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Whether you want to carve out a career path right out of high school, advance in your current profession or learn to run your own small business, business administration and management schools can help you get started. Programs in this field tend to be highly customizable and can often be earned in a non-traditional schedule -- online, part time or in the evenings -- if you're too busy for a typical full-time campus program.
But what is business management, exactly? What is the difference between business management and business administration? How much does a business administrator make? We'll address these questions and more on this page, as well as providing info about business management certification programs and common courses taken during a business management major. Continue reading below for all the details.
What do business administrators do?
Business administrators and managers are essential pieces of just about every successful organization operating today. Their specific duties depend heavily on the company where they work and the segment of its operations that they're responsible for, but here's a list of general duties that most business administrators perform on the job:
- Supervising clerical, administrative and labor force personnel
- Evaluating existing policies and procedures to determine if they're serving the organization
- Monitoring workplace facilities to ensure that they remain healthy, safe and secure
- Analyzing data and preparing reports to present to colleagues and upper management
- Coordinating employee efforts to tackle projects and foster an efficient work environment
The vast majority of business administrators and managers work in traditional office environments. Non-profit and for-profit organizations both need skilled administrators, so you may be able to find work in either the public or the private sector.
Business Administration and Management Specializations
Since there are so many different roles under the business administration and management umbrella, business administration programs tend to offer numerous specialization tracks within their undergraduate and graduate degrees. Here's a partial list of commonly available business specializations:
- Business intelligence
- Information systems
- International business
- Supply chain management
How to Become a Business Administrator
There may not be a national minimum standard of education for business careers, but individual organizations do tend to set their own requirements. Earning an associate degree in business administration and management can be a great way to get acquainted with the field and prepare yourself to transfer to a four-year program if you choose to continue your education and earn a bachelor's.
Here's a brief rundown of the steps most people take on their way to a career in business administration and management:
- Finish your high school education or earn an equivalency degree
- Enroll in a college business program
- Choose a specialization and begin building specific skills
- Find an internship or entry-level position
If they can, high school students planning to enter a business administration or management program should study math, writing and communications while preparing for college. Although the different college degree tracks available typically contain some courses unique to their specialization, there is a list of subjects that most business and management students will study as undergraduates:
- Business communications
- Basic accounting
- Fundamentals of leadership
- Business statistics
- Business law
- Operations management
Business administration and management degree and certificate programs
Business administration and management programs are offered at just about every level of the college spectrum, and each type of degree is different. Here's a breakdown of the types of program available:
- Undergraduate certificate programs tend to take less than one year to complete and introduce students to a few select subjects that are essential to most business careers. They don't usually include much general education content and rarely have internship sections.
- Associate degree plans typically require around two years of full-time study and cover a fairly robust array of business concepts. Earning an associate degree in business administration and management can also provide you with a substantial foundation of general education courses that are likely to transfer to bachelor's programs without much difficulty.
- Bachelor's degree study is required for many management careers. Four-year degrees may permit students to choose a specialization and drill down into their chosen area of expertise, as well as sometimes offering a chance at a pre-graduation internship.
Once you're in the workforce and looking to advance in your career, it may become necessary to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree to qualify for top-tier jobs. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs exist for business administrators as well, but they aren't typically required for careers outside of academia.
Hands-on training at business administration and management schools
Not only do some business administration programs offer pre-graduation internship opportunities, but some schools may allow you to earn college internship credit for a portion of the work you do at an existing part-time or full-time job. The opportunity to apply your new knowledge in a real-world setting is often one of the most effective business administration learning experiences, so it's usually a good idea to take on an internship if they're offered.
Online business administration courses and programs
Business administration programs have a long history of non-traditional delivery methods, from classical correspondence-by-mail courses to weekend and evening study, so you're likely to find a robust selection of business administration and management degrees that make use of online education models. Online business programs are available at every level, from certificates to graduate degrees, and MBA programs are available in the virtual classroom by the hundreds.
If you're thinking that online education is an easy path to graduation, though, think again. It can be tricky to stay motivated when you're not being held accountable with strict class meeting times and face-to-face contact with your professors. If you're a true self-starter who works well without supervision, online business degrees can be a great option.
Business administration and management certifications
Most entry-level business administration careers don't require any specific certification, but established professionals who meet the qualification requirements may be able to give their careers a boost by earning one or more official credentials from credible industry associations. Here's a short list of certifications available as of 2019:
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
- Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
- Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP)
- Project Management Professional (PMP)
- Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP)
Career advancement options for business administrators and managers
The world of business administration and management careers is vast and various, and professionals looking to advance in their careers have several courses of action that they can take. Earning certifications can be one way to demonstrate that you're ready to move to the next level, and returning to school for a graduate certificate or MBA program can give you the tools you need to climb the corporate ladder.
It's also possible to make "diagonal" moves in the business world, combining the lateral shift of joining a new firm or company with the upward progress of a more impressive title, greater level of responsibility and increase in pay. Professional development courses and certifications can help with this also.
Skills and Abilities for Business Administrators and Managers
Just about anyone with the right education can succeed in business administration and management, but those who have a certain set of traits may find that it comes a bit more naturally to them than it does to others. Here's a list of five of the top traits for aspiring managers, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET):
- Active listening can be a big help to a career in management or administration, particularly if your duties center on the management of personnel
- Problem sensitivity, or the ability to sense when something's wrong or about to go wrong, can help you get out ahead of potential issues before they become real problems
- Monitoring is one of the most vital business skills, since you'll often need to make an honest performance assessment your employees, your company and yourself
- Written expression helps managers produce clear, readable reports and craft persuasive emails and other communications to staff and colleagues
- Negotiation is about more than making favorable sales deals -- it can also be used to mediate conflict and foster a cooperative working environment
Business Administration Salary and Career Outlook
A wide range of factors can affect a business administration salary, from your level of education and experience to the job market characteristics in the state where you live, but knowing the national median salaries for certain positions can give you an idea of what to expect. Here's some salary and job outlook data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Professional Resources for Business Administrators and Managers
Just about every segment of the business administration and management job market has at least one professional organization working to create a better career environment for its members and advocating for state and national policies that contribute to their economic well-being. Here's a list of just a few professional organizations for business and management professionals:
- The American Management Association (AMA) works to help its members stay on the cutting edge of knowledge and skills in the management profession. It offers a range of membership plans tailor-made for individuals, small businesses and students.
- The Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) hosts the largest annual finance industry networking conference in the world and administers the Certified Treasury Professional and Certified Corporate FP&A Professional credentials for top-level financiers.
- The American Marketing Association (AMA) offers members an array of resources and tools designed to supercharge their marketing careers. Membership also includes members-only newsletter subscriptions and a database of articles, whitepapers, podcasts and webcasts.
- The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world's most expansive professional association in its field, boasting over 300,000 members internationally. Members receive access to a trove of compliance resources and an online community of HR pros.