Business has long been the most popular major at U.S. colleges and universities, which hand out far more degrees in this field than any other.
And yet some people say business degrees nowadays are unnecessary, outdated and irrelevant. Business is a fast-changing field in today’s digital economy, and some say business instruction isn’t keeping up with the times or producing the skills needed to succeed in today’s marketplace.
Many business schools would disagree, saying they are preparing students for a broad range of careers by providing instruction in all aspects of real-world business, including management, economics, finance, accounting, marketing and sales.
Do you need a business degree to succeed in business? Many well-known entrepreneurs would attest that you don’t, including college dropouts Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
But could a business degree help you on your personal path to success? Like everything in business, that depends. Here are five points to consider.
1) The market is flooded with business majors.
If you want to be a business major, you won’t be alone. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Out of 2 million bachelor’s degrees issued in 2016–17, the majority were in five fields:
• Business: 381,000 degrees
• Health professions and related programs: 238,000
• Social sciences and history: 159,000
• Psychology: 117,000
• Biological and biomedical sciences: 117,000
Business surpassed education as the most popular major some 40 years ago, and it shows no signs of losing its dominance as the chief field of study in the United States.
So while you’ll have lots of company in business school, you may find it hard to distinguish yourself in the job market among so many business grads.
2) Generic business degrees do not have high earning potential.
General business degrees do not usually turn out to be big earners in the long run, according to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on the potential earnings of hundreds of college majors over the course of five and 10 years.
Majors in “general business” came in at 201st place on a list of fields of study ranked by earning potential, with mid-career salaries in the $80,400 range. The list, compiled by Payscale.com using 2018 NCES data, defines “mid-career salaries” as median earnings after 10 or more years of work in the field.
According to other NCES data reported in “The Condition of Education 2019,” a general business degree falls almost exactly within the median annual earnings of 25- to 29-year-old bachelor’s degree holders by fields of study in 2017.
With electrical engineering graduates topping the list at $72,600 and social workers bringing up the rear at $38,400, general business grads earned $50,400, while the median for all fields was $50,500.
That means that out of all college graduates who were not business students, half earned more and half earned less. Contrary to what you may think, the data suggests that broad-based business majors are a poor path to high earnings.
3) Specialized business degrees are usually worth more (but not always).
Those who earn a specialized business degree rather than a generic degree can generally expect substantially higher earnings.
Specialized fields within the broad business category include finance, accounting, economics, marketing and management. While general business degrees ranked 201st on the Payscale.com list cited above at $80,400, business analysis came in 9th at $129,800; business logistics and transportation 28th at $117,000; and business and economics tied for 53rd place with international business management, at $109,000.
Out of 25 majors with the word “business” in the title, 18 earned more than “general business” and only six earned less.
4) Most employers do not care what your major was.
Employers do not generally care about a job candidate’s college major. What they care about is the job candidate.
A survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93% of employers say job candidates’ critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills are more important than their college major.
Also, 80% of employers say that all students should be broadly educated in the liberal arts and sciences, no matter what their major.
Businesses may or may not be looking to hire business majors. But they’re all looking to hire people who will help their businesses succeed.
5) Your best bet is to pursue something you love.
Many experts say you should find a major that aligns with your interests and passions rather than try to force yourself into a major that you think will lead to a lucrative job. You’re going to spend a lot of time studying, and presumably working, in the field you choose, so you’d better choose something you like.
If business is that passion for you, then there’s no reason not to pursue a business major. Business can expose you to many different disciplines, which can lead to work in a variety of fields. The versatility of the degree is often cited as a plus for students who don’t yet know exactly what they want to do in life.
Whatever you choose, strive to gain the broadest education possible, try to build a network of contacts in your field, and look for internships or other work experience so you’ll have more than just a degree on your resume when you graduate.