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

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If you’re planning to major in business, you’re in good company. In fact, business is consistently among the most popular college majors in the United States. What you might not realize is that there are distinct programs of study within the field of business – not only in disciplines like finance, marketing and accounting but also among “general” business programs. Undergraduate degrees in business administration and business management differ not only in name but also in their breadth and depth, their area of focus, their curricula and the career opportunities open to their graduates.

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Business Degree Name and Description 

Let’s start with the basics. What is a business degree?

The simplest definition of a business degree is a college-level course of study in the professional activities that, often, result in purchases or profit-making. Business degrees exist at every level, from the two-year associate’s degree programs to highly advanced doctoral degree programs, but the field of study is particularly popular among students pursuing bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees.

Business degrees can go by a number of names. Business administration is a common term for business degree programs with a curriculum that draws from all of the different disciplines within business but that typically emphasizes one area of concentration. Business management, instead, puts special emphasis on the leadership and operations management of business organizations but, in doing so, explores the broader foundations of the different aspects of business.

Other areas of study within business include finance, accounting, marketing and human resources. Some degree programs and business administration concentrations are more interdisciplinary in nature. For example, degree programs and business administration concentrations in economics are often offered out of a business school, even though economics has ties to both the social sciences and mathematics.

The term “business administration” isn’t just one of the majors that are found in business schools. It’s also the name of degree programs themselves. In addition to the science and arts degrees found at the bachelor’s and master’s levels – like the Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of Science (MS) and Master of Arts (MA) degrees – there are both Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees.

Is a Business Degree a BA or BS?

Both traditional degree options for a business degree – BA or BS – exist, as do BBA degrees. Generally, you could use any one of these types of degrees to launch a career in the business world or to advance to graduate school for further study of business. Unless you’re going for a career or graduate education in a super technical area, you’re likely to find that business schools and potential employers view these different degree programs as equivalent. Generally, the level of your degree and the business discipline you studied are more significant factors in your future career and educational opportunities. 

There are some distinctions between BA, BS and BBA degrees. A Bachelor of Arts degree in any subject is typically based in the study of the liberal arts. These degree programs emphasize the development of soft skills like communication, critical thinking and learning and synthesizing new information. Bachelor of Science programs, on the other hand, generally emphasize technical skills and knowledge. Both a BA and a BS degree program in business will cover many of the same business topics, but the BA curriculum is likely to include more coursework in the humanities and social sciences, while the BS curriculum tends to encompass more studies in the sciences and mathematics.

BBA degrees tend to focus more on business studies than BA and BS degrees, although students in BBA degree programs must still fulfill their college’s general education requirements.  However, students pursuing a more specialized degree in business, like a degree in finance, are likely to find that a BS in finance degree is more focused than a BBA in finance degree.

Aside from BA, BS and BBA degrees, administration-focused business degrees at the undergraduate level are sometimes called Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) degrees. Management-focused business degrees may also go by other names, such as Bachelor of Business Management (BBM) or Bachelor of Science in Business Management (BSBM) degrees.

Should You Earn a BS or BA in Business Administration? 

Ultimately, which type of degree you decide to pursue for business administration or business management depends on your academic strengths and career interests. If you’re deeply interested in a business career in the tech industry or in a scientific industry, you might be better off pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree. On the other hand, if science and math aren’t really your strong suits and you would prefer to study the arts and humanities, consider opting for a Bachelor of Arts program. BBA programs are ideal for students who know from the outset of their college education that they definitely want to major in business.

What if you don’t feel especially strongly about any of these options? In that case, which type of business degree you’re seeking may not be one of the most important factors you need to consider when choosing a college. Instead, you can focus on things like the program’s accreditation, available concentrations, curriculum differences and opportunities for hands-on experience and career placement.

Now that we’re clear on the types of degrees available in the field of business, we can discuss in more detail the distinctions between the business administration and business management majors. 

The Focus of Business Administration vs. Business Management Degrees

The most important difference between business administration and business management degree programs is the focus of the curriculum. This distinction between administration and management might seem small, but it can be important.

At its surface, a major in business administration provides a broad business education. Students in a business administration program complete core coursework in different areas of the field of business to learn the foundations of all areas that affect and are affected by business administration. However, it’s important to note that students who pursue a business administration major often specialize in one subdiscipline of business, such as entrepreneurship, marketing or project management. In these subdisciplines, business students primarily work to attain practical skills that they can apply within their specialization.

A business management degree revolves around learning management theory and techniques that graduates can apply across a wide range of business situations. As a result, despite the emphasis on management, business management degrees are often even broader in scope than business administration degrees. The focus is on cultivating the skills to plan, organize and manage people, organizations and operations. These skills can be applied to just about any operation or administrative function of any business or organization. There may be less of an emphasis on technical and practical skills but more of an emphasis on the crucial yet somewhat fuzzy subject of being a good business leader.

To put it another way, business administration has more to do with the routine daily operations involved in running a business. Business management has to do with the big-picture planning and strategizing for business sustainability and growth – particularly, the human aspects of overseeing teams and resolving interpersonal conflicts. If you want to focus on tasks and technical skills, business administration is likely a better major for you, but if you want to focus on how to bring together and direct the people whose work makes the business run, business management may be a better fit.

The differences in focus shouldn’t be construed as a difference in significance. Business organizations run best when they are led by people who are knowledgeable about and concerned with both the practical aspects of operational tasks and the human-centric aspects of management and leadership. 

Curriculum Differences for Administration and Management Majors

Both business administration and business management degree programs begin with a set of core courses in business subjects. After all, whether you are diving deep into one specialization or learning management theory for all areas of business, you need a strong foundation in each of the major disciplines. Students in both fields of study will often take classes such as principles of accounting, principles of marketing, introduction to business, business law, financial management, organizational leadership and human resources management.

Beyond these core business requirements, the curriculum splits based on the nature of your degree. For business management majors, further coursework in finance, entrepreneurship, small business management, organizational behavior and management principles, business ethics and business writing and communication are common. Taking advanced management classes is crucial to help students learn the concepts used in financial planning, project management and data analysis.

On the other hand, business administration majors will spend a good deal of their remaining business coursework on topics related to their chosen specialization. A BBA student pursuing a marketing specialization might take classes such as public relations, consumer behavior, advertising, marketing campaign and strategic planning and marketing management. Choosing a finance specialization might instead have the student completing coursework in budgeting, financial instruments, risk management, financial analysis and asset and debt management. The concentrations available to business administration majors vary from college to college, but they can be as narrow as hospitality management, technology management and fashion marketing.

If you’re looking at the potential business degree options from the broadest focus to the narrowest focus, business management is first, followed by business administration degree programs with a concentration in a given field and finally a BA or BS in that specialized area. A BA or BS in accounting, for example, is more specialized than a BBA with a concentration in accounting, which is still more focused than a business management degree. 

Career Prospects With Administration and Management Degrees

At the undergraduate level, both business administration and business management degrees set students up for success in the business world. However, which major you choose could affect the jobs that are initially available to you and the additional education you may need to advance your career.

A business management degree is more likely than a business administration degree to lead to positions such as entry-level manager and assistant product manager. These roles are less specialized and include a supervisory component. A business administration degree is more likely to be your first step toward a career as an accountant, personal financial advisor or financial analyst, depending on your area of specialization. These jobs encompass more technical responsibilities and aren’t necessarily management-focused, although gaining experience in them can certainly lead you to leadership roles over the course of your career.

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Graduates of administration programs may work their way up to management roles with experience and a Master of Business Administration degree, while graduates of management programs may prefer to gain specialized skills through a specialized master’s program.

Choosing Between Business Administration and Business Management Degrees

Which degree is better, business administration or business management? Much like the distinction between BA, BS and BBA programs, both of these educational options have their merits, and neither major is likely to hurt a student’s future opportunities. There are pros and cons to any of the individual business degree options you might choose, so it’s important for each prospective student to consider these factors in the context of their own personal interests and career goals. Ultimately, prospective students need to consider what aspect of business most appeals to them.

A broader major like business management is more versatile, because what you learn in this degree program applies to the leadership of just about any business organization. However, some employers may feel that students who pursue this degree don’t have enough specialized knowledge. Having to train new managers in these technical skills can require more time and resources than employers want to invest.

On the other hand, concentrating on one specialization as a business administration major can be limiting. This is because you have less breadth of business knowledge and know less about business areas outside of your specialization, but also because the business administration curriculum focuses less on people skills and other soft skills. While technical skills are important for job performance, being able to communicate well with clients, customers, vendors and colleagues is essential to doing your best work and to facilitating the business to run optimally.

Students who have trouble choosing between a BBA and a BBM degree might consider a Bachelor of Business Administration program with a concentration in management. This option would give you the practical skills of a BBA and the management focus of a BBM.

Additional Resources

How Do I Prepare for a Business Degree While in High School?

How Do I Prepare for a Management Degree While in High School?

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