If you’re eager to start proving yourself in the business world, you might already be wondering how long you will have to spend in school to get the education you need. It’s possible to complete a college degree in business quickly, sometimes in as little as two years following your high school graduation, but earning this lower level of degree may not get you the outcomes you want. Students who pursue a more robust business school education will likely spend five or six years – or more – on their studies, often taking a break in between their undergraduate and graduate degree programs to gain at least a few years of work experience.

how long does it take to get a business degreeIMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain

How Long Does It Take to Get a Business Degree at the Undergraduate Level?

Most business students will need to spend at least four years studying at the college level to get a well-paying job in business and finance. However, there are shorter degree options available, as well as regular-paced and accelerated options at the graduate level for those business professionals who choose to go back to school to advance their careers.

Associate’s Degrees in Business

Community colleges often offer an associate’s degree in general business or in limited subdisciplines of business. Often called an Associate of Science (A.S.) in Business Administration or Associate of Arts (A.A.) in Business, these programs can typically be completed in as little as two years of full-time study. The curriculum of an associate’s degree in business program typically includes introductory courses in a variety of business subjects. You might take college courses such as Introduction to Marketing, Introduction to International Business, Accounting I and II, Taxation I and Business Law I and Career Planning and Management. You will also take general education classes that you must complete to earn your degree.

The question students need to ask before committing to an associate’s degree in business is whether this path will help them achieve their goals. Most business occupations require a bachelor’s degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There are jobs you can get with an associate’s degree in business, but those jobs mostly fit into categories such as customer service, retail sales, store management and relationship banking. A candidate with an associate’s degree in business could rise from an administrative assistant role to a somewhat more prestigious, but still clerical, role of executive assistant. By and large, these careers don’t offer the salaries you would get in a professional business career.

While the associate’s degree option gets you out of school faster, it doesn’t have the payoff that a bachelor’s degree does. Whether this two-year education is worthwhile remains a matter of debate. However, the coursework you take in an associate’s degree program generally can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree if you decide to go back to school at a later date.

Some students save money by starting at a community college and then transferring to a four-year business school. Students must make sure they understand transfer credit policies at their school so that the credits they have earned count toward their new degree.

Bachelor of Business Administration Degrees

The bachelor’s degree, sometimes called a four-year degree, is the standard education needed in the business world. With an undergraduate business degree, you can hold job titles that range from personal financial advisor to event planner and from loan officer to management analyst, according to the BLS. Undergraduate business degrees include classes in each field of business. After completing their core business classes, students can choose to concentrate on one particular aspect of business – like marketing, finance or accounting – or follow a general business curriculum that includes upper-level courses in a breadth of business disciplines.

There are also undergraduate degrees in business management. These programs focus more on management theory than a typical business administration program, but they are broad in that they don’t specialize in one area. Students learn to lead in all business areas.  

How Long Is Business School?

First, let’s clarify what we mean by “business school.” Technically, undergraduate degrees in business administration and other business fields are conferred by schools of business. However, when people in the business world talk about “going to business school,” at least in the United States, they are usually referring to graduate-level business school programs. Asking if you plan on going to business school may be your employer’s way of asking if you intend to go back to school to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree or another master’s-level degree in business.

As such, the question “how long does business school take?” typically focuses on the timeline to complete a graduate-level business degree, not a bachelor’s in business degree.

The Timeline to an MBA

Once you have finished your undergraduate education – and spent a few years out in the workforce, gaining experience – you might consider going back to school. By far, the most popular graduate business degree out there is the Master of Business Administration (MBA). More than 100,000 master’s degrees in general business administration were conferred during the 2017 through 2018 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Earning an MBA degree is a popular choice for business professionals of all kinds who want to move up the corporate ladder. In fact, you might find that without this graduate degree, your chances to attain leadership roles are very limited in certain areas of the business world. Some of the top industries seeking new MBA graduates in 2021 included management consulting, financial services, investment banking, corporate finance, tech companies, brand and product managers and the healthcare industry. Salaries for MBA holders have also been creeping upward in recent years, and in 2019, the Graduate Management Admission Council reported record-high median MBA starting salaries of $135,000 in the consulting field and $125,000 in the finance and accounting field.

In an MBA program, students take graduate-level classes in subjects such as accounting, finance, economics, organizational behavior, leadership, marketing and business strategy, but they often dive deeper into one chosen area of specialization. Often, students complete an internship, a capstone project or another type of culminating experience as part of their final MBA graduation requirements instead of writing a formal academic thesis paper based on research.

There are several different kinds of MBA programs, which take different lengths of time to complete:

  • Traditional full-time MBAs
  • Accelerated MBAs
  • Part-time MBAs
  • Executive MBAs

Depending on the MBA program structure that works with your life, you could spend one year or several years in business school pursuing your master’s degree.

The Time to Earn a Traditional Full-Time MBA

Like master’s degrees in most other fields, the traditional MBA requires two years of study. When you look at actual MBA curricula, though, you will find that the number of credits – and courses – required for an MBA varies a great deal from one school to another. An MBA can require as few as 30 credits at some business schools but as many as 60 credits at institutions. Naturally, students are more likely to finish a traditional full-time MBA degree on time or even early when the curriculum is closer to 30 credits than 60 credits.

What exactly does full-time MBA study entail? Since being a student is your full-time job while enrolled in these graduate degree programs, courses are often scheduled during the workday, sometimes beginning as early as 8 a.m. and ending as late as 6 p.m. Make no mistake – in terms of the time commitment, your MBA studies are the equivalent of a full-time job (and then some) when you’re giving your all to your business school education. Getting involved in relevant extracurricular activities, networking with students and guest speakers and taking part in recruiting events are optional time commitments, but you’re not getting the full value out of your MBA degree program if you’re taking advantage of at least some of these opportunities.

How Long It Takes to Earn Accelerated MBAs

Many schools now offer one-year MBA programs to meet the demand from business professionals for quicker progress in career advancement. A one-year MBA program is intense. Students must typically complete the same workload found in two-year programs, but they have to do so in half the time. It’s not unusual for an accelerated MBA program to require students to take summer and weekend classes to fit the full curriculum into such a small amount of time.

Some accelerated MBA programs are offered fully online, while others require on-campus lessons. Earning an accelerated MBA degree can change your professional life in major ways in a short time, but doing so takes a great deal of work, so you have to be committed.

The Part-Time MBA Timeline to Graduation

The part-time MBA is the opposite of the accelerated MBA structure. Instead of completing as many courses as possible in the quickest time so that you can graduate sooner, a part-time format spreads out your Master of Business Administration courses.

Part-time MBA programs are a great choice when you’re not willing or able to leave your job to study full-time. Parents often opt for part-time MBA programs because their family obligations prevent them from taking on too many courses at a time, especially when they’re also working. Part-time MBA classes are more likely to be offered in the evenings and on weekends than courses for full-time students.

Since you’re taking fewer courses at a time, you’re likely to take over two years to graduate. Many part-time MBA students get their degree in three years, but others take even longer, some spending as many as five or six years taking their business school courses. Remember, earning your MBA isn’t about winning some sort of race but instead about gaining the knowledge, skills and experiences that help you grow personally and professionally.

The Timeline to Graduation From an Executive MBA Program

Executive MBA programs combine aspects of both full-time and part-time programs, but they’re intended for a specific kind of student: business executives with plenty of work experience. Full-time MBA students reported having an average of four years of work experience in 2020, while those admitted to executive MBA programs had 13 and a half years of work experience under their belts on average, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Executive MBA programs can often be completed in around two years, just as traditional full-time MBA programs can. Like part-time MBA students, students in executive MBA programs aren’t willing to leave their jobs, so their course schedules tend to capitalize on weekends and evenings. Although executive MBA students typically complete a curriculum that looks similar to full-time MBA students, these highly experienced business professionals don’t have to take an internship to add to their experience. They may, however, participate in special courses and immersive experiences that are high-level and potentially global in nature.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Business (Non-MBA)?

MBAs aren’t the only graduate business degrees you could pursue. Business schools today also offer master’s degrees in many distinct areas of business, including finance, accounting, human resources, marketing and more. The curriculum of a Master of Science degree in a business subject tends to be much more specialized than that of an MBA program.

These programs also tend to be shorter, with the average business-related Master of Science degree taking between 12 and 16 months of coursework instead of two years like a full-time MBA program does, according to U.S. News & World Report. Since these programs also tend to have less extensive expectations of full-time work experience, students can also get started in them sooner, which means you can finish your master’s degree earlier in your life and reap the professional benefits for longer.

If earning your business master’s degree quickly is important to you, you can take steps to graduate faster, such as choosing accelerated program structures and degree programs that require fewer credits. Keep in mind, though, that master’s degrees in business are graduate-level programs, and the coursework will be challenging. If you need to work through business school at a more manageable pace, you’re in good company. 

Additional Resources

How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA?

What Is the Difference Between a Business Administration Degree and a Business Management Degree?

What Is the Difference Between an MBA and a Master’s in Organizational Leadership Degree?