Business Degrees: Courses Structure, Specializations & Career | Top Universities

In a challenging economic climate and in the midst of a boom, graduates of business degrees are in high demand among a wide range of employers. You may be taking a first degree or returning to university to enhance your skills and move your career up a level, looking for a foundation in the core principles of international business or a deeper specialization in one particular market or role. Whatever your situation and career goals, there’s bound to be a business degree to match.

Types of business degrees 

Business degree

The term “business degrees” is often used as an umbrella term covering a wide range of courses, in subjects that include finance, accounting, management and economics. It may be useful to think about two main types of business degrees: those that cover a broad spectrum of business-related subjects, and those which focus more specifically on a narrower strand.

It’s also common to find business degrees that allow students to combine a key field of business (such as human resources management, financial analysis or entrepreneurship) with a second subject, in a combined honors or joint degree option. For example, you could choose to develop your project management skills while also studying computer sciences, or combine international business studies with modern languages. Learning a foreign language may prove beneficial for a wide range of business careers, allowing you to converse directly with representatives of international companies and financial hubs across the globe.

What to expect during your business degree 

What to expect in Business

Typically business degrees last three or four years at undergraduate level (depending on the country and program), and a further one or two years at master’s level. Undergraduate business degrees will typically start with a focus on core business principles, later on allowing students to choose specializations. At master’s level and beyond, even greater specialization is possible.

Business degrees are usually assessed using a combination of coursework and examinations, and the teaching process often involves a strong focus on case studies. These are descriptions of actual business situations, which students are expected to analyze in depth, and use the information provided to discuss and evaluate various business strategies and theories.

Some business schools offer accelerated programs, allowing students to graduate more quickly by taking on a more intensive workload. Others offer part-time or distance learning options, for those who want to continue working while furthering their education. And some include a “sandwich year” – in which students undertake a work placement for one year of the program.

Entry requirements 

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for undergraduate business degrees will vary depending on your country of study. For example, UK universities will ask for good GCSE and A-level results (or the equivalent), while US universities will ask for a High School Diploma with good grade point averages (GPAs), in both cases often showing a preference for strong results in mathematics and similar subjects. Universities may also wish you to demonstrate leadership skills and prove your interest in business, perhaps through an interview or a personal statement.

Business is certainly a broad and multidisciplinary field, and business topics vary depending on the institution and course focus. Common course options include: accounting, business administration, business analysis, business computing, business ethics, business statistics, commercial law, developing markets, economic principles, finance, human resources, international studies, management, marketing, operations management, research and technology. 

Students may also be able to specialize in business practices within a particular world region or specific industry sector; in fact the possible combinations are almost endless. Perhaps you’ll focus on e-commerce or the uses of social media in brand management, or become a leader in human resource management for SMEs, or an expert in business logistics in Latin America.

Some of the main business topics to choose from include: 

Accounting

 

Accounting 

As an accounting major you’ll learn how to analyze businesses’ stats and reports to highlight areas for improvement that could boost profits and minimize inefficiencies. You will learn how to shape financial practices within a business or organization, gaining an understanding of how financial systems work, how to apply accounting principles to make financial decisions, and how these may affect the bottom line. Often offered alongside finance, accounting requires strong skills in mathematics, statistical analysis, technology and ethics, and the development and use of critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Advertising 

For many companies, successful advertising is an essential part of a successful business model. Specializing in this field means studying advertising trends, learning about the processes and costs involved, and working out how to apply this knowledge to an identified target market. Through coursework, you will learn how to create and manage a successful ad campaign, how to present products and services to potential consumers and how to use modern technology tools. Other aspects of advertising you may learn about include buyer behavior, social media marketing, collaborative advertising, internet advertising and viral campaigning.

Business law 

Business law

Although some business students may find business law initially challenging due to its often alien terminology and concepts, learning about the laws surrounding business can be an important part of running a company. You will learn about key areas of business law such as contract law, agency law and other key legislation, impacting on the everyday workings of businesses, from company formation to insolvency. You may also study issues connected to the ethics and legality behind the sale of goods and consumer credit and protection, torts and other wrongs such as negligence, defamation and damage of property, director appointments and shareholding, how to arrange partnerships and the influence of national and international law in the modern business world.

Marketing

Along with advertising executives, marketing professionals help a business to succeed by working out how to attract customers and promote products and services. You will learn about advertising, merchandising, promotion, statistical analysis and campaign tracking, and will use case studies to research, analyze and evaluate the marketing plans of successful (and less successful) companies. Marketing and advertising specializations are also attractive because they are not industry-specific – every industry can benefit from being able to market and sell their product/service.

Human resources 

Human resources

Business graduates with specializations in human resources are always in demand, as all kinds and sizes of organization depend on recruiting and retaining a productive, well-matched and happy workforce. Specializing in human resources will mean studying business topics such as strategic planning, employee health and safety, hiring and firing, interviewing, recruiting, training, employee benefit management and arbitration. In general, human resources and human resource management students will develop their critical thinking, interpersonal and problem solving skills.

Economics

A vast subject in its own right, but often intersecting with the business field, economics can be broken down into two broad levels. Microeconomics looks at individual decisions regarding monetary and resource distribution decisions, while macroeconomics is concerned with the performance, structure, behavior and patterns of an economy as a whole, either on a national or global scale. Business students specializing in economics will have the opportunity to study econometrics, international economics and labor economics, all the while relating these studies to business practice. You will also learn about interest rates, exchange rates, economic indicators and equity markets, and gain statistical and analytical skills.

Entrepreneurship 

Entrepreneurship

At the end of a successful entrepreneurship specialization, you should be ready to start a successful business from the ground up. You will learn how to exercise complete control over how a business functions and how it will proceed into the future, by learning about capital management, product development and global business, alongside aspects of accounting, marketing and finance relevant to running a business. An entrepreneurship degree could either provide the building blocks to start up your own business, or qualify you to work as a consultant for others undertaking this project.

You may also be interested in reading about management degrees

Business careers 

Business careers

There is a lot of variety within the world of business careers – in every country, across every industry, and within many different sizes and types of business. Every organization needs effective managers and leaders, with diverse skill sets and specialized knowledge. To strengthen your career prospects, you may choose to pursue related work experience opportunities and/or additional business courses, which could be either short graduate training courses or full-length graduate-level degrees – either an MBA or a specialized master’s degree.

Common business careers paths include:

Accountancy and finance careers

Although many business degrees require students to learn aspects of these subjects, many accountancy and finance careers require additional specialized qualifications. Many companies also run graduate programs where business graduates can expand on their accountancy and finance skills while working, and pay the costs involved in completing the qualifications. Accountancy and finance careers may involve roles such as reviewing a company’s financial information and systems, advising clients on tax planning and issues, managing accounting records, advising clients on business transactions such as mergers and acquisitions, and detecting and preventing cases of financial fraud, negligence or other misdemeanors (forensic accounting).

Marketing and advertising careers 

Marketing

The skills in analysis and reporting gained from a business degree, combined with industry knowledge and a little creative flair, could also be put to good use in marketing and advertising careers. Here, tasks could include conducting market research, managing client relationships, developing marketing strategies, liaising with copywriters, designers and printers, managing budgets, monitoring competitor activities and evaluating the results of marketing or advertising campaigns.

Retail careers

Industries such as catering and retail are excellent places for business graduates with management knowledge to develop their skills and climb the career ladder. Again, many large companies offering retail careers run graduate training courses and graduate management programs, which often promise to fast-track candidates into management positions by providing them with on-the-job learning and skills development. Places can be competitive and you will usually need high grades on your degree qualification, as well as some existing work experience.

Human resources careers 

Human resources

For business graduates who want to combine their management and interpersonal skills, human resources careers can be both rewarding and lucrative. The role requires a combination of soft skills and a very strong understanding of the inner workings of businesses and the many employment laws that govern companies. Further specializations could be in recruitment, employee training, or employee benefit schemes. If this specialization interests you and you might like to study it in more depth, click here to read about Masters in Human Resource Management courses.

Business consultancy careers

One of the most relevant career paths for graduates of business-focused degrees, business consultancy careers involve using business skills to provide objective advice, expertise and specialist skills to an organization to help improve its business performance. Business consultancy firms range from larger firms that offer end-to-end solutions to smaller or niche firms that specialize in a particular market or challenge. Roles within business consultancy careers could include research, data collection and analysis, team and project management team, preparing business proposals and presentations, and assisting in the implementation of solutions.

Other sectors where business graduates are in demand include auditing, banking, chartered accountancy, communications, distribution, hospitality and leisure, insurance, industrial companies, journalism, law, manufacturing, media administration, production management, public relations, risk management and tax.

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Key Skills

Common skills gained from a business degree include:

  • Excellent numeracy
  • At least basic-level financial analysis – constructing and interpreting balance sheets
  • General IT skills; proficiency in software such as Excel and PowerPoint, as well as specialist software
  • General research skills
  • Self-management and independent learning, including planning and meeting deadlines
  • Professional communication, spoken and written
  • Ability to present ideas logically and critically
  • Team work
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Data analysis
  • Ability to be self-critical
  • Ability to identify causes, trends and patterns and knowing how to capitalize on trends
  • Knowledge of current global markets