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What's The Difference Between Business Management and Business Administration?

Albert Orbinati


In your search for a business degree program, you may have noticed that some schools offer a business administration degree, while others offer a business management degree. What is the difference between business administration and business management? Does that difference matter to you? How do you know which one is the right choice? As it turns out, in most cases the differences are subtle because many schools don't differentiate between the two. However, there are many that do and in those cases its best that you are completely informed.

Before we get started, know that the vast majority of undergraduate business programs will provide you the same comprehensive foundation of business education. We'll call it the "Core 5." The Core 5 consists of courses in accounting, finance, economics, marketing, and management. You'll learn these functional areas because they'll give you insight into how business works. Some schools will include business law in the core curriculum as well.   

Once you've had access to the Core 5, the direction your business degree program takes is where business management vs. business administration comes into play. Let's take a look.


Business Management vs. Business Administration

What Is a Business Management Degree?

A business management degree, if indeed the management function is what the program is concentrated on, should focus on skills related to managing the day-to-day operations of a business such as monitoring processes, organizing teams and tasks, understanding how other functions of business such as accounting and finance impact daily operations, planning projects and milestones, providing recommendations and expertise to senior leadership, and managing and leading people.

Business management, first and foremost, is about managing people, places, things, and ideas. In order to best manage people, places, things, and ideas business management degree programs will place a heavier focus on the skill of management and leadership itself - an important and crucial proficiency for any business (private, public, or non-profit) to have. Everyone needs effective managers; hence why business management careers are plentiful and why there are many business degree programs to choose from.

So, if you want to enhance your business management skills, or perhaps move into a management position at your place of work, advancing your business management career comes down to learning and applying the skills and competencies of the management function.

What Is a Business Administration Degree?

A degree in business administration, if indeed the program distinguishes between management and administration, provides a broad background in business functionalities, and then allows you to focus on a specialized area of business. For example: after taking the core business curriculum, you'll be able to choose a specialization in accounting, finance, management, or entrepreneurship to name a few. Once chosen, the remainder of your courses in the program will be focused on that functional area. In credit hour terms, a 60 credit hour program would have 15 credits worth of core courses (the Core 5), and 45 credit hours of discipline-specific courses.


Business Management vs. Business Administration: Course Requirements

As stated earlier, both business management and administration degrees typically include the same core subjects, including marketing, accounting, economics finance, and management (the Core 5). These subjects give students a background in how businesses work, from how products are obtained and produced, how they are advertised and sold, to how money is properly managed and utilized to grow the business.

A student of business management will commonly then go on to take supplementary courses in operations such as human resources, information systems, communications, logistics, and decision-making. These courses help to prepare a business management student for a job supervising or managing other people - a business management career.

A student of business administration will commonly then go on to take supplementary courses primarily in a functional business area related to the Core 5 such as accounting, finance, economics, marketing, or management. These courses help to prepare a business administration student for a job in one of the specialized areas.


Business Management vs. Business Administration: Specializations

Most programs, whether they're management or administration-focused, will offer some sort of specialization that students can choose from. This even goes for management degree programs that are focused intently on the management proficiency. You'll still be able to take a set of specialized courses in accounting (for example) if you so choose.

For example, students who pursue a business management degree would take the Core 5. They then would take additional courses focused on management such as human resources management, project management, operations management, and business leadership. Once complete, they can also choose a specialization. This specialization could very well be management or advanced management where they'll learn about decision-making and advanced management theory. However, they could also choose a specialization such as marketing where they'll learn about pricing theory, consumer behavior, demand analysis, advertising and promotion management, market segments, and more.

If a student elected a specialization in entrepreneurship, courses might include small business accounting, business law, business plan writing, capitalization and investment, supply chain management and purchasing, contracts and procurement, and more. A human resources management specialization might include courses related to attracting and retaining talent, total compensation packages, workforce development and training, and employee care.


Business Management vs. Business Administration: Career Paths

To close, it is worth mentioning that no matter what degree type you choose, both a business management and business administration degree will adequately prepare you for the next step in your career. The difference between business administration and business management comes down to focus area. What would you prefer to focus on? The skills related to managing people, projects, and operations? If so, choose management. Or, is it finance? If so, choose administration. Above all else, have a career path in mind before you decide. If you choose business administration and focus on finance as your specialization, then your career path will be closely associated to the field of finance (or whatever specialization you choose). If you choose management, then your career path will be closely associated with general management careers, of which there are many!

About the Author

Albert Orbinati

Albert Orbinati, PhD, is Assistant Professor and Program Director for the undergraduate business administration programs in the Division of Champlain College Online at Champlain College. He has worked in various roles within the higher education and military arenas for over 15 years. Dr. Orbinati holds a BA in Urban Planning from Binghamton University, an MA in Adult Education from Central Michigan University, and a PhD in Adult Education from Capella University.

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