Your guide to business degrees and careers
There’s a huge range of business degrees available, from broad courses such as business studies or business management to more specialised ones such as marketing, human resource management or business analytics. Many offer the opportunity to gain work experience, for example through completing a placement year.
Business degree requirements
- You don’t usually need specific subjects at A level (or equivalent).
- You do need good grades in GCSE maths and English.
- However, for some courses A level maths is required or preferred. For example, Durham University states that to study its BA in business and management: ‘A strong proficiency in mathematics is required. If mathematics is not taken as an A level subject, a grade A in mathematics at GCSE is required’.
- For some related subjects, such as economics, maths A level is often required.
Types of business degree
Broad business courses
If you want to study a course that gives you the option to study a range of business areas, consider:
- A business studies degree. These courses typically cover a variety of business areas in the first year or two, such as accounting and finance, marketing, economics, business law, organisational behaviour, managing people and HR. You can often tailor your module choices in your second and/or third year to the business area that interests you, but do check individual course details carefully to see how much flexibility you have to do this. At some universities, you can opt to have your degree title reflect your area of specialisation, for example ‘business studies with marketing’ rather than ‘business studies’, but check this carefully too.
- A business management degree, management degree or business administration degree. These degrees are similar to business studies, although you may find a little more emphasis upon management and upon the use of maths in business decision-making.
Specialist business courses
If you’d prefer to focus on one specific aspect of business, options include:
- An accounting and finance degree. These focus on finance, accountancy and economics, sometimes with some broader business content. Expect to make use of your maths skills.
- An economics degree. May suit you if you fancy a challenging, well respected academic subject involving plenty of maths.
- A human resource management degree. Degrees cover HR and related areas such as managing people, psychology and employment law.
- A marketing degree. Study areas such as branding, consumer behaviour, marketing strategy, market research and digital marketing, as well as developing wider business awareness.
- A business analytics degree. Specialise in statistical analysis to help businesses use data effectively in decision making.
Business degree placements
- A number of business degrees offer the opportunity to do a year in industry placement, which involves working as an employee for an organisation that interests you rather than attending university. You’re not guaranteed a placement – you’ll have to apply for opportunities and convince an employer to hire you – but most universities will offer you lots of support in this.
- Some business degrees offer shorter placements.
- Nottingham Trent University offers a variation of its business management degree that allows you to spend two out of the three years of your degree on a placement with an employer.
Business degree apprenticeships
- It’s possible to study for a business degree through a degree apprenticeship programme (aka sponsored degree). A number of employers run schemes whereby they recruit school leavers with A levels (or equivalent) into paid jobs and then put them through a university degree part time. You’ll be paid a wage, have your tuition fees covered by your employer and gain a huge amount of practical experience. See our article on business apprenticeships for more detail.
What if I change my mind about which business area interests me?
Some university business schools run the same – or very similar – first-year modules on all degrees and give you the chance to swap course at the end of first year. If you’re considering a specialist business degree it’s worth looking out for these courses, as some business students find that they change their minds about which areas interest them once they’ve actually studied them. Look out for this information on university websites; if they don’t say, you can get in touch and ask.
Do employers prefer specialist business degrees, such as marketing or HR?
There are some employers who specifically ask for specialist degrees such as marketing or HR for roles in these areas – and if you want to be an economist, it’s important to have studied economics. However, you’ll typically see business employers listing business as one of the options they accept, or accepting applications from graduates of any subject. Or they may ask for a ‘relevant subject’ – if you’ve studied relevant modules then you can make this clear on your application, regardless of what your degree is officially called.
Getting hired is much easier if you have plenty of work experience, particularly if it’s in the area you’re applying for, so try to get this whatever subject you study. However, the less specialist your degree, the more important having relevant work experience will be in helping you compete against candidates whose degree exactly matches the job vacancy in question.
That said, don’t pick a specialist business degree out of panic about the job market. You’ll have a much easier time explaining to employers why, say, you chose a degree in business studies and now want to work in HR than why you spent three years on a business analytics course and now want a job that has nothing to do with it.
Business degree modules
The modules that you study on your business degree will depend very much upon the precise type of degree that you take. However, if your degree offers a broad introduction to business in year one then topics may include:
- business law
- accounting and finance
- personal skills development
- business analytics/quantitative methods for business (maths-based analysis).
Teaching and assessment methods on a business degree
Typically you will be taught through a mixture of lectures (listening to talks as part of a large group and taking notes) and seminars/tutorials. Seminars (aka tutorials) are more interactive sessions – for example, you may be given a business case study in a lecture and need to read it and prepare answers to discuss in a seminar. Or you might be set a group presentation to prepare with your coursemates in your own time and then deliver it in a seminar.
It’s worth researching how much (if any) employer involvement there is with your degree course. For example, will there be business people coming in to give lectures? Will there be the chance to get involved with any employers’ projects?
You might also want to find out how much of the work on your course will be practical rather than academic, if this is important to you.
Assessment is via written exams and coursework. Coursework can include essays, group projects, a final-year project or a dissertation.
Business opportunities at university outside of your degree
Some universities provide opportunities to gain business experience and/or meet employers that are run outside of the business school and are open to students of all subjects. For example there may be business competitions or support for student entrepreneurship, and the careers service will likely organise careers fairs and other events where you can meet and learn from employers. Research what’s on offer at the universities you are considering.
There should also be opportunities to gain practical skills and experience by getting involved in running university clubs and societies, for example as a treasurer or in a fundraising role.
Contact hours on a business degree
The amount of contact time you have will vary from university to university, but expect between six and 16 hours a week. You’ll be expected to spend the rest of your time studying independently.
Alternatives to a business degree
If you’re considering studying business at university, also think about the following:
- A law degree. Many business degrees cover elements of law, but perhaps you’d like it to be your main focus and maybe even become a lawyer. Plenty of lawyers specialise in business matters and, while you can become a lawyer with any degree subject, it’s a bit quicker if you’ve taken an accredited law degree as an undergraduate.
- A psychology degree. Likewise, you may well study a little psychology on a business degree – would you like to learn more? Some psychologists specialise in working with businesses to help them run efficiently – they are known as occupational psychologists. To train as an occupational psychologist you’ll need to take either an accredited psychology undergraduate degree or a psychology conversion course after you graduate. Psychology degrees are also often seen as relevant for entry into HR graduate jobs.
- A degree apprenticeship. See above.
- A modern languages degree. Many businesses operate internationally, so being fluent in a foreign language and having first-hand experience of another culture is useful in some roles. For example, investment banks seek graduates who can do business in a second language for some of their vacancies.
A business degree opens plenty of doors. If you want to apply your business skills and knowledge directly you could choose:
- An HR career – can involve recruiting, developing and motivating staff, but also dealing with disciplinary and redundancy proceedings
- A marketing career – a hugely varied area that covers both understanding potential customers or clients and seeking to influence their behaviour
- A public relations career – help organisations to promote themselves and maintain the right image
- A sales career – sales roles go far beyond working in a shop or call centre; selling products or services from one business to another is a popular area for graduates and can be lucrative
- A management consulting career – this involves advising client businesses on how to make changes or improvements and helping them implement these, though keep in mind that successful candidates for these roles tend to be high flyers from top universities
- A finance career – for example working in accountancy, investment management, investment banking, retail banking, actuarial science or other insurance roles
- A retail career – such as store management, buying or merchandising
- A career in hospitality management – for example running a hotel, restaurant or bar
What other jobs can you do with a business degree?
If you’d prefer to do something slightly different, you could consider:
- Working in the media – as a journalist or editor specialising in business matters.
- Working for a charity – your business background is likely to be helpful in office-based roles such as fundraising or marketing.
- Working in the public sector – for example in central or local government. While these aren’t businesses, they need to take a businesslike approach to working efficiently and within budget.
- Teaching business – in a school, FE college or at university.
Quick stats – what do business graduates do after university?
Each year in the UK, universities contact former students six months after they have finished their courses to ask what they are doing now. This is known as the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey. The results from all universities are then combined by the Higher Education Statistics Agency to give a national picture.
For graduates who finished their degrees in 2016:
- Graduates from most business subjects had slightly higher unemployment rates than graduates overall. The average unemployment for all graduates was 5.3%, compared with 6.7% for economics, finance and accountancy graduates and 6.1% for business and management graduates. Marketing graduates were precisely in line with the average at 5.3%.
- However, business graduates who were in work tended to be in professional roles that related to their degree.
- For economics graduates and finance and accountancy graduates, by far the biggest employment area was as business, HR and finance professionals (accounting for 54.3% and 59.0% of those in work from these two disciplines respectively).
- Among business and management studies graduates the two biggest employment areas were as business, HR and finance professionals (24.5%) and marketing, PR and sales professionals (20.8%).
- For marketing graduates, by far the biggest employment area was as marketing, PR and sales professionals (52.0%).