study. Those who study finance learn how to help organizations — including for-profit corporations and nonprofits — or individuals manage their money in order to meet their financial goals.
Globe-trotting students who want to see the world in the course of their work may want to consider an international business degree. In this field of study, students learn how to navigate cross-border business and intercultural communication.
Commercially-minded students who are interested in the strategic side of selling products to end customers may consider marketing. In this field, they'll study concepts like pricing, sales channels and advertising and promoting products.
Those who enjoy the thrill of closing deals might consider a sales degree. Here, a student might study topics like selling skills, entrepreneurship, business economics and consumer psychology. This can be a good choice for students who aren't interested in traditional four-year colleges; many two-year college offer associate's degrees in sales.
Students who graduate with general business degrees are strong candidates for a range of jobs. Those who are interested in big businesses may consider corporate careers, which are available in nearly every sector. Regardless of the industry, all companies need savvy leaders, managers, financial advisors, and decision makers. Business degrees prepare students to meet all these needs.
Additionally, many business degree holders remain drawn to the traditional pathways that their business degrees naturally lead to. For these business degree holders, banking, finance, consulting, human resources and marketing are excellent employment opportunities.
Here's what you can expect in a few of the common careers for business-degree holders:
Those with accounting degrees may find themselves gravitating towards this industry, which their degrees are expressly designed to equip them for. The median pay in this industry was $70,500/year or $33.89/hour in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On a day-to-day basis, an accountant or auditor can expect to be involved in preparing and examining financial records. Certain times of year — namely, the end of the budget year and tax season — are busier than others, and can mean fairly significant overtime.
If a business degree holder goes into finance, they can expect to spend most of their time giving business and individuals guidance on investment decisions. If they're at investment banks, they'll advise their employer's investment decisions; if they're working as financial advisors to individuals, they'll advise their clients' investment decisions. Compensation in this field is quite generous: in 2018, the median pay was $85,660/year, or $41.18/hour.
Commercially savvy and creative business degree holders may gravitate towards marketing as their career of choice. In this industry, they'll find themselves conducting market research, developing marketing strategies, managing relationships with clients and customers, analyzing markets and evaluating advertising spend returns. For those who wind up working as market research analysts, the BLS reported a $63,120/year median wage ($30.35/hour).
Those who want to work in sales often end up in post-graduate training programs or trainee management programs that fast-track their positions in a given company. These programs can provide invaluable first-hand experience and can help employees develop both business and management skills. Those who stick with sales as their career can expect to be paid well. In May 2017, the BLS reported a median annual wage of $63,050/year or $30.31/hour for sales representatives.
A business degree comes with a host of benefits, including a broad choice of career possibilities, applicability to both the workplace and real life, and career advancement opportunities. Students who choose to pursue business degrees can expect:
Because they cover a lot of ground, business degrees equip graduates to work in a range of fields and industries. In this way, they're very flexible and allow graduates to pursue work in many places.
Since business degrees are geared towards preparing graduates for the "real world" of business, they tend to be very practical and skills-based. This means business graduates often come out ahead of their peers by having concrete skills that they can put to use in the workplace.
Since business principles can be applied in both business and personal contexts, many majors find that their degrees help them figure out how to "adult" more readily. As an example, someone with a finance degree has a bit of a leg up over someone with an English degree when it comes to understanding 401Ks.
Generally speaking, a business degree provides some competitive edge in applying for jobs, especially in comparison with those who don't have degrees or whose degrees are less marketable or practical. Many employers appreciate the skills that business degrees teach to students, so those who have them may find it easier to find jobs.
While business degrees have many benefits, it's also worth considering the potential pitfalls, which may include lower-than-expected earnings, tough competition from fellow degree holders and a less exciting college career. Namely, business degrees have the following weaknesses:
• Lower-than-expected earning potential.
Although many people believe business degrees are among the highest-paying majors, this isn't actually the case. In one study by PayScale, business actually came in as the 56th best-paying college degree, behind "impractical" majors such as philosophy, history and American studies.
• Less excitement.
Generally speaking, a business major is considered a fairly "safe" route. If you happen to be passionate about finance, sales or accounting, business will be an exciting and intellectually engaging field of study — but, if we're being honest, how many 18- and 19-year olds are jazzed about Accounting 101? While an art history degree might not be as "marketable" as a business degree, true passion for what one studies as an undergraduate can yield significant returns in the form of greater engagement with class material, better grades and a generally more interesting academic experience.
• A highly saturated job market.
Business is consistently one of the most popular degrees across the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the 1.895 million bachelor's degrees conferred in the 2014-2015 academic year, 364,000 were business degrees. This dwarfed the number of degrees granted in the second-most popular field of study, health professions and related programs (216,000 degrees). So, business degree holders can expect stiff competition from job applicants with similar degrees when they're applying for their first jobs.
• It's not needed for a business career.
In a survey of employers, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that workplaces value three skills common to liberal arts educations — communication, analytic ability and teamwork — above holding a business degree. In another study, the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 89% of surveyed employers actually preferred for the college students they hire to pursue liberal arts, rather than business, educations.
Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.