Study Business Operations: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a business operations MBA or PhD program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and PhD degrees and potential careers.
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Business Operations: Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

Students in a business operations master's or PhD degree program study practical management theories and develop important leadership and decision-making skills. While master's programs specifically in business operations may not be available, you can complete a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in business operations. Graduates of MBA programs typically work for private companies in various industries, while individuals with PhD degrees usually find employment in academia.

People who work in business operations typically hold at least a bachelor's degree and have several years of relevant work experience. Management positions may require a master's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment outlook for people employed in business operations careers varies widely. Employment of top executives was expected to grow 5% from 2010 to 2020, while employment of operations research analysts may grow 15% during the same time period. The BLS suggested that general and operations managers who possess strong leadership qualities and have a proven professional record are poised for the best employment opportunities.

Who is this degree for? - Experienced professionals who want to advance or seek leadership positions within their organization
- Students with bachelor degrees who want to enhance or specialize their skills
- Individuals who want to work in academia
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Business operations specialists ($69,000 - may vary with experience)
- Operations research analyst ($79,000 - may vary with experience)
- General operations and business managers ($115,000 - experience typically required)
- Post-secondary business teachers ($87,000 - may vary with experience)
Time to Completion Typically 2 years (full-time) Typically 5 years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Complete coursework
- Maintain GPA standards
- Satisfy capstone requirements
- Complete coursework
- Complete teaching/research assistantship, if applicable
- Research, write and present dissertation
- Attend workshops/seminars, if applicable
- Pass qualifying exams
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree, typically in a related field
- Meet GPA requirements
- Several years of professional experience
- Resume
- Letter(s) of recommendation
- Personal statement
- GRE/GMAT scores
- Interview, if applicable
- (Part-time applicants may need to demonstrate proof of employment)
- All of the master's requirements plus
- Master's thesis, if applicable
- Understanding of statistics, business or research
- Resume or curriculum vitae
Online Availability YesRare, though courses are more commonly available

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

Business Operations Master's Degrees

Master's candidates typically develop the skills required to succeed in business management and operations. Because Master of Arts/Science programs in business operations are rare, degrees are generally formatted as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in business operations. Degree programs typically focus on core developmental coursework, electives and a capstone requirement. You should know that admission into a master's degree program can be quite competitive.

Pros and Cons


  • Since business operations skills are needed in nearly every organization and industry, there may be many possibilities for employment.
  • Employers typically seek applicants with master's degrees for management positions.
  • If you plan to pursue a career in operations research, you will likely need a master's degree.


  • In addition to your degree, you will likely need several years of professional work experience to qualify for management positions.
  • Due to the high pay and prestige associated with top executive positions, applicants face very strong competition for jobs.
  • Admission into an MBA program can be highly competitive because of a high number of qualified applicants and relatively few available openings.

Common Courses and Requirements

As a master's candidate, you can expect courses in operations management, management communications, global economies, financial management, statistical analysis and project management. To graduate with a master's degree in business operations, you need to satisfy several requirements beyond your coursework. It is common for master's programs to include a capstone paper (thesis) or project. For example, you may need to work in teams or independently to apply your newly-acquired business operations knowledge and devise executable business concepts for a real or imaginary company.

Online Course Options

Some online programs are tailored for working professionals and may require applicants to have several years of relevant work experience and basic understanding of business concepts. Fully online master's programs in business operations may be hard to find; however, MBA degree programs with a concentration in business operations are more widely available.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Consider joining a relevant student organization, such as an entrepreneur's society, business technology club or future business leader association. Many academic institutions are affiliated with national student organizations or clubs, which offer additional opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge and skills outside of the classroom. These organizations typically offer networking events, guest speaker and lecture events and academic/professional advising.

Enrolling in continuing education programs is another way to stand out from your peers. For some careers (like operations research analyst), continuing education is an important and expected quality in job applicants. Other careers may not require continuing education credentials; however, by voluntarily keeping up with advances in technology or business theories, you can show your drive and expertise to potential employers.

Business Operations PhD Degrees

Business operations PhD programs prepare students for careers as researchers and teachers at business schools. PhD candidates typically have a background in business, statistics or economics. Because most PhD programs are predominately research-focused, students typically train alongside their peers, advisors and professors to create and publish new knowledge in the field of business operations. Though PhD programs in business operations may not be widely available, you can typically find similar curricula in a PhD program in business administration (with an operations management specialization).

Pros and Cons


  • Many PhD programs provide full or partial financial support for enrolled students.
  • The PhD is widely recognized as the best degree for teaching at the post-secondary level.
  • In a PhD program, students have the opportunity to learn alongside faculty who are experienced in a wide range of fields.


  • PhD programs are highly selective and competitive.
  • If you have less than several years of work experience, you may be overqualified for entry-level work.
  • Students that delay or depart the workforce to obtain a degree may have a hard time reentering the job market upon graduation.

Common Courses and Requirements

As a student in a PhD program, you will need to complete academic courses, pass preliminary examinations in your field and research, write and present a dissertation. You will likely need to attend seminars to discuss contemporary topics in the field, such as global problems in supply chain operations. Additionally, some programs may emphasize a teaching or research assistantship.

Typical courses include:

  • Theory of operations management
  • Applied statistics
  • Advanced microeconomics
  • Empirical research in supply chain and operations management
  • Econometrics
  • Contemporary research in global outsourcing
  • Sustainability and reverse logistics

Online Course Options

Currently, online PhDs in business operations are not widely available. Individual courses in business operations are available, as are full, similar degree programs in business administration. Online business administration degrees may include specializations in related topics, such as supply chain management and project management. If you find an accredited online program, consider that you may need access to an approved site where you can conduct research. The coursework in online programs is generally very similar to that of a traditional academic institution.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Depending on your careers aspirations, you can begin to pursue some opportunities while enrolled in your PhD program. If you plan to work in academia, you can identify potential teaching opportunities (however, keep in mind that assistantships may be limited and competitive). If you are on a research track, take advantage of your school's literary journals and publications, since published papers can set you apart from your peers.

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