Study Business: Masters, PhD & Online Degree Info

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

If you're searching for an academic program that offers you the opportunity to learn about many business subjects simultaneously or concentrate on a specific topic of interest, then an MBA or PhD program in business could have a lot to offer.

Management positions in many business disciplines are expected to experience slower-than-average growth between 2010 and 2020. However, analyst positions were expected to fare well with faster-than-average growth rates; the BLS predicted that financial analyst positions would see a 23% growth during the 2010-2020 decade and management analysts would see a 22% increase. Most business fields require only a bachelor's degree for entrance, but candidates with graduate degrees could have an edge because there are expected to be more applicants than openings. Outside of work in academia, PhD holders may have the best chance of finding employment in any organization that requires high-level research and analytical skills.

Let's take a look at how these two degrees compare to one another:

Who is this degree for? People new to business or those in management roles seeking advancement Individuals who want to become business professors at universities or obtain executive positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Experience is required for some positions:
- General or operations manager ($95,000)*
- Financial analyst ($76,000)*
- Market research analyst ($60,000)*
- Postsecondary business teacher ($75,000)*
- Chief executive ($167,000)*
- Postsecondary education administrator ($84,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years (full-time), up to 5 years (part-time) About 4-6 years (full-time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 8-10 graduate level courses
- Internship
- Comprehensive exam
Master's degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 6-9 more graduate level courses
- Research or teaching assistantship
- Comprehensive exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree, managerial or supervisory experience is recommended for some programs At least a bachelor's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

MBA in Business

Whether you're new to the corporate world or an experienced professional, an MBA program focuses on increasing your knowledge and understanding of business while enhancing your problem-solving, leadership, organizational and communication skills. Admission to high-ranked MBA programs can be very competitive. You may be expected to have work experience before applying for admission. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that because job growth was predicted to be slow in several business areas in the coming years, earning an MBA can improve your odds of getting a competitive position, such as a human resources manager, finance manager, financial analyst or management analyst position.

Pros and Cons


  • The degree is very flexible and can be applicable to many business fields depending on your concentration.
  • An MBA could give you an advantage in several fields over job candidates with only bachelor's degrees.
  • An MBA also qualifies you to teach in a community or junior college.


  • If you earn an MBA without a concentration, you may not be qualified for specialized business positions, such as those in accounting.
  • You won't be able to teach in a university or college that requires professors to hold PhDs.
  • Although an MBA can make you more competitive, many of the jobs you'll pursue will require only a bachelor's degree.

Common Courses and Requirements

The courses required in an MBA program vary depending on the area of study. Some business fields, particularly finance, are more mathematically-oriented than others. However, no matter what concentration you choose, or even if you decide to follow a more general curriculum, you can expect to take courses in accounting, statistics, economics, leadership and marketing. A few of the diverse concentrations available in MBA programs include supply chain management, human resources and entrepreneurship. Although some MBA programs may require a written thesis, it doesn't seem to be as common as it is for other types of master's degree programs.

Online Degree Options

Online degree programs granting MBAs are readily available. Many of these programs are designed for adults who are working full-time and may have several years of management experience. Not only is it easy to find MBA programs that can be completed wholly online, when compared with on-site programs at the same university, the courses and graduation requirements are the same. The main distinguishing characteristic is that universities offering only on-site degree programs usually require completion of an internship, while those that are online don't.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

You can use your MBA to work all over the world virtually by adding a technological dimension to your business training. As business becomes more global, more work will be done using web-based technologies.

  • Make a point of learning how to use technology to perform various business applications. Knowing how to do so could give you an advantage in a competitive job market, particularly in finance.
  • Although you might not be writing a thesis, seek out opportunities to submit papers to journals to improve your research and analytical skills. Analytical skills are important in many business positions.
  • Utilize the flexibility of your MBA program by using your elective credits to take a couple of courses in a growing niche, such as financial analysis or management analysis.

PhD in Business

If you decide to earn a PhD in Business, you'll be creating the foundation necessary for success at the top of the academic ladder. A PhD in Business provides the research and analytical skills that you'll need to work in an academic environment conducting high-level research, teaching or both. People who have obtained PhDs are well-qualified for employment as professors in their subjects and are considered to be experts in their fields of study.

Pros and Cons


  • A PhD qualifies you for all levels of research and faculty positions at universities.
  • A PhD creates additional career options in conducting research and writing as an expert in the field.
  • You can transition from working in an office to working for yourself as a business consultant.


  • Many executive-level positions don't require a PhD, so it may not enable you to advance in your current business career.
  • If you're not planning to work in a college or university, for the government or as an independent consultant or analyst, a PhD may deter some employers.
  • A PhD is a big commitment and many programs require full-time on-campus attendance, which means you may not be able to work while attending classes.

Common Courses and Requirements

The courses required for a PhD program in business or management differ from those at the MBA level in their depth and the amount of research required. Additionally, PhD courses are sometimes held as seminars, focusing on research and discussion regarding a specific topic or issue. As a PhD student, you'll probably complete at least one course on organizational behavior, as well as classes in research methodology, strategic management and marketing. In addition to core requirements and courses in your concentration, some programs require you to take a class that includes teaching duties.

Online Degree Options

Online study is available for some programs leading to a PhD in Business; however, many universities could require you to attend special programs or residencies on campus for several days at a time, at least once a year. Most schools emphasize on-site attendance, plus the ability to work and interact with faculty members and other students. Additionally, schools frequently offer financial assistance to PhD students, usually fellowships or assistantships, that can only be utilized by attending classes in person. Programs offered online are identical to their on-site counterparts at the same university in terms of course requirements. One common difference between universities with online study compared to those that require on-site attendance is that the latter often require assistantships or internships.

Stand Out with this Degree

Move to the head of the pack with your PhD by becoming an expert in specific aspects of your field. Since PhD holders often teach university students, work as researchers or provide consulting services, it is important that people feel like they can trust your input.

  • Choose electives with an eye toward becoming an independent consultant in a growing field, such as change management.
  • Many programs offer concentrations in an information technology area. Even if you choose a different concentration, use elective credits to take courses in technology. If you decide to work in postsecondary education, computer skills are important to manage student records.
  • Join a professional organization, attend conferences and submit articles in your specific area of interest. Doing these things can increase your credibility.

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