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Do You Need a Degree if You Plan to Open Your Own Business?

By Charlene Lattea, WVU Online | Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Whether you are planning to take over the family business or starting a new business from scratch, you may be wondering: Do I need a degree to run my own business?

This is a logical question for aspiring business owners to ask. Operating your own business is not easy, especially if you are just starting out.

Of course, you want to do everything possible to set yourself up for success when you start your own business, but getting a college degree requires a lot of time and money. If you decide to go that route, you want to make sure your investment is worth it.

Your success as a business owner will be determined by the economy, the market for your particular industry and product, and your own knowledge and skills and how you use them.

With so many factors involved in your success, a degree can offer many benefits and provide a solid foundation to build on.

Can you start a business without a degree?

The truth is, you do not need to have a degree of any kind in order to open your own business.

The most important thing you need is a passion for the field you are entering, as well as dedication, hard work, and a willingness to learn as much as you can.

But, it might be a good idea to get some kind of degree or additional education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 50% of business owners have a bachelor’s degree.

But what are some of the reasons for not getting a degree?

The financial investment as well as the time it takes to earn a degree are probably the biggest considerations, but there are others.

A degree will teach you useful skills, but there are some skills you may already have that do not require a degree, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and leadership skills.

Or maybe you inherited your family business and learned the skills you need during a lifetime of on-the-job training.

Business Degree Alternatives

If you’re not sold on the idea of earning a business degree, you might be wondering if there are additional options to learn business best practices.

Some alternatives to traditional degree programs include:

  • Take classes
  • Getting career-relevant certificates
  • Attending conferences
  • Working with a mentor
  • Joining a professional society or club

Some states require business owners to be licensed to perform work in specific professions, including the health professions and others. You can get licensed to open your own business, and in that way add to your skill set and broaden your knowledge.

If you want to increase your knowledge in one aspect of your business, getting a certification from a reputable company can give you invaluable tools. For example, an IT certification could help you expand the services your business offers, or you could get a general certification available for small business owners, such as the Certiport Entrepreneurship and Small Business (ESB) certification.

Just as the different types of businesses vary widely, so do the opportunities you have to gain the knowledge and skills you need to be successful.

If you want to learn to run a business, you can do it without earning a degree, but unless you already have a lot of experience or you have natural talent and ability, it may take you a lot longer.

The advantages of having a degree

There are many ways that earning a degree can help you start your own business.

Degree programs give you a structured plan for learning and they can give you practical experience that you can apply to your own company.

The right degree can help you develop your skills, learn more about your industry, increase your overall business knowledge, and promote your professional development.

You will learn how to hire, manage, and lead employees efficiently, and how to manage a company’s finances, as well as all about ethics and new technology.

Some of today’s most successful entrepreneurs have benefitted from earning a degree, including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Larry Page, Warren Buffett, and Sam Walton, among others.

Check out these advantages of earning a degree and how it will help you as the owner of your own business:

You’ll Acquire a Solid Foundation in Basic Business Skills

You wear a lot of hats as the business owner, especially in the early days, and you need a solid foundation in basic skills that are important to the operation of any business.

Business degree programs teach you the fundamentals of how big and small companies run on a day-to-day basis.

This includes economics, accounting, management, marketing, business law and ethics, business communication, human resources management, project management.

You’ll Acquire Specialized Knowledge and Industry-Specific Expertise

Tailoring your degree to your interests can help you develop the specialized knowledge and skills you need for your specific industry.

These are hard skills, or competencies that help a company solve problems. They are measurable abilities to perform tasks such as writing JavaScript, designing a marketing campaign, or analyzing data.

You’ll Develop Critical Thinking, Problem-solving, and Analytical Skills

Through case studies, classroom assignments, group projects, and presentations, business programs teach you to hone the soft skills that differentiate successful business leaders from those who fail.

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people, which is oh so important in business.

Examples of soft business skills include: the ability to communicate with others; behavior; personal traits; cognitive abilities; empathy; emotional intelligence; self-awareness; problem solving; time management; adaptability; and creativity.

You’ll Have Access to valuable networking opportunities

Degrees can also help you grow your network with experts across various fields.

These connections are provided by the university’s business school, which bridges communication between students and faculty, alumni, and local companies.

By the time you graduate, you will have a supportive network that will help prepare you for your first steps into the world of business and being a business owner.

The network you can build from professors and fellow classmates can help provide you with insight, as well as clients, in the future.

You’ll Hone Your Transferable Skills

Many students choose to major in business because its content can be applied to almost every field.

The skills you learn in business can be applied to different careers and industries, regardless of your specific background or experience.

These “transferable skills” can help you manage your business successfully.

Transferable skills include things like having a good work ethic, being able to deal with adversity, and being able to lead and manage people.

What degrees are the most valuable to business owners?

It can be difficult to decide what type of degree to pursue, as an aspiring business owner, or someone thinking of opening a business.

First of all, you have to decide what level of education you need to pursue. Do you already have a degree of some kind?

The following are some degrees that can help you as a business owner, or someone getting ready to start a business. There are lots of options to choose from!

1. Associate of Arts in Business Administration

An associate degree covers most of the skills you will need for the day-to-today operation of a business, without the time and financial commitment of an advanced degree. This two-year program gives you a foundation in accounting and finance, management, statistics, computer applications, decision-making and organizational skills.

2. Bachelor of Science in Business Administration: General Business

A bachelor’s degree in business administration or management is a popular choice for many entrepreneurs and can give you the core skills you need to run any type of business or start a business from scratch. It introduces you to important topics such as business strategy, data analysis and leadership skills. In addition, it gives you the opportunity to specialize in a particular area.

3. Marketing

Perhaps the most important part of selling your services and products is reaching the right audience. A degree in marketing will help you learn the basics you need to develop your brand, identify your target audience, build engagement, and promote your product. The skills you will learn with this degree are especially beneficial for startups and will help you increase your profits in cost-effective ways.

4. Economics M.S.

This degree involves a lot of mathematics, but it is one of the best and most versatile degree choices for students who want to learn about business. You will learn about finance, as well as leadership skills and knowledge of laws and regulations, gaining an understanding of how your business can survive, thrive, and see a healthy profit.

5. Master of Business Administration (MBA)

The MBA is highly prized because it provides you with advanced knowledge and important skills that other entrepreneurs may lack. These skills include business operations, accounting, economics, supply chain management, leadership, marketing, written and oral communication and human resources skills, as well as hands-on experience.

6. Finance

Finance is essential for a startup business to know how to manage money. You’ll also learn how to read and write a balance sheet and all about profit and loss, which is essential for any business owner. It helps you to form effective relationships and commitments in terms of time, efforts, and financial aspects and to measure and assess your progress.

7. Accounting

A degree in accounting can help you manage your business's finances, evaluate the significance of market or economic changes, and analyze company data to create your business strategy. You will need to learn to manage your company's books, send invoices, establish accounts payable, manage payroll, and do your own taxes.

8. Communications

Getting a degree in communication or English can help you write marketing materials and communicate company values, initiatives and strategies. As a business owner, the content you produce and the communications you use with customers, employees and investors can all have significant effects on your brand, reputation and credibility.

9. Computer Science

Even if you don't plan to work in a technical field, a degree in computer science can teach you valuable skills helpful for starting your own business. You will learn how to build an effective website or design an app for your business. Knowledge of computer technology helps you communicate with clients and you will be able to ensure that your company’s online presence accurately represents your vision.

Earn a degree at WVU Online to jump start your business

As you build your own career as an entrepreneur, you may want to improve your skills with a degree from WVU Online. If you are unsure about your goals, or how to identify your interests and skills, be sure to reach out to one of our WVU Online admissions coaches. They are trained to help you look at your individual situation and make the right choice for your future.

Contact the Coaches at Our Learning Engagement Center

Complete this form, and we'll send you program information. If you want, give us your phone number, and we'll call and answer any questions you have. If you are ready, be sure to explore everything our WVU Online business programs have to offer, to determine if they will help you reach your goals.

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