Business Management Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Courses

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Master's degrees and PhDs in business management can lead to careers in many industries. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Business Management: Degrees at a Glance

A graduate degree in business management is one of the most prestigious and sought-after degrees in the business world. It tells potential employers that a job candidate arrives with valuable management, finance and analytical skills. However, those considering a graduate degree in business management should understand that it's a broad subject. There are many potential areas of specialization, such as finance, human resources management or health services management.

A graduate's career outlook may depend on which area of concentration they choose to pursue. For example, the BLS projected that human resources managers would see a 13% increase in employment, and sales managers would experience a 12% increase between 2010 and 2020. However, the BLS predicted that medical and health services management jobs would grow by 22% during the 2010-2020 decade.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Recent graduates or working professionals who want a leadership position in business People who want to work in academia or research
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Sales manager ($134,000)*
- Sales director ($146,000)*
- Human resources manager ($87,000)*
- Employee health services manager ($95,000)*
- Business administration professor ($104,000)*
- Market research analyst ($73,000)*
- Market research director ($130,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years after completion of a master's program
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 13-16 graduate level courses
- Master's capstone course
- About 13-16 doctoral courses
- PhD qualifier and field exams
- Dissertation prospectus
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in business management or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in business management or related field
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *Salary.com (2012 figures).

Master's Degree in Business Management

There are several ways to earn a business management master's degree. Students may earn a traditional Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a business management focus, a Master of Science (M.S.) in Management or a M.S. degree in a specific management sector, such as human resource management or management of technology. The MBA provides a foundational understanding of business and may include courses on legal and ethical issues, psychology and political environments. Some MBA programs allow you to choose a management concentration.

The M.S. in Management concentrates on specific management topics. Some master's degree programs in management also allow students to choose concentration areas, including human resources or project management. A master's degree in a specific management area, such as an M.S. in Nonprofit Management, is sharply focused on the management skills needed for success in that one sector and may be best suited to students who are committed to a specific career.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You might be able to jump into a high-paying leadership position after receiving your degree
  • Management knowledge and skills are often broadly applicable and can be transferred to multiple industries and professions
  • Employers often value MBAs and other advanced business degrees, potentially giving you an edge over other applicants*
  • Some management programs don't have GRE or GMAT score requirements, unlike many other master's degree programs

Cons

  • In very fluid sectors, such as technology management, time spent in a degree program and not working may leave the degree holder out of touch with the market
  • Courses for part-time MBA programs may only be offered at certain times of the day, which means you may not be able to work and complete the program at the same time
  • A master's degree can be expensive in terms of both time and money
  • You'd be spending a total of 6-8 years in college (4-5 years for a bachelor's degree plus 2-3 years for a master's degree)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Master's students are usually required to take 6-8 courses that pertain directly to the concentration or specialization they are taking. Some programs may require a comprehensive exam, but most business master's degree programs only consist of core courses, electives and possibly a capstone. Course topics will depend in some measure on how tightly focused the program is. Some examples of the courses you might take include:

  • Corporate accounting
  • Organizational theory and design
  • Critical decision making
  • Managing people
  • Marketing management
  • Business ethics

Online Degree Options

Accredited master's programs in business management are available, either completely or partially online. Most of these programs are tailored to working professionals and can be taken part-time as well as full-time. Online programs usually include the same coursework as onsite programs, with the main difference being that lectures, discussions and assignments are communicated over the Internet instead of in person. Online courses are not free, though some may be less expensive than their on-campus counterparts.

Stand Out With This Degree

Skills in time management, implementing changes and project management are very much in demand with employers, according to a 2011 U.S. News & World Report article. The article cited a Project Management Institute study, which stated that about 1.2 million new project management jobs would be created each year for the next 10 years. Qualified project managers will be needed to meet the demand, and employers prefer those who have an MBA. Students who want to stand out with this degree can choose to focus on management sectors that have strong growth prospects. The business world is also increasingly technical, and a good understanding of computer and information systems is a valuable asset.

PhD in Business Management

There are also several avenues through which to earn a terminal degree in business management. A PhD in Business Management has a strong focus on research and developing new business theories and is best suited to students who wish to teach theory or conduct research in an academic or government setting.

A Doctor of Business Administration, or DBA, with a concentration in management can still give you research and analytic skills found in a PhD business management program, but it may have a greater focus on preparing you for senior-level management careers. PhD programs may be extremely competitive, as some schools may admit as few as 4 students out of over 200 applicants.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD in Business Management can qualify a holder for corporate research positions and top-level management positions
  • Financial aid (stipends, tuition waivers) is widely available for PhD students
  • PhD programs in business usually offer a variety of concentration areas
  • Most programs offer multiple research areas for you to choose from

Cons

  • A PhD program may take 5 years to complete, in addition to all of the education needed prior to enrolling (a minimum of 4 years for a bachelor's degree)
  • PhD programs are extremely demanding and require intense effort
  • Schools that offer PhD degree programs in business management only admit a small percentage of students who apply
  • A PhD does not necessarily lead to a higher salary, especially if you work in academia

Courses and Requirements

Some schools may require a master's degree or an MBA for admission to a PhD program, but you'll for sure need a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Both the PhD and DBA degrees require students to take approximately 13 rigorous courses, pass the subsequent exams, and defend an original dissertation that is expected to add to academic knowledge to the research topic. Course subjects in both programs are very similar and often overlap, with the slight difference being a focus on the creation of management theory in a PhD program and a focus on applying management theories in a DBA program. Sample courses might include:

  • Corporate finance
  • Advanced accounting
  • Operations management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Industrial relations
  • Business problems
  • Asset pricing

You'd work closely with a faculty mentor to select and research a dissertation topic. Many programs have a mix of theory and application and may be tailored to suit your needs.

Online Degree Options

There are a handful of accredited PhD and DBA programs in business administration with a concentration in management that are available online. Standalone and hybrid programs exist and can be completed by working professionals. You can usually choose an area of specialization, just as you would in an on-campus program.

The basic program model is much the same as that of an on-site program, with relevant coursework followed by tests and a scholarly dissertation. The main difference is that learning and collaboration takes place online instead of in a classroom. Online PhDs and DBAs may cost less than onsite alternatives.

Stand Out With This Degree

A graduate with a business PhD already stands out; not many people make it through the demanding program. A PhD gives a job applicant an edge in a crowded field of MBAs, though it may not yield a higher salary. A PhD may open the door to a policymaking position in government and is certainly useful if an experienced business professional wants to leave the corporate grind for the security of a tenured position in academia. A program concentration in a high-growth area that is likely to be popular with students, such as information systems management, project management or market research analysis, is likely to be useful when applying for an academic position.

It may also be an advantage to join a professional organization, such as the American Management Association (AMA) or the Professional Managers Association (PMA). The AMA offers seminars, podcasts and books to keep you ahead of the curve in the world of business management. Members of the PMA can receive discounts on services and products, scholarships, mentoring sessions and a variety of publications that focus on management concepts.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Global Leadership (Executive Format)
      • Doctorate: Management - Organizational Development and Change
      • Doctor of Management - Project Management
      • Doctor of Management (DM) - General Concentration (Executive Format)
      • Doctor of Management - Leadership
      • Doctor - Management - Nonprofit Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Business Admin - Organizational Leadership
      • PhD in Business Admin - Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Organizational Leadership
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • PhD-TIM - IT Project Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • DBA - Management
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Organizational Development
  • Milwaukee, WI

    University of Wisconsin

  • Southfield, MI

    Lawrence Technological University

  • Arlington, VA

    University of Management and Technology

  • Online Programs Available
    7. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership

Featured Schools

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Global Leadership (Executive Format)
  • Doctorate: Management - Organizational Development and Change
  • Doctor of Management - Project Management

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Organizational Leadership
  • PhD in Business Admin - Management
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Organizational Leadership

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Grand Canyon University

  • DBA - Management
  • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Organizational Development

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Lawrence Technological University

University of Management and Technology

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership

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