Specialties & Programs of Study in the Business World

Specialties & Programs of Study in the Business World

Business majors are some of the most popular degree programs out there, and with good reason. All businesses need certain types of employees to run smoothly. Businesses need management, to coordinate big decisions and keep the company moving in a good direction. They need salespeople, and sometimes marketing and advertising agents, to take the product to the intended audience. Businesses need accountants, tax specialists, and financial managers to deal with money. There are business lawyers and public relations specialists to help a business project the right image. Finally, there are specialties within business management and operations. So, no matter what a business student wants to do in a business, there's probably a business degree program for it! To learn more, please explore the introductions to careers and degrees found below.

Banking   |   Business Law   |   Criminal Justice Administration   |   Business Administration   |   E-Commerce   |   Entrepreneurial Studies   |   Health Care Administration   |   Hospitality Management   |   Human Resource Management   |   International Business   |   Labor Studies   |   MBA Programs   |   Merchandising & Retail   |   Non-Profit Administration   |   Operations   |   Organizational Behavior   |   Project Management   |   Public Administration & Policy   |   Public Relations   |   Real Estate   |   Secretarial Studies   |   Taxation


The banking industry is defined as establishments engaged in accepting time deposits, making loans (mortgage, real estate, commercial, industrial, and consumer), and investing in high-grade securities. There are several types of banks, including: commercial banks, savings and loans, credit unions, and federal reserves. The banking industry has changed significantly over the last decade. In 1999 the Financial Modernization Act allowed banks to begin offering investment and insurance products. But perhaps the most influential impact has been technology – many routine business transactions are now offered via automated teller machines or online services.

Required education varies based on position. Most bank tellers need only a high school diploma and can receive on-the-job training. Workers in management, business, and financial occupations usually have at least a bachelor's degree, with courses in business management and finance being most preferred. Other courses may include communications, international business, accounting, insurance, and taxation.

The available occupations within the banking industry include: tellers, customer service representatives, financial managers, loan and credit officers, bill and account collectors, financial services sales agents, accountants, auditors and lawyers. Tellers are the most in-demand occupation, making up over 26 percent of all bank employees in 2002. However, almost all major banking institutions have employees from each of the occupations listed above.

Salary potential in the banking industry also varies based on occupation. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that in 2002 the average hourly rate for bank tellers was $9.81, whereas the average hourly pay rate for loan officers was just under $20.

Business Law

There are basically two types of business lawyers: those who handle lawsuits, called business litigators, and those who handle contracts and corporate matters, called transactional lawyers. Business litigators represent the company in a lawsuit. Transactional lawyers advise companies concerning legal issues related to their business activities. These issues might involve patents, government regulations, contracts with other companies, property interests, or collective-bargaining agreements with unions. Larger companies typically have their own lead counsel or staff of lawyers, whereas smaller companies may retain the services of a law firm specializing in business law.

As with any career in law, typical education requirements include an undergraduate degree and then proceeding to law school. Once in law school students can choose to take classes that focus more on business law and needs, such as commercial law, corporate law, intellectual property law, etc. After law school one must successfully pass the bar exam before being permitted to practice law in any state. The exam is administered by each state's Bar Association, and therefore differs slightly.

Although the growth of the law profession is predicted to continue to climb at a steady rate over the next seven years, demand for business lawyers may be somewhat mitigated due to an effort by businesses to reduce money spent on legal fees. Instead many companies are turning to large accounting firms and paralegals to perform some of the functions that lawyers do. Business law is one of the better-paying options for law students. In 2001 the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that the average annual salary for business lawyers, just six months out of school, was $60,000.

Criminal Justice Administration

Criminal justice includes a variety of jobs and occupations related to justice administration, law enforcement, and corrections. Careers within criminal justice include: police officers, FBI agents, parole officers, drug enforcement officers, customs and immigration officers, social work, and crisis counseling, just to name a few. A degree in criminal justice administration (offered as both a Bachelor and Master's degree) helps prepare students for positions of responsibility and leadership within the various criminal justice professions. Often this degree is sought by current criminal justice professionals looking to pursue career advancement.

Degree programs in criminal justice administration are offered by a variety of accredited universities. Coursework typically includes organizational theory, financial management, public personnel management, research methods and statistics, criminal law, and behavioral science.

Due to the variety of career opportunities within criminal justice administration, employment prospects are very good. Between 1981 and 2001, the total number of justice employees grew by 81%. A large number of criminal justice professionals go to work for one of many federal, state and local government agencies, such as Attorney General's office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services, just to name a few. Compensation varies greatly, depending on specific job function. However, according to a 2003 report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average annual starting salary for persons within the criminal justice field ranged from $23,000 to $33,000.

Business Administration & Management

Known as the "generic" business major, Business Administration and Management is all about learning how to be a boss – how to run a successful, competitive company, how to deal with clients and employees and shareholders, etc.

While in the program, students can expect to take courses in math (economics, finance, accounting, and statistics); organizational management; human resources; business law and ethics; public relations; advertising; and more. Students also to give a number of presentations and create well-researched reports, and work a lot in groups, since that is what managing a business is all about. Some schools require students to concentrate in a certain area of business management while completing the program. Concentrations help the student prepare for a certain sector of management or type of business.

Every business needs people in upper management, so salaries and working conditions will vary. Most graduates start out at lower-level management positions and then are promoted throughout their career. Starting salaries may be on low end. Middle management employees typically earn about $45,000 to $90,000 year. Top executives are among the highest paid workers; in 2002, the median annual earnings of top executives totaled $126,260.


E-Commerce (or Electronic Commerce) can most simply be defined as business conducted electronically, instead of on paper. Most people think of buying and selling goods and services through digital communications and networks, but it can encompass any business deal or transaction done remotely via computer.

All business students have some E-commerce classes in your major, and some choose to make it their area of specialization. The field evolves rapidly with new and expanding technology, so there are also training seminars and certifications available. Coursework may include finance, banking, international commerce, ethics, and business communication.

Graduates with a good working knowledge of E-Commerce will be indispensable to many businesses. Most businesses do at least some of their sales and marketing online, to reach people that do not come into the business directly. An understanding of security issues is important to protect company and customer assets. The ability to understand the needs of online shoppers is also a must. Finance majors may want to focus on E-commerce, as business transactions conducted electronically are become more and more common.

Salaries in the field will vary with experience and type of job pursued. Financial managers can hope to earn between $60,000 and $180,000. Accountants can expect to be offered $40,000 or more as recent graduates.

Entrepreneurial Studies

Many people dream of owning and running our own business, and luckily there are majors and courses devoted to learning how to become a successful entrepreneur! Entrepreneurs need all the skills of a business manager, including coursework in management principles, finances, taxes, marketing, organization, and more. Some degree programs focus on specific aspects of entrepreneurship, such as a focus on environmental products or online sales.

One of the things students learn (and hopefully already have some aptitude for) is how to recognize a great opportunity and capitalize on it. Students learn how to identify consumer trends, to know what people need and want before they even know. Entrepreneurial studies majors also learn how to tackle the tough challenges of trying to get a business off the ground. One of the main qualifications to become an entrepreneur is the willingness to take risks – the field is not for the weak of heart!

Salaries and jobs for Entrepreneurial Studies majors vary considerably. Successful entrepreneurs can make millions. The field is likely to continue growing, as it always has, based on entrepreneurs' abilities to anticipate trends and solve problems.

Health Care Administration

A major in Health Care Administration combines health care and business concepts. Professionals in the field need to understand the treatment of disease and health maintenance as well as how to run a successful business. Many organizations providing health care (networks of hospitals, for example) are huge companies – students will learn about finance, corporate structure, health care law, personnel management, and many other business concepts. But these health care companies and groups are different from regular companies in that they are providing healthcare; students also take classes in epidemiology, disease prevention, patient communications, and other health care-related courses.

Most schools offer this program at the graduate or doctoral level only. Upon graduation the student may look for work in entry-level management in hospitals, managed care facilities, clinics, health insurance companies, and public and government agencies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average earnings for medical and health services managers were around $63,000 in 2002. The highest-paid administrators earned over $100,000.

Hospitality Management

There is a lot that goes into running hotels, resorts, convention centers, casinos, cruise ships, and fancy restaurants. Not only do the managers need to have sharp business skills, they need to be able to communicate with customers and clients, and keep everyone safe and happy. This is where a Hospitality Management degree can really come in handy.

In their degree program, students learn business concepts (human resources, finance, taxes and real estate laws, etc.) as well as things specific to the business of hospitality – event coordination, nutrition and serving; perhaps even navigation, geography, and foreign languages. It is a very good idea to complete an internship. The major is available at certificate, bachelors, and master's degree levels.

Some Hospitality Management programs focus on a specific aspect of the industry, such as restaurant management or tourism studies.

Salaries for positions in Hospitality Management vary considerably. According to BLS, food service managers in specialty areas earned an average annual wage of $40,720 in 2002. Lodging managers earn about $34,000 per year. Managers in large, successful business could expect to earn much more with experience.

Human Resource Management

Human resource management covers a wide variety of tasks and functions within an organization, including: recruiting and hiring, employee compensation and benefits, corporate policy, employee assistance, and training. Within the field of human resource management there is an endless list of possible jobs. Some of these include: recruiters, EEO officers, employer relations specialist, benefits managers, training and development managers, and labor relations, just to name a few.

Due to the variety of jobs within the human resource industry, the educational requirements can vary significantly. Today most employers seeking to fill entry-level positions look for college graduates with an Associate's or Bachelor's degree in human resources or personnel management. Other acceptable backgrounds include business and liberal arts degrees. A Master's degree or other advanced education is usually helpful when seeking top-level management positions. Courses should cover business management, organizational and behavior theory, leadership and ethics, occupational and employment laws, accounting, and more.

Jobs in the human resource industry are plentiful. Because human resource management is needed in every industry, and just about any company with 50 or more employees has human resource workers, human resource professionals have a great deal of option open to them. Specific job availability and salary depend on the specific area one pursues. However, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported that human resource jobs are expected to grow 36 percent or more through 2012, and in 2002 the average annual salary for human resource managers was just under $65,000.

International Business

International Business majors learn all of the basic business concepts and then focus on international finance, sales, and marketing. Many programs require proficiency in a foreign language, which can be very helpful in getting a good job. Students also take cultural studies courses, learning about the customs, laws, and business rules of other countries.

International Business is available as a concentration area in some business majors. There are also some bachelor's and master's level programs available. Courses will include global marketing, international commerce laws, finance, and cultural sensitivity and communications. Salaries for the field vary widely. In general, entry-level and mid-level managers make less than top executives. According to BLS, top executives earned an average of $126,260 in 2002 in the US. In addition to salary, though, you will have the enjoyable experience of living in foreign countries, traveling extensively and broadening your perspective while hopefully influencing people's lives for the better.

Labor Studies

Labor Studies encompasses the history of labor, labor rights, the importance (and challenges) of unions, and more. Students may earn a Bachelor's degree in the field, but there are also many credit and non-credit courses available to help union organizers, worker advocates and businesses stay current in the field. Possible classes include economics, law, communications, political science, human resources, business management, and history.

Graduates of Labor Studies programs can hold jobs such as union organizer/campaigner/president, teacher, occupational health & safety inspector, labor lawyer or advocate, community organizer, and more! Salaries for these positions vary, but generally people take these jobs to help workers and communities, not to make a lot of money. According to BLS, median annual earnings for human resources workers in 2002 were $64,710. Those graduating with a Bachelor's degree can expect to be offered a starting salary of about $35,000.

MBA Programs

"MBA" stands for Master of Business Administration – it is the graduate-level business administration degree. Some schools offer the program as stand-alone, but many students complete an MBA program with concentration or focus in areas such as International Business, Marketing or Business Communications.

MBA programs usually require lots of group work, research and projects. Students complete projects in group settings to simulate a real-work environment. Some programs require students to complete a thesis project in the end – students research a topic of interest and present it to a group of peers, faculty members, and members of the business community. Coursework will be an expansion of undergraduate concepts, including finance, leadership, organizational behavior, marketing, management, and using computers in business.

An MBA degree prepares students to enter middle- to upper-level management upon graduation. Salaries vary, but according to BLS and the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2003 survey, starting salaries for advertising majors were about $29,500; beginning salaries for marketing majors averaged $34,000. With experience comes advancement, and upper managers can earn two or three times that much.

Merchandising & Retail

The exchange of goods and services is perhaps the oldest form of business known to humankind. Merchandising is most often associated with marketing a certain brand or company; for example, merchandisers may negotiate a contract with a film director to place their product in an upcoming movie. Retail is the direct selling of products to consumers; for example, supermarkets are retail outlets.

Students completing a Merchandising and/or Retail degree program can expect classes in business concepts, economics, consumer behavior, marketing, advertising, sales, etc. Students complete projects that are applicable to the real world.

Upon graduation, there are many career options. Merchandisers might directly liaison with store buyers to get them to carry their product. Retail majors may be able to work in retail and sales management at a business directly selling products to customers (as opposed to wholesale – the selling of goods from one business to another).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, marketing, sales, advertising, and promotions managers earned about $57,000 to $78,000 annually in 2002. Salaries vary greatly depending on where the person works, who they work for, and how much experience they have. Sales managers usually earn a commission, too. Recent graduates can expect to be offered around $30,000 for an entry-level position.

Non-profit Administration

Non-profit Management and Administration focuses on how to run a successful non-profit business.

Non-profits have many of the same needs as for-profit business: effectively communicating with the public; raising funds; hiring and managing employees; and more. Students in a certificate, undergraduate or graduate degree program will learn many business concepts. Students will also learn things like gaining and retaining members, communicating with and educating the public, working with politicians, networking (critical for nonprofits), etc. Public Administration classes will be important – in fact, students interested in non-profit management may want to earn a Master's in Public Administration (MPA) degree.

There are many job opportunities open to graduates with skills in non-profit management. Many non-profit groups are just now realizing that their staff needs the same skills as their for-profit peers, and they are eager to hire business leaders who want to make a difference in the world. That said, the competition for these jobs can be fierce, since there aren't that many well-paid upper management positions around. Graduates may need to start at the bottom and work your way up.


Operations managers plan and control the day-to-day business of running a company from the ground up. They are involved in planning construction or renovation of company sites; they help hire and train new personnel; they control costs and overhead; and they help formulate company policy. An operation manager's efficient handling of facilities and personnel is crucial to company success; they are responsible for running a "tight ship."

Operations management is usually offered as a concentration in an undergraduate or graduate business program, but some schools also offer it as a certificate or degree program on its own. Almost all business students will take classes in operations management. Degree courses may include technology management, statistics and probability, costing, business relationships, and more.

The field will always be important – companies will always need operations managers to look after day-to-day operations and to cut costs internally. Most graduates start out in entry-level management positions and may advance to chief operations manager or even CEO or COO of the company.

Purchasing managers earned an average of $60,000 in 2002, according to BLS. Industrial production managers earned an average salary of $67,320 that year. General and operations managers earned an average of $68,210. Some top executives earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Organizational Behavior

The field is alternately known as organizational behavior, organizational studies, management science, and organizational theory. It is the application of social and behavioral sciences to organizations and business theory. It is the human dimension of business – why do people buy what they do? Why do they work? What matters to them? And how can a business use this knowledge when marketing, selling, and developing new products and services? How can it be applied to human resources management?

Organizational studies may be available as a concentration in a bachelor's or master's degree program, or it may be a program on its own. Students can expect to study business concepts (human resources management, consumer relations, business administration, and statistics) as well as social sciences (general psychology, social psychology). Students will also learn how these concepts, taken together, can change the way a company sells its products and relates to employees, shareholders, consumers, and government agencies.

Organizational behaviorists may work in human resources. According to BLS, human resources workers earned an average salary of $64,710 in 2002. Recent graduates with bachelor's degrees were offered jobs with an average salary of $35,400. Organizational behaviorists might also become public relations specialists – they earned an average of $41,710 in 2002.

Project Management

Project Management is tricky to define, but basically it involves the entire planning, execution and evaluation of a particular project. Project managers focus on efficiently implementing plans and projects for a company. They may be consultants or work full-time for a company or firm.

Students in a project management major, concentration or course will learn basic business concepts and advanced concepts relating to project planning and management. Team management (working with different groups on one goal), accounting/cost control, and business writing and communications will be explored in depth – basically, students learn how to be a professional team leader!

Sometimes project management is worked into fields besides business. For example, architecture and engineering firms need project managers. In fact, concepts in project management can be useful for almost anyone, from a teacher to a hospital administrator to an event coordinator. Because it is applicable to so many fields, project management graduates can work in almost any sector. One common area is cost estimation – compiling data into a report of anticipated costs of, say, a construction project. Cost estimators earned an average of $47,550 in 2002, according to BLS. Project managers also have a lot in common with operations managers, so they can look to earn an average salary of $60,000.

Public Administration & Policy

The field of Public Administration and Policy is concerned with running government organizations and agencies. Civil service today is more than meets the eye – much of public policy administration has to do with coming up with innovative ways to meet ever-changing public needs with an ever-shrinking coffer. To do it, administrators integrate economics, social psychology, ethics, political science, and much more.

Public administrators must have a firm understanding of business policies if they are to be successful. They strive to meet basic needs and desires with as little money as necessary – learning to manage efficiently is essential.

Most public administration programs are at the graduate level; the degree is usually called a Masters in Public Administration, or MPA. It may be found in the business department or the political science department. Either way, the program will integrate courses from both.

Students should expect to complete a lot of group projects as well as individual projects where they can demonstrate leadership ability. Much of public administration is studying the history of the field and how it affects public policy now. Students will need a firm grasp of local, state, national, and international issues. Coursework includes ethics, organizational and human behavior, administration, costing, and more.

An MPA can be quite useful in fields such as city management. City managers are appointed by mayors or community councils. According to BLS, city managers earned an average of $85,000 in 2002; other offices paid less, but most upper-level positions paid over $60,000 annually.

Public Relations

"Public Relations" can be defined in many ways, but at its most simplest, it is just relaying an idea or concept to the public. Generally, companies, groups and individuals try to promote a positive relationship with the public through active communication. Press releases, public appearances, volunteer work, campaigning, and the like are used to foster a favorable image. Public relations specialists help companies, groups and individuals with their campaigns. A PR specialist with a political candidate, for example, would arrange speaking events, put out press releases, handle any unexpected public exposure, and more.

Students in a public relations program will study advertising, communications, public policy, leadership and teamwork concepts, public speaking, ethics, and more. Students can either take public relations as a course, a concentration in a major, or as an undergraduate or graduate major. The field can be an effective double-major with a communications/journalism, public administration, or advertising/marketing degree. An internship can prove to be invaluable.

Job opportunities include working on a PR campaign for an individual or non-profit or for-profit company. Some PR specialists are consultants, trainers or teachers. Median annual earnings for PR specialists were $41,710 in 2002. Specialists in advertising and related capacities earned the most.

Real Estate

Real estate agents are licensed to broker the sale of property. Agents help people with some of the most difficult and complicated processes they will ever encounter, which is why they need special training. Most are independent agents who earn a portion of the property's sales. In this way, ones success as an agent will have great bearing on how much one can earn.

To become licensed, students complete about 30-90 hours of classroom training (more for brokers) and then pass a written test. Students can also get a bachelor's degree in the field. Another relevant field is real estate law – students can major in this at the graduate level. Courses in real estate include finance and accounting, business administration, economics and statistics, and law. The best agents are also personable and sociable, with a good capacity for remember names and faces and catering to peoples' needs.

Real estate agents scout out properties to sell (once they are known well, people will come to the agent with properties), negotiate contracts, and sell the properties. They spend a good deal of time on the road, working after hours and on weekends to suit clients' needs. In 2002, median earnings (including commission) for real estate agents were $30,930. Brokers earned an average of $50,330. Experienced and successful agents can earn over $150,000 annually.

Secretarial Studies

Secretaries and administrative assistants are arguably the backbone of most companies. Without their behind-the-scenes work, executives and other workers would have a hard time doing their jobs! But the face of the field is changing. Technology has replaced many secretarial duties (there are answering services, for example), and the secretaries of today need top computer skills.

One great way to get the skills and knowledge needed to be a successful (a.k.a. well-paid) assistant is to get a college degree in secretarial studies. Students learn basic business concepts, client relations, communications, and most importantly, computer skills. From Access and other management software to PowerPoint and Excel, secretaries use computer applications in almost everything they do. Coursework will focus on these computer skills, as well as effective communication techniques, accounting, human resources management, account and client management, and more.

Some programs focus on specific aspects of secretarial studies, such as legal administration (requiring an understanding of law and legal writing), medical administration, academic administration, and much more. These specialized skills can be quite marketable. Students may be able to complete a certificate program in a specialty field.

According to BLS, secretaries earned an average of $33,410 in 2002. Outside of the legal, medical and executive professions, secretaries earned an average of $25,290. Advanced training, certifications, and experience usually translate to a higher salary; top administrative assistants can earn over $50,000 a year.


Specialists in taxation law and business principles are essential to any business. These specialists work closely with the legal and accounting teams of business (either as full-time employees or as consultants in a firm or independently). They have advanced training in the field.

Taxation may be offered as a course in a business program, or it could be a concentration or major on its own. A law or business degree with a specialization in taxation may be the best way to go. Courses include tax law and history, labor law, accounting and finance, economics and statistics, business administration, ethics, and written and oral communications.

Job opportunities include tax law attorneys, employees with federal and state tax agencies, consultants, accountants, auditors, and more. Tax collectors and revenue agents for the government usually have a bachelor's or other degree in accounting. According to BLS, these agents earned an average of $42,250 in 2002; federal employees earned more than state and local employees. Accountants and auditors earned a median income of $47,000. Lawyers, with their advanced training, earned an average of $90,290.

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