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Explore the Types of Business Degrees and See What's Right for You

Business degrees vary by academic level, from undergraduate through graduate programs. You can also specialize in areas such as finance, information technology, international business, human resources and more.
Five cartoon people discussing different types of business degree

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Every year, college students across the U.S. choose majors and pursue degrees that best align with their career goals. Among the most popular majors over the past decade is business.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), between the years 2010-2011 and 2020-2021, U.S. colleges and universities conferred approximately 391,400 bachelor’s degrees in business. That comprises nearly one in five of all bachelor's degrees awarded in that timeframe.

As popular as bachelor’s degrees in business are, there are actually a number of different types of business degrees you can pursue. They vary by academic level and by areas of concentration within the overarching field of business.

What are the Different Types of Business Degrees?

 Dr. Jolivette Wallace, associate dean of marketing programs at SNHUStudents interested in business will find degree opportunities at a variety of levels, depending on where they are on their academic and career journey, said Dr. Jolivette Wallace, associate dean of marketing programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). She identifies the following as some examples of different types of business degrees, in order of ascension:

Undergraduate Business Degrees

  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS)

Graduate/Postgraduate Degrees

  • Master of Science (MS)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Other academic credentials you may consider pursuing are business certificates and certifications, offered at undergraduate and graduate levels. These can be credit-bearing academic credentials, and often serve as a way to augment your degree in specialized areas of business and expand professional opportunities.

Examples of business certificate areas include:

A clock on an blue backgroundWallace — who has a PhD in Business focused on applied management and more than 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur and college-level business instructor — said each of these degree levels involves distinct requirements for entry and degree completion.

At the undergraduate level, associate degrees typically involve two years, while bachelor’s degrees normally take three to four years, assuming all prerequisites for entry into the program have been fulfilled.

“At the graduate level, the most common degree programs are Master of Science and Master of Business Administration programs,” Wallace said. “Additionally, there are doctoral programs in business ... which are research-oriented and geared towards those pursuing academic or high-level research positions.”

Wallace said master’s degrees usually take one or two years of full-time study, while the duration of doctoral-level business degrees can vary widely.

With many types of business degrees available at all educational levels, it's important to let your interests and career goals drive you toward the one that's for you. "Sometimes it's not about discovering the perfect degree but rather unveiling the passion that fuels their potential," said Dr. Jessica Rogers, an associate dean of business at SNHU. "A degree is not just a path; (it's) where curiosity meets purpose, and our role as educators is to light the way."

Rogers, who has professional experience in operations management, sales management and marketing, empathizes with her students. As someone who lacked confidence as an undergraduate and had a lot of competing priorities as a graduate student, Rogers said she strives to be the kind of educator she needed.

Which Field is Best for Business?

In addition to different levels of business degrees, there is also a range of distinct areas of concentration within the study of business that you can pursue.

Gary Simmerman, a finance adjunct faculty member at SNHUGary Simmerman, an adjunct faculty member who teaches finance classes at SNHU, said selecting a specific concentration or area of business will allow you to more precisely align your academic work with your unique career goals. 

Simmerman, who has an MBA, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ — a professional path supported by SNHU's BS in Finance with a concentration in Financial Planning. Simmerman has over 35 years of experience in the financial services, consulting and pharmaceutical industries, and said students often have a wide range of options from which to choose. Some include:

  • Finance and accounting
  • Information technology
  • International business
  • Management and human resource management
  • Marketing and entrepreneurship
  • Operations and supply chain management

According to Wallace, the specific concentration or specialization a student chooses can impact the level of difficulty and depth of study required. Further, she said the demand for professionals in different areas of business is constantly evolving, driven by factors such as:

  • Industry trends
  • Economic conditions
  • Employer demands
  • Global developments
  • Geographic needs

“Some areas have consistently shown strong demand due to evolving business landscapes and emerging trends,” Wallace said.

An icon of a laptop.Some of those new and emerging trends that will help shape business and business education, according to Forbes, include things like artificial intelligence (AI), cryptocurrency, environmental sustainability and a heightened emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

The types of roles that make up the business world are expansive. What's most important to consider as you explore your options is yourself.

"In the landscape of business opportunities, the key to success lies not in finding the 'best' field, but rather in identifying the field that resonates most profoundly with your values, skills and aspirations," Rogers said.

You may also discover roles that span multiple fields, or that your career flows from one area to another — similar to the experience Rogers has had. "Business excellence is not confined to a singular path," she said. "It's a blend of passion, expertise and dedication."

Find Your Program

Which Job Has the Highest Salary in Business?

Several factors determine salary and level of success achieved by business graduates, Wallace said. Some of these include:

  • Degree level
  • Geographic location
  • Industry
  • Position or job title
  • Years of experience

“Additionally, salaries can vary over time based on economic conditions and market trends,” Wallace said. “Some of the business degrees with the highest level of earning potential include the same degrees that happen to be in high demand.”* These include:

  • Master of Business Administration*
  • Finance*
  • Marketing and entrepreneurship*
  • International business*
  • Supply chain management*
  • Tech management*

Dr. Jessica Rogers, an associate dean of business at SNHU“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest paying business careers are in management and finance,” Simmerman said.* “An MBA or a master’s degree in finance are good alternatives for maximizing income potential.”

In fact, BLS statistics indicate a difference of $229 in median weekly earnings between individuals with a master's degree and those with a bachelor's degree.*

Beyond salary, it's important that the type of role you pursue feels meaningful to you. "The worth of a business degree is not solely measured in terms of earning potential, but in the enrichment of one's analytical acumen and the ability to shape and lead impactful ventures," Rogers said.

Which Business Degree is Best for Me?

Every student’s academic path and career aspirations are unique, and when it comes to determining which area of business is best for you, there are a number of things to consider, Simmerman said. Some of these include:

  • Are you currently working in business and looking to advance in your field or move into a different field?
  • Are you just beginning your academic journey?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What degree is most likely to be of benefit for advancing in your field?
  • What interests do you have?

These are key considerations if you're thinking about pursuing a business degree and trying to determine what level of degree, and what area of study would be best for you, Simmerman said.

Choosing the right business degree can have a significant impact on your career trajectory, Wallace said.

“This decision should consider what best complements the student’s goals," she said. "Some of the most successful individuals in any industry are able to align career goals with passion/interests.”

Other factors to consider when deciding on a business degree, Wallace said, include:

Are Business Degrees Worth It?

Earning a business degree can open a distinctive range of career opportunities across a broad spectrum of industries, Wallace said. Additionally, she said the knowledge and skills gained in business degree programs can be applied in many other professions.

“Many employers value and prefer employees who invest in their own professional development and who are well-versed in analytics, problem-solving and critical thinking skills,” she said.

A business degree is a path that can lead to high-paying careers in fields such as finance, accounting, marketing and human resources, Simmerman said.* Regardless of what career goals you may have within the world of business, he added, it’s important to understand the most effective educational path required to get there.

“A bachelor’s degree may be required for many entry-level positions,” Simmerman said. “Even if not required, it may help set the student apart from other candidates. A master’s degree may be beneficial for advancing into more senior level positions.”

An icon of three checkmark list items leading to a graduation cap.

According to the BLS, employment in business and financial occupations between 2022 and 2032 is expected to grow faster than the average of all other occupations, with approximately 911,400 openings projected each year on average.*

The versatility of career opportunities is one of the most empowering aspects of earning a business degree, Wallace said.

“The diverse skill set gained through a business degree allows graduates to adapt to different industries and roles, exploring a wide range of career options in various industries,” she said. “A graduate in marketing can explore careers in advertising, market research, brand management and digital marketing, for example.”

When coupled with years of experience and a track record of success working in the field, a business degree can take you to the highest levels of leadership.

“Additionally, many business professionals advance to leadership positions, such as CEOs, CFOs or business owners, as they gain experience and expertise in their chosen field,” she said.

The bottom line is: If you decide to earn a business degree, the result is more than a diploma at the end. "(A business degree) is an investment in the art of decision-making, strategic thinking and the versatility to navigate the ever-evolving landscapes of commerce," Rogers said.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU business program that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Cary Jordan is an Iowa-based writer with more than 20 years of writing and editing experience on a wide range of issues related to higher education. Cary has held administrative and cabinet-level positions at multiple colleges and universities, and his writing has spanned topics related to undergraduate education as well as graduate education in the areas of business, law, medicine and engineering, among others.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.