Business & Management

Test Drive a College Business Administration Major

POSTED 08/29/2014
By Joseph Mapue

Businesses simply can’t run by themselves. Even in the most laterally-structured organizations, somebody has to sign contracts, issue checks, and get everyone focused on their goals.1 Somebody simply has to do it. And if you got the guts to lead people and the appetite to reel in a hefty pay (managers in IT, administrative services, and HR take home respective average incomes of $121,000, $81,000, and $100,000)2 then all you need is the right business administration skills to keep things humming.


Business administration is the umbrella term covering a wide range of skills for coordinating, managing, and channeling different aspects of a business toward goals such as launching a new product or meeting revenue targets. These skills include a working knowledge of accounting, business ethics, economics, human resource management, operations management, quantitative and qualitative analysis, and strategic thinking.3

If you think you already got all these knowledge areas under your belt, then you are fully primed for a business administration career. Otherwise, turning yourself into competent manager will be such a long shot, you’re perhaps better off not making an attempt at it. At least not until you’re ready.

The good news is that getting ready is easier than you think. Compared to the 90s and early 2000s, getting skilled up today is just a matter of commitment and the right learning platform. For example, the traditional ways of learning business administration skills are 1) inherit a family business; 2) start your own thing; and 3) learn the ropes inside brick-and-mortar classrooms, preferably at top business schools like Wharton and Harvard.

But only a few people are heirs to established family enterprises, while people who start new businesses often have passion for what their business offers, rarely for running it. Inevitably, these entrepreneurs end up hiring professional managers as well. Which leaves us with Number 3, the option for people who are truly passionate about running businesses, teams, and organizations. People who chase after responsibilities and goals while everyone else tend to do the opposite and flee.

Even in the most laterally-structured organizations, somebody has to sign contracts, issue checks, and get everyone focused on their goals.

If you’ve got a head for business, then majoring in business administration is among the best ways to feed your passion. If you haven’t yet, acquiring a business administration degree usually takes four years and a substantial amount of money. That could be anywhere from $92,000 at Washington State University4 to $236,000 at Wharton College5.

Unless you’ve got cash to spare, you might want to reconsider your options.6 Besides, there’s another way of acquiring the skill set of a business administration major, and it requires your determination more than your dollars. Variously called by different names such as MOOCs (massive open online course) and OCW (open courseware), this learning resource offers a glimpse into how people will gain new academic credentials and build new skills in the future.7 With the best schools playing central roles8 in this transformative educational phenomenon, you can be sure that what you get for free is the highest quality of learning money can buy.

With MOOCs and OCWs, you can join a mathematics class from Harvard or a robotics class from MIT, both at no cost. Based on available course offerings, you can even design a full curriculum for a major in many subjects. The alternative Business Administration curriculum we developed, for example, is based on actual university programs and uses free courseware primarily from MIT Sloan School of Management, which ranks among the top business schools in the country.9

Our alternative curricula are also a great and tuition-free way to check whether a specific college major is right for you. Test drive the program, join the courses, and gauge whether your passion truly jives with the college major you are considering.

Requirements for Your Business Administration Major

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As you might expect, different institutions implement varying curricula for their business administration programs. We reviewed the undergraduate programs of leading business schools in the country and found several interesting facts:

  1. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which holds the top position for best business school in many national and international surveys,10 offers only a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Economics with a concentration of your choice. That means the closest thing to a Business Administration degree you can get at Wharton is a BS in Economics with a concentration in Management. Given it’s reputation, this degree is rigorous to say the least, requiring the completion of at least 20 courses including those for your concentration of choice but excluding any minor you might want to take nor other subject requirements for the degree.11
  2. A BS in Business Administration degree at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business centers on four main areas: a) core liberal arts subjects; b) functional areas of business, economics, mathematics, and computing; c) in-depth study of one business area such as finance, marketing, or entrepreneurship; and, d) a minor in the curricula of another college. To acquire the degree, a student must complete at least 364 units, representing around 41 courses.12
  3. MIT Sloan School of Management offers three undergraduate programs: a) Bachelor of Science (SB) in Management Science; b) Minor in Management; and c) Minor in Management Science.13. The first option covers 17 courses required for all MIT undergraduate students plus at least 180 units beyond the General Institute Requirements (GIR).  Meanwhile, the last two options are offered in conjunction with a major curriculum from another college such as those for engineering or computer science.
  4. The Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley requires 10 core courses totalling 30 units for its undergraduate business administration degree. In addition, students pursuing the degree need to complete 8 more upper division business units, 12 upper division non-business units, 7 breadth requirements, 2 general university requirements, and one Berkeley campus requirement.14

Unless you intend to simulate a full Business Administration undergraduate degree, the best way to draw up an alternative program is to select only the core and elective courses that are relevant for developing the skills of a business administration major. To do this, let’s pattern your free curriculum on UC-Berkeley’s required courses (10) and Wharton’s concentration requirement (at least four courses). But instead of a field concentration, we selected four related courses in marketing, entrepreneurship, and information technology, since these fields offer some of the highest compensation packages for managers.15 By adopting this framework, you can build basic business administration skills plus knowledge of fundamental management tools you need in case you want to build your career in either the IT or the marketing industry.

Core Courses

  • Principles of Management – Course Designers: Johnny Jackson, Peter Lucash, Debbie Soden, and Melinda Salzer, Saylor Academy  (~106 hours) – Kickstart your Business Administration major by exploring the evolving role of managers and the various concepts associated with business management. This introductory course surveys the different historical, economic, and sociological factors that influence the field, and teaches you the key characteristics of successful managers. Explore how historical theories, globalization, ethics, leadership, human resources, organizational structure, and technology help shape the nature of management. In this course, you’ll use a wide range of free learning materials including three primary textbooks, unit assessments, and a final exam.
  • Management Communication for Undergraduates – Dr. Lori Breslow, MIT Sloan School of Management (3 hours/week) — Learn how to walk the walk and talk the talk of a successful manager. This lecture-based course will help you develop the communication and people skills you need to succeed as a business manager.  You’ll explore different scenarios where teamwork, excellent communication skills, and strategic thinking will enable you to take your organization to new heights. This course will teach you the best techniques when doing oral presentations, writing business letters, and engaging potential partners, customers, or peers. By the end of the course, you’ll be primed up to lead the conversation through any medium and in any situation.
  • Economic Analysis for Business Decisions - Professors Ernst Berndt, Joseph Doyle, et. al., MIT Sloan School of Management (4 hours/week) — This course gives you a working knowledge of analytical tools needed by business managers in order to make sound economic decisions. To learn these tools, you’ll explore microeconomic concepts such as markets, production costs, economies of scale, consumer demand, pricing, regulations, and game theory. The course represents the core microeconomic class at the famed MIT Sloan School of Management, whose organizational mission is to “develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world.”  The main text you’ll use in this course is the 5th edition of Microeconomics by Robert S. Pindyck and Daniel L. Rubinfeld.
  • Principles of Macroeconomics - Professor Veronica Guerrieri, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (3 hours/week) —After learning about the dynamics of specific markets in the previous course, it’s now time to study the different components that make up an entire economy, as well as the different factors that affect each of these components. In this class, you’ll learn about the metrics used in gauging different macroeconomic variables, and different concepts such as investment, consumption, the labor market, monetary and fiscal policies, economic growth, and global imbalances.
  • Introduction to Finance - Professor Gautam Kaul, University of Michigan (15 weeks, 6-8 hours/week) — Learn how to use the frameworks and tools you need to make sound financial decisions for your organization or personal assets. Through theories and real-world examples, you’ll learn about different financial concepts that will help you develop a better appreciation of corporate and public policies. In particular, this video-based course will guide you in exploring the time value of money and risk to better understand the key factors that impact value creation. Before taking this course, ensure that you have prior exposure to economics, accounting, or algebra.
  • Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting - Professor Sugata Roychowdhury, MIT Sloan School of Management (3 hours/week) — This course, which consists of lecture notes as well as exams and assignments with corresponding solutions, focuses on the basic concepts of financial and managerial reporting. The class kicks off by giving you a thorough discussion of accounting frameworks such as balance sheets, income statements, and the principles of accrual accounting. You’ll also learn about revenues, inventories, sales costs, and cash flows, liabilities, marketable securities, and long term debt. At the end of the course, you should be able to analyze a company’s financial position and to create management reports based on financial documents.
  • Business Statistics - Professors David T. Bourgeois and Bharatendra K. Rai, Saylor Academy (~122.25 hours) — How much of your target market remains underserviced and what percentage of this segment can your organization serve in order to establish a new revenue stream? What is the minimum incremental income that can be generated by this new revenue source over time? You can accurately answer these type of questions only with a working knowledge of business statistics. Learn how to gather, analyze, and interpret relevant data to benefit your organization. This course — which uses textbooks from University of California, Berkeley as primary learning materials —  will introduce you to the principles of statistics and how these principles can be used to describe business scenarios and make well-grounded business decisions.
  • Organizational Analysis - Professor Daniel A. McFarland, Stanford University,  (10 weeks) — Managing a business or an operation almost always involves dealing with organizations. This course will introduce you to various principles of organizational behavior so you can apply them in different scenarios and challenges. Learn how to effectively implement crisis management, innovation, and changes within organizations through theoretical frameworks and actual case studies. Explore concepts like dominant coalitions, resource dependencies, and organizational legitimacy, then apply these concepts to real-world challenges.
  • Principles of Marketing - Course Designers: Dionne Mahaffey, Tamara Gillis, and Steven Van Hook, Saylor Academy (~128 hours) — Marketing helps you 1) create products and services that are useful to consumers; 2) communicate a compelling value proposition for your business;  and 3) optimize the value of your offerings. By the end of this course, you should be able to explain the value of marketing in your business, discuss the different elements that comprise it, and implement its methodologies to benefit your organization. As a business administration major, this course will help you develop the skills you need to participate in market research, pricing decisions, and in formulating product strategies.
  • U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self - Professors Otto Scharmer, Adam Yukelson, et. al., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6 weeks, 3-7 hours/week) — This experiential course connects the realms of business creativity, societal well-being, and self-fulfillment.  Based on Theory U, a change management methodology, the course explores the strong links between the quality of business performance and the mindfulness and commitment levels of the people behind the business. Theory U was first formulated in 1968 and is now used as a framework by many business organizations, governments, and civil society groups around the world. The course establishes a learning environment that transitions from the personal phase, to the practical, the collective, and the transformative stages. Anyone aspiring to manage a business will benefit from this course.

Elective Courses

  • Behavioural Economics in Action - Professors Dilip Soman and Joonkyun (Joon) Kim, University of Toronto  (6 weeks, 4-5 hours/week) — Join this video-based course to explore the fascinating influence of psychological, sociological, and neurological factors in the economic decisions of individuals and groups. Discover the different behavioral models that fuse various scientific principles with microeconomic concepts, and how these models can be used to “nudge” people and organizations to make better financial or economic choices.16 In this course, you’ll learn how to design engagement scenarios that tip the decision-making process in favor of specific outcomes.
  • Project Management - Course Designer: Dionne Mahaffey, Saylor Academy (~137 hours) — A course in Project Management helps Business Administrators develop the skills and learn the methodologies for managing projects of any scale. By the end of this course, you’ll be able to describe the different project stages, as well as the appropriate approach in managing each of the stages. You’ll also become adept at participating at every phase of the project, including the planning, execution, monitoring, and closing phases. Learn how to manage project parameters such as scope, objectives, quality control, human resources, communication, risks, and asset procurement.
  • Entrepreneurship 101: Who is Your Customer? - Professor Bill Aulet, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6 weeks, 4 hours/week)  — Learn the principles of entrepreneurship from someone who’s been there and back to share the secrets of successful business ventures. Bill Aulet has a 25-year experience as a serial entrepreneur, having directly raised more than $100 million for his startups,17 and having paved the way for these businesses to increase their market valuation to hundreds of millions of dollars. Bill serves as managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and as senior lecturer at the prestigious MIT Sloan School of Management. In this course, Bill will teach you how to find, engage, and captivate your customers. Don’t expect a lecture, though, because the class focuses on case studies and will require you to get your hands dirty by conducting real-life entrepreneurship.
  • Innovation and Commercialization - Professors Eugene Fitzgerald and Andreas WankerlMassachusetts Institute of Technology (13 weeks, 12 hours/week) — Explore the scenarios, environments, and processes that encourage human innovation. Learn how the pros innovate from the pros themselves. Sit back as Eugene Fitzgerald (founder and board chairman of Innovation Interface) and Andreas Wankerl (co-founder of the Business of Science and Technology Initiative at Cornell University) share with you their respective experiences as an innovator at AT&T Bell Laboratories and an international sales and customer relations manager in the semicon equipment industry. Learn how you can tap the iterative model of innovation, wherein you lead the cycle through many stages in the areas of technology. market, and implementation.

Build Your Business Administration Knowledge Today

While some enterprising learners are still designing or taking their alternative undergraduate curricula for a Business Administration major, Laurie Pickard is already busy completing the next level by pursuing her own MOOC-based MBA program. Aptly called the No-Pay MBA, her program is generating quite a buzz across cyberspace.18. A veteran in the field of international development, Laurie already has a master’s degree in Geography but still plans to build management skills to position herself more favorably in the private sector. Her move only reflects the tremendous advancement opportunities being opened up by MOOCs, open courseware, and other online learning resources. It also calls on your business intuition to reassess your own prospects, feel the market, and make a similar change by building your business administration skills. As the saying goes, it’s high time for some serious business.

  1. No Managers? No Hierarchy? No Way! Forbes[]
  2. Occupational Outlook Handbook — Management Occupations. US Bureau of Labor Statistics[]
  3. Business Administration/Management Major. The Princeton Review[]
  4. College Cost Calculator — Washington State University. American Funds[]
  5. College Cost Calculator — University of Pennsylvania. American Funds[]
  6. What the New Numbers on Student Debt Really Say. Businessweek[]
  7. The disruption to come. The Economist[]
  8. The digital degree. The Economist[]
  9. Best Undergraduate Business ProgramsU.S. News[]
  10. The 10 Best Business Schools For Your Salary. Forbes[]
  11. Flexible Undergraduate Curriculum at Wharton College. University of Pennsylvania website[]
  12. Undergraduate Business Administration Program at Tepper. Carnegie Mellon University website[]
  13. Undergraduate Programs at MITSloan. Massachusetts Institute of Technology website[]
  14. Business Administration Degree Requirements. University of California-Berkeley website[]
  15. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Management Occupations. US Bureau of Labor Statistics[]
  16. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.[]
  17. Professor Aulet’s bio. Faculty profile on MIT website[]
  18. She’s Doing An Elite MBA For Under $1,000. LinkedIn[]
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