Your Guide to Online Business Degrees

Written by Coursera • Updated on

You can earn your business degree online at almost every stage: associate, bachelor’s, and master’s.

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Business is a popular degree choice. Of the 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees conferred in the United States during the 2017-2018 school year, the highest percentage were in business [1]. And that trend continues into graduate school. During the 2019-2020 school year, 70 percent of MBA programs and 84 percent of online MBA programs saw an increase in applications [2, 3].

Earning your business degree online comes with several potential benefits: you don’t need to relocate, you can continue working, you may have greater scheduling flexibility, and your overall program costs may be lower. In this article, we’ll go over the types of online business degrees you can earn and discuss what you can expect from an online business program so you can decide whether it’s the best choice for your education. 

Types of business degrees you can earn online 

You can earn your business degree online at almost every stage: associate, bachelor’s, and master’s. While you can earn a terminal degree in business, such as a PhD in Business or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), there are far fewer of these advanced programs available online. With that in mind, we’ll focus on the three more common online business degrees you can pursue. 

Associate degree

You can earn your Associate of Science (AS) in Business Administration online. At the associate level, you will need to work through your general education requirements before you can concentrate or specialize in business administration. It typically takes a minimum of 60 credits to earn your associate’s degree, with a portion of those (a minimum of 12 credits) going toward your concentration or focus.   

In your business concentration, you can expect to learn about the principles of business and related subjects like marketing, accounting, human resources, and technology. With your associate degree, you can pursue entry-level jobs in business or transfer into a bachelor’s degree program. 

An online associate business degree may be a good option if you want an academic degree to list on your resume and the topic knowledge you’ll gain from your business courses, but don’t necessarily have the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree—or need a break before pursuing one.   

Bachelor’s degree

You can either earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in business administration online, and opt to major or concentrate in one of several related business subjects, such as business studies, marketing, finance, human resources, or accounting. After you complete your general education requirements, which tend to make up the first two years of study, you can expect to spend one-third to one-half of your college credits working toward your major. 

In your business major, expect to learn about foundational business subjects, including micro- and macroeconomics, organizational leadership, and principles of marketing. You can pursue several entry-level jobs with your degree or begin an MBA program, though it’s worth noting that many MBA applicants spend time acquiring professional experience before returning to school. 

An online bachelor’s degree may be a good option if you want to qualify for more entry-level business jobs or advance in your business career. Most roles in the business and finance sector require a bachelor’s degree in order to get started on that career track.  

Learn more: What Is the Difference Between a BA and BS Degree?

Master’s degree

You can earn your Master of Science (MS) in Master of Science in Management (MSM) online. But by and large, the most popular master’s business degree is the Master of Business Administration (MBA), which offers many concentrations such as marketing, finance, and operations. Many online MBA programs, including the iMBA from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provide access to the same faculty, courses, and materials as in-person MBA programs. 

In your master’s program, expect to take more advanced business courses that deepen your knowledge of topics like international markets or corporate finance. You can also expect an emphasis on leadership, since many people use the degree to pursue managerial and senior-level roles. 

An online master’s degree may be a good option if you’re seeking career advancement beyond entry- and associate-level roles, or if you’d like the intense skills development and networking opportunities that many MBA programs foster. 

Learn more: Master’s in Management vs. MBA: Which is Better?

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Online business degree costs + time commitment 

The cost of an online business degree will differ depending on which type of degree you’re interested in pursuing, and the length of time it takes to complete each type will depend on whether you’re a part-time or full-time student.  

An associate business degree takes around two years to complete when you attend full-time. The average one-year cost for tuition and fees at an in-person institution was $3,800 in 2021, according to College Board [4]. However, the total online cost can range between $6,000 and $26,000, according to US News [5].

A bachelor’s degree in business takes between four and five years to complete when you attend full-time. The total cost of an online bachelor’s is between $38,496 and $60,593, according to US News [6]. Compare that to the average cost for just one year of tuition and fees  alone—$10,740 at a public school and $38,070 at a private school—which doesn’t include additional costs like transportation, housing, or books [4]. 

An online MBA takes around two years to complete when you attend full-time. The costs can also be lower than studying in person. The top 10 online business school programs of 2021 in the US cost anywhere from $35,375 to $141,320 for the entirety of the program, according to the business school publication Poets&Quants [7]. Some in-person MBAs can exceed a total cost of $200,000.

Learn more: Is an Online MBA Worth It? The Return on Your Investment 

Hiring practices: Online business degrees 

As you take into account the resources you’ll need to earn your business degree online, it’s also worth noting hiring practices, since that may impact your career goals after graduation. Many recruiters still view in-person bachelor’s or master’s degrees more favorably than an online degree because it’s been the most typical way to earn that credential. 

But as more education moves online—and more colleges and universities offer online programs—that perception has started to shift. A 2018 survey found that 71 percent of employers had hired a candidate with an online degree [8]. For MBAs, it can still be a hurdle. Thirty-four percent of recruiters said they valued an online MBA degree, but the vast majority stated a preference for an in-person MBA degree [3]. However, enrollment for online MBA programs continues to grow, with more schools offering online options to meet the increase in demand. 

Many programs publish annual employment reports, sharing data like the companies and industries that have hired past graduates, the percentage of graduates who received full-time job offers, and the type of work graduates go on to do. For each program you consider applying to, take time to review their employment report from the past year or two.  

Learn more: How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA?

Benefits of studying business

There’s a reason business remains such a popular degree for both undergraduates and graduates. The median annual wage for roles in business and finance was $72,250, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is $30,000 more than the median annual wage for all occupations [9]. 

MBA graduates can see a significant boost in earning power. While students made an average annual salary of $79,352 upon entering their online MBA program, a survey from US News showed that graduates earned an average salary of $96,974 three months after graduating from their online MBA program [10,11]. 

Learn more: MBA Degree Salary

Career growth

The business sector is expected to grow about 8 percent over the next decade—about as a fast as average [9]. But there’s a particular demand for business graduates. In a 2018 survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com, 35 percent of employers—the highest number of respondents—said they most needed business majors [12]. For MBAs, the demand is comparably high. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reported that 34 percent of recruiters expected hiring to increase for MBA graduates [3].  

Benefits of studying business online 

Beyond the reasons above for studying business, there are certain benefits that come with earning your business degree online. 

Flexibility: Unlike the rigid structure of in-person classes or the demands of relocating, an online business degree may offer more flexibility. For those who have other responsibilities, such as work or family, it can be a useful means of learning. In fact, 91 percent of online MBA students continue to work full-time while earning their degree [11]. 

Social networking: Many students earn their degree from an in-person college or university because of the social opportunities they gain from that experience. But a growing number of online degree programs foster interaction through discussion forums, virtual meetings, and more. ​​

Begin applying what you know in real-time: If you plan to work while earning your MBA, you can begin applying what you learn in real-time. Rather than waiting to graduate to implement what you’ve studied in your coursework, you can practice in a way that could inform and even strengthen your education. 

Develop important skills unique to online learning: Whether online or in-person, earning your degree helps you develop valuable workplace skills. But online learning can help you hone specific skills, such as time management, an ability to work independently, and self-discipline. 

Learn more: Is a Business Degree Worth It?

Finding the best online business degree for you

Before you think about which type of online business degree you’d like to earn, it’s important to consider why you want to earn one in the first place. What do you want to achieve with a business degree? How might attending an online program help you? These two guiding questions can help you determine the best online business degree for you. 

Here are some additional factors to consider as you compare online business degree programs. 

Concentrations + coursework 

What about business would you like to study, and what type of coursework will best prepare you to achieve your goals? As you research online business degree programs, look at the concentrations they offer,  the required coursework you’d need to complete, and the tentative timeline you’d have to follow. Make sure those parameters align with your resources and larger professional goals.  

Network 

However social you want to be in your potential degree program, it’s worth inquiring about how courses are taught and the opportunities you’ll have to network—with your classmates, alumni, and even professional speakers who may be hired for webinars, workshops, or other supplementary events. Your education is more than what you learn from a course. The chance to build and expand your network can also be an important factor. 

Career support 

Many online colleges and universities offer career support services similar to what you’d experience at an in-person institution. These kinds of resources can be helpful as you transition out of your program and seek new opportunities to apply your education. Many institutions provide career placement information so prospective students can see what former students have done with their degree. Look into what each program offers. 

Explore further 

Earning your business degree online can add a valuable credential to your resume and more specialized subject knowledge to your wheelhouse. Browse online business degrees on Coursera, available at both the bachelor’s and master’s level in a number of concentrations, to find an affordable option that fits your life.  

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Article sources

1. National Center for Education Statistics. “Most Popular Majors, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37.” Accessed February 8, 2022. 

2. Fortune. “6 MBA Admissions Trends During the Pandemic, https://fortune.com/education/business/articles/2021/04/24/6-mba-admissions-trends-during-the-pandemic/.” Accessed February 8, 2022. 

3. Graduate Management Admission Council. “Demand of Graduate Management Talent, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/employment-outlook/2021_crs-demand-of-gm-talent.pdf.” Accessed February 8, 2022. 

4. College Board. “Trends in College Pricing, https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf.” Accessed February 9, 2022. 

5. US News. “Online Business Administration Associate Degree, https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/business-administration-associate-degree.” Accessed February 9, 2022. 

6. US News. “What You’ll Pay for an Online Bachelor’s Degree, https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/articles/what-youll-pay-for-an-online-bachelors-degree.” Accessed February 9, 2022. 

7. Poets&Quants. “The Best Online MBA Programs of 2021, https://poetsandquants.com/2020/11/09/the-best-online-mba-programs-of-2021/.” Accessed February 10, 2022. 

8. Northeastern University. “Education Credentials Come of Age, https://cps.northeastern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Educational_Credentials_Come_of_Age_2018.pdf.” Accessed February 10, 2022. 

9. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Business and Financial Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/home.htm.” Accessed February 10, 2022. 

10. Poets&Quants. “Online MBA Programs with the Best Salary Outcomes, https://poetsandquants.com/2020/11/15/online-mba-programs-with-the-best-salary-outcomes/.” Accessed February 9, 2022. 

11. US News. “The Average Online MBA Student, https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/articles/2017-05-23/us-news-data-the-average-online-mba-student.” Accessed February 10, 2022. 

12. CareerBuilder.com. “College Hiring Outlook Strongest in More Than a Decade, ​https://press.careerbuilder.com/2018-05-17-College-Hiring-Outlook-Strongest-in-More-than-a-Decade-According-to-New-CareerBuilder-Survey.” Accessed February 9, 2022. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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