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.
The Best Business Administration Programs in the U.S.
We sorted through nearly 450 accredited business administration schools that offer associate degree and certificate programs, focusing on data about affordability, student success, schedule flexibility and more. The following ten institutions came out on top when the dust settled; keep reading to learn about the best business administration trade schools and community colleges in the U.S.
Formed when two established area technical schools merged in 2009, Georgia Northwestern Technical College operates six brick-and-mortar campuses and a dedicated aviation training center in its nine-county service area. The numbers suggest that it's also committed to providing flexible course schedules for its students, reporting that more than half of those enrolled in 2018 took at least some online courses.
Business administration programs at GNTC: Dozens of business programs are available at GNTC, including Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees in business management, marketing management and business technology. Slightly shorter diploma programs are available in all A.A.S. subjects, and certificates in subjects like entrepreneurship, marketing and operations management can typically be earned in one year or less of full-time study.
Students looking for an affordable route to a business degree should not overlook Albany Technical College. Average net price is the total out-of-pocket cost of tuition, fees, housing, books and other essentials after factoring in grant and scholarship financial aid, and the average net price at ATC was less than $700 in 2018. This southwestern Georgia school was also one of the top online colleges on our list, reporting that more than two thirds of its students were enrolled in distance education courses.
Business administration programs at ATC: The programs in business technology and business management at ATC can be earned either in a traditional classroom or entirely online. The Georgia institution also offers an A.A.S. in e-commerce that covers the finer points of online supply chains, consumer behavior and global marketing.
Mt. San Antonio College recorded the highest retention rate of any school that made our list, which means that freshman students tend to return for a second year to complete their programs. This institution in the greater Los Angeles area also reports that three out of four students receive some form of financial aid, and that student aid awards total more than $68 million annually.
Business administration programs at Mt. SAC: The business administration department at Mt. SAC features four specializations: business law, economics, real estate and paralegal. The real estate program is the most comprehensive of the four, offering an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree, a real estate sales certificate and a real estate broker certificate.
Founded in 1929, Amarillo College welcomes roughly 10,000 degree-seeking students and 24,000 non-credit community learners each semester. Along with its administrative campus in Amarillo, AC operates five campuses and an outreach center across three Texas counties. The institution has recently focused on expanding student services, adding a childcare center, a counseling center, a career and employment center and a legal aid clinic to its campus facilities in the years since 2013.
Business administration programs at AC: Business students here have a range of programs to choose from, including an A.S. in business administration that covers principles of accounting, economics, business law and more. That degree is available fully online, as well as an A.A.S. and five certificates in business management.
Student success is an important measure of college quality, and the data for Atlanta Technical College show that it makes student success a priority. No other school on our list reported a higher graduation rate than this medium-small Georgia institution, and its average net price of less than $2,900 placed it among the top ten business administration schools nationwide in that category.
Business administration programs at ATC: Business management programs here consist of a five-semester A.A.S. plan and a diploma that takes 51-53 credit hours to complete, as well as a technical certificate in human resource management. Five technical certificates are available in business technology, including study plans that can prepare you for careers in administrative support or business analytics.
This medium-sized school of more than 6,200 students is a popular destination for business administration students in the western Kentucky area and beyond. Business administration and management degrees are some of the most popular programs offered at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, according to the institution's own data, and around 40 percent of students were enrolled in at least one online course in the fall semester of 2018.
Business administration programs at WKCTC: The associate degree plan in business administration at WKCTC features six specialized study tracks. A real estate management track is available for aspiring property professionals, an office systems track can train you on business software and equipment and a hospitality management track can teach you how to run restaurants and resorts.
In order to serve its student body of over 8,200 learners, Central Georgia Technical College operates close to a dozen locations throughout its 11-county service area. Three full-service campuses are available -- the main location in Warner Robins and two satellite facilities in Macon and Milledgeville — as well as eight learning centers and workforce development centers around the region. CGTC also charged the second-lowest average net price among schools that made our list.
Business administration programs at CGTC: Students here can choose among several study plans in business, from customary business technology and business management plans to more specialized subjects like logistics and technical management. A degree, diploma and certificate in the uncommon field of sports and fitness management are also available.
Sinclair Community College is one of the larger two-year schools in the country, educating more than 18,500 students each term and awarding more business administration degrees than all but two other schools among the nearly 450 we surveyed for this analysis. It also put up respectable affordability numbers in 2018, reporting that students paid an average net price of roughly $2,900 for the year.
Business administration programs at Sinclair: The associate degree in business administration offered online and at Sinclair's Mason campus provides a seamless path for transfer into a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) program after graduation. An A.A.S. and one-year technical certificate in business management can also be earned online, and other campus-based programs include business information systems and business operations systems support.
The graduation rate at this Kentucky institution is one of the best among our top ten business administration schools, and a student-faculty ratio of 17:1 suggests that professors here typically have time to help individual students with issues they're facing in class. The main campus in Madisonville serves most of the 3,500+ students who attend classes here, but a satellite location in Muhlenberg and a separate health sciences campus also serve specific educational needs in the region.
Business administration programs at MCC: Two-year business degree plans at MCC include accounting, management, office systems and human resource management study tracks within the A.A.S. program in business administration systems. Diploma and certificate plans include small business management, organizational leadership and entrepreneurship.
Glendale Community College first opened its doors in 1928 to a class of just 139 students, but it's grown into a formidable institution in the 90 years since that initial semester. The total number of enrolled students approached 14,000 in 2018, and the institution has a yearly budget of close to $100 million. GCC also posted one of the top graduation rates among schools on our list and awards more degrees in business administration than any other subject.
Business administration programs at GCC: Certificate options in business administration at GCC include international business, retail management, financial planning and investment, marketing and more. The main degree plan offered here is an Associate in Arts (A.A.) in business administration. An A.S. for transfer is available as well.
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.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- The school must offer at least 1 program for the subject in question
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following variables:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificates conferred for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
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- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed May 2019, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed May 2019, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
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