For a business-minded prospective college student who enjoys working with people, choosing a college major can be a challenge. Your ambition makes it difficult to pick just one field of study, but you don’t want to go overboard and end up stuck in school longer than necessary and needing to delay your entry into the workforce. If the two degree paths you are most torn between are human resources and general business, then you should consider the differences in the focus of the two sets of curricula, the potential job titles and salary ranges you could expect after graduating and the personality traits that match these degree and career paths. Either option can prepare you for a successful career in business, but each of these factors plays a role in deciding which degree is a better fit for you.
Differences in Curriculum Focus
The first thing prospective students need to know about these two programs of study is that they have a lot in common. Human resources is usually offered as one possible concentration within a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree or Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) degree, as is general business. This means that you will complete the same business core coursework no matter which degree you choose. In any BBA or BSBA program, regardless of their specialization, students should expect to take classes in accounting, economics, management, finance, marketing and business laws and ethics. Studying each of these subjects ensures that graduates of business degree programs understand the basic concepts and practices across a breadth of business disciplines.
The specialized courses you pursue build on these foundations. If you decide on a human resources concentration, your curriculum will include classes that focus on the skills needed to plan and develop a workforce. Classes in compensation, employment and staffing, employment law, employee training and development and strategic human resources management may make up the course load of an undergraduate human resources student. Ideally, your business school’s human resources program will follow the Society for Human Resource Management’s HR Curriculum Guidebook and Templates to make sure that you develop the competencies you need for success in an HR career.
If you decide against an HR concentration, you will take as many upper-level business courses your peers who are specializing, but you can choose from a wider variety of subjects to customize your education. Some business schools require a specialization.
Job Title and Salary Distinctions
The business degree path you choose will affect your career opportunities and your income potential. Human resources roles generally aren’t among the highest-paying positions in the business world, but they aren’t at the bottom of the corporate ladder, either. There are some roles you can get with a general business degree that pay quite a bit more than the typical HR specialist role, like personal financial advisor, for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a $90,640 median wage. On the other hand, after attaining a general business degree, you could wind up in a role like meeting, convention or event planner, for which the median wage is just $48,290.
The median annual wage for a human resources specialist is $60,350, the BLS reported. Human resources generalists, in-house recruitment specialists and personnel recruiters and staffing agency headhunters all fall into this category. A human resources degree can also prepare you for a labor relations specialist role, which has a median wage of $63,200, or for a training and development specialist position, where the median salary is $60,360. If you enjoy analytical work, these skills and a human resources degree could get you a job as a compensation, benefits or job analysis specialist, for which the median wage is $62,680. Advancing to a human resources leadership role can dramatically increase your earning potential. For human resources managers, the median wage is $110,120, the BLS reported.
A general business degree has both pros and cons compared to a degree in HR. On one hand, the broad scope of the education is more versatile and may lead to better paying opportunities in fields like finance, operations management and administration that might be out of reach for those who specialized in human resources. However, there is also a great deal of competition for these high-paying jobs, especially from candidates who have more specialized knowledge in subjects like finance and management than you would attain in a general business program. Graduates of a general business program might find that they don’t have enough specialized knowledge for top-paying business roles and that they instead end up in some of the least lucrative positions.
Students majoring in general business should have an idea what they want to do and how to get there. If you don’t have a formal specialization, but you take finance-related classes, internships and extracurricular activities, you are an excellent candidate for a finance role.
Differences in the Personal Qualities Expected
Different roles in the business world require different attributes. That is why an outstanding human resources specialist may be a poor financial analyst, and vice versa. Both of these occupations require strong decision-making skills and attention to detail. However, success in human resources is much more dependent on having excellent communication, interpersonal and relationship-building skills than on advanced math, computer and analytical skills.
While having these “soft skills” like interpersonal communication is ideal for all business professionals, it is truly necessary for HR professionals. You can’t be good at tasks such as recruiting, retaining and training talent unless you can effectively build rapport with staff.