If you want to get into a stronger position for a career in management, it may seem like an obvious choice to go back to college and finish your degree in business. But if you already have some college courses under your belt, you may wonder if you’ll get real value from completing a business degree at the bachelor’s level, or if you’ll only benefit if you make the much larger investment it will take to finish your BA and also get an MBA.
Bachelor’s Degree in Business
To get the most of a bachelor’s degree in business, it’s important to try and get a clear picture, or at least as clear a picture as you can, of what particular type you’d like to get in what industry after you graduate. Beyond picking a school, you’ll need to decide if you want a general business degree, or if you want to move right into a studying in a particular specialty like accounting, finance, retail management or marketing. Here are some of the key factors to consider in deciding to get bachelor’s in general business or specializing while you’re still at the undergraduate level.
General Business Degree
The two most common broad-based business degrees are a BBM (Bachelor’s in Business Management) and a BBA (Bachelor’s of Business Administration). Both of these degrees can qualify you for a broad range of career opportunities in the business field, because they’re designed to provide you with a comprehensive set of business studies. These programs can be the most solid choice if you are unsure of exactly what type of business career you want, or even if you just want to become versatile for an ever-changing job market. If you’re unsure about spending the time and money to complete an MBA, be aware that the BBA has a very similar course structure to the MBA, and will actually give you a good deal of the same knowledge, albeit at an undergraduate level. It may not get you the first job out of school you’ll get with an MBA, but it can potentially equip you to move up to a fairly senior business position.
Specialized Business Degree
Choosing to specialize at the bachelor’s level can be confusing, but there can be some compelling reasons to do so. For starters, it can add some credibility to any business experience you’ve already built up. If you’ve worked in an accounting department, for example, getting a specialized bachelor’s degree in accounting can make you a stronger job candidate by showing that you are quite sure you want to go further in that particular career path. And if you know that MBA completion is not in your future, focusing right now on a specialized BA can make you more marketable without a graduate education.
If you’re still unsure about which program to pursue, a great compromise is to major in a BBM or BBA with a minor in a specific field of business like finance, HR, or accounting. This option allows you to finish your degree with a broad knowledge of business, plus some more specific skills that you can use to market yourself for certain career choices.
Master’s Degree in Business or MBA
If you’ve decided to commit to completing an MBA, you have several options from which to choose. You can either pursue a general MBA, a specialized MBA, or even a Master’s that’s in a business-related field outside the typical scope of an MBA, like economics, business psychology or a whole range of other areas. If you’ve gotten this far, then it’s worth exploring all your options before spending the time and money on graduate school.
The MBA is still the most widely recognized degree in the business world. And the most common type of MBA pursued is a general MBA, which provides you with a broad-based business education at the master’s level. The MBA is a professional degree, much like a law degree, and it holds a lot of prestige with many employers, showing them you both a broad and advanced knowledge of current business concepts.
A general MBA is applicable to all sorts of business pursuits, whether you want to work in a large corporation or start your own business. From an employer’s viewpoint, simply having a master’s-level education can show that you have a higher level of commitment to business than other job candidates. And if you got your bachelor’s degree in English or some other non-business specialty, a general MBA can give you some relatively fast credibility as a financial or management professional.
Specialized MBA or Master’s in Business
Many students going back to college are unaware of the plethora of Master’s level options in business school. There are now dozens specializations for MBAs, and many new types of master’s degrees available in business-related fields.
A specialized MBA in project management, technology, health care administration or even leadership may be a great choice if you intend to continue in or shift towards a specific career. Specialization can tend to mean a higher salary. If you already got a specialized bachelor’s degree in business, it may not be necessary to specialize again at the master’s level, unless you want move into a different specialty or you’re involved in a very specific career path that requires additional specialized learning.
The Right Point to Specialize
If you’re unsure of your exact career path, staying on a more general business track as you head back to college may be the safest move, and provide you with some valuable education without locking you into a narrow field. But if you know you want to expand on your current career, or have a clear picture of a type of job you want to make a change to get into, specialization at the bachelor’s or master’s level can set you apart from your competition.
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John O’Brien has been a writer, editor and consultant in higher education for over 14 years. His background includes writing for insidehighered.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education. As editor of College Degree Complete, he has advised hundreds of adult students on how to transfer colleges without wasting the credits they’ve already accumulated, to finish their degree programs in the fastest and most affordable way.