Business and related subjects (such as the ‘FAME’ group – finance, accounting, management and economics) are among the most popular fields of study at universities worldwide, particularly at graduate level. You might have some vague ideas about why this is the case – business graduates are in high demand worldwide, business touches on pretty much every aspect of modern human society, careers with a business degree are diverse and often highly paid – and these assumptions are likely to be largely true.
But if you’re still not quite convinced, here’s a deeper exploration of the question, ‘Why study business?’
First, it’s important to recognize that there are many different types of business degrees to choose from, offering different specializations and benefits, and applicable to people at different stages of development and with very different career goals.
Types of business degrees
The term ‘business degrees’ is typically understood to include a fairly wide group of courses, some highly specialized and others more interdisciplinary; some more academic and others primarily focused on practical professional development. You can categorize types of business degrees by level (ie. undergraduate, graduate, professional), and also by subject focus. Some of the areas of study likely to be covered by different types of business degrees, either directly or as supplementary elements, include:
Human resource management
Quantitative techniques (mathematics)
At undergraduate level, and on some graduate-level business degrees, students are able to gain a foundation in many of these aspects of the business world, before choosing a specialization. From master’s level onwards, it’s more usual for business degrees to be focused on a particular aspect of business, though there may still be a lot of flexibility for students to shape the course to match their own interests. Meanwhile MBA (Master of Business Administration) and Executive MBA programs are targeted at those who have already gained significant professional experience, and typically have more of a focus on professional development.
Whichever level you study business at, and whatever field of specialization you choose, you can expect all types of business degrees to have a strong emphasis on the practical application of theory, through the use of case studies, problem-solving tasks, project and team work, and often also internships and placement schemes.
Careers with a business degree
The combination of academic challenge and practical focus makes the prospect of studying a business degree highly appealing for those attracted to the competitive yet collaborative learning environment offered by many business schools and departments. But for most people, the answer to the question ‘Why study business?’ is best answered by reference to possible careers with a business degree.
Business graduates go on to work in myriad different sectors, and not all of them are those you would typically associate with business in general. More obvious careers with a business degree include roles in accounting and finance departments, which take in large numbers of business degree graduates. Other sectors with high demand for business graduates include marketing and advertising, as well as retail, sales, human resources and business consultancy. The diversity and plenitude of careers with a business degree underlies the subject’s appeal for many students.
If you’re unsure of how to start developing your career after graduation, you may consider joining one of the many graduate training schemes which many large and international companies run. These often allow graduates to spend time completing traineeships in different parts of the business, and often different regions of the world, before opting for a particular career track to pursue.
You could also use your business degree to pursue roles within SMEs (small- to medium-sized enterprises), innovative new start-ups, charities, non-profit organizations and NGOs. If you have a bright idea and the knowledge to back it up, you may even consider launching your own business,
Depending on your area of interest and the specialization of your business degree, possible careers with a business degree could include:
Public relations officer
Distribution and logistics management
Business degree salary expectations
As already mentioned, earnings potential is at the heart of many business’ students motivation. While you shouldn’t expect a huge business degree salary as soon as you graduate, the skills and knowledge gained from a business degree should facilitate your career progression, making it easier to climb into management-level positions with higher salaries.
The message really is: the business degree itself does not automatically mean a high salary – though graduating from a highly reputed business school with strong grades is certainly likely to open up some interesting opportunities and perhaps a large business degree salary. You’ll still need to prove yourself, and be ready to work hard, if you want to reach your career and salary goals – and be prepared for plenty of competition.
In the US 2013-14 PayScale College Salary Report, the average starting business degree salary was reported at US$43,500, with the average mid-career salary at US$71,000. The figures vary depending on the specialization: international business graduates are projected to start on US$43,800 rising to $US83,700 by mid-career; for finance the figures are $49,200 and $87,100; accounting $45,300 and $74,900; human resources $38,000 and $63,900; organizational management $41,900 and $60,300; marketing management $42,100 and $80,200.
For those studying at the master’s level, business degree salary expectations are likely to be higher. According to the latest TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report, salaries for MBA graduates average almost US$109,200 in the US and Canada. In Western Europe the average earnings for those with an MBA are a little lower overall – but this varies depending on the country, while expectations in Australia are around US$117,800.
If a top salary is important to you, it may be worth while researching the latest salary trends and forecasts for different business specializations, as well as looking into the world regions reporting highest demand for business graduates.
Transferable skills gained from a business degree
During your business degree you’ll develop a broad knowledge of business operations as well as gaining targeted skills in your specific field, such as customers, markets, finance, operations, strategy, business policy, communications and IT. You’ll typically also be challenged to explore these fields within an international context, though in some cases it will be advantageous to specialize in their application within a particular country or world region.
You can also expect to gain many valuable transferable skills, which can be put to use in both everyday life or if you decide to take a completely different career path. The skills gained from a business degree are likely to include:
- An understanding of how organizations operate
- Strong communication skills (oral and written)
- Analytical and critical thinking
- Problem solving
- Decision making
- Logical thinking
- Presentation and report writing skills
- Numeracy and an understanding of how to interpret and use financial data
- Self-motivation, initiative and effective time management
- Project and resource management
- A close understanding of economic fluctuations and other external changes affecting business