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. 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.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Business?

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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 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 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.  

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. Earning a Master of Business Administration (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 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. Like master’s degrees in most other fields, the traditional MBA requires two years of study. However, 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 complete the same workload found in two-year programs in half the time and may need to take summer and weekend classes. Some accelerated MBA programs are offered fully online, while others require on-campus lessons.

Keep in mind that a Master of Business Administration is a graduate-level program, and the coursework will be challenging. Many MBA students take longer than two years to graduate because they have to study part-time while working full-time.

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?