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The different types of online business degree, explained

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

Online learning student crosslegged with laptop against a bold blue background - researching online business courses

Choosing the qualification that’s right for you is one of the hardest parts of upskilling as a business professional. 

Do you need part-time study options? Will you study online or in person? How long can you commit to studying? What do you want to achieve with your qualification? 

These are the types of questions you may ask yourself before deciding which online business degree to take. Below, we discuss the main course options for prospective business students, from short courses to masters programmes. 

At Ulster University we aim to provide flexible learning solutions for professionals at all career levels. For example, our Business in Tech programme can be broken down into three separate professional qualifications: a PG Cert, PG Dip and MSc. 

What different types of business degree are available? 

There are various types of business degree on the market, so knowing your options is important. Another question to ask yourself is: do you want to study a broad business curriculum or do you want to specialise in a specific business area? 

Broad business degrees 

A broad business degree goes by various names at both undergraduate (bachelor) and postgraduate (master) level. A broad degree will provide a general curriculum for anyone interested in boosting their business acumen and gaining knowledge to succeed in business. Broad degree titles include: 

  • Business studies 
  • Management studies 
  • Business administration 
  • Business management 

Specialised business degrees 

Specialised business programmes may not include ‘business’ in the course title. Terms to search for instead include: 

  • Economics 
  • Accounting & finance 
  • Human resource management 
  • Marketing
  • Data / business analytics 

Business degree apprenticeships 

An alternative option is to study for a business degree through a degree apprenticeship programme (sometimes referred to as a sponsored degree).  

For this, employers will hire school leavers (with A levels or equivalent) and train them up through a part-time university degree. Not only will your tuition fees be paid, but you’ll also earn a wage and gain lots of practical experience.

Short courses and professional certificates in business 

As well as considering a full degree programme, you may also choose to pursue a professional certification within a shorter timeframe.  

While there are countless online business courses on offer, do bear in mind that these can vary widely in terms of teaching quality and learning outcomes. To ensure your course meets expectations, make sure to choose an institution with a good reputation and high student satisfaction. 

Recognised professional qualifications at undergraduate level include the Certificate of Higher Education (Cert HE), which is equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree, and the Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree.  

At postgraduate level, there’s the Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) covering the first third of a masters degree, and the Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip) equivalent to two-thirds of your masters.

Study online at Ulster 

To provide the most accessibility for working professionals, our Business in Tech programme allows students to graduate with any of three qualifications: 

Each qualification leads on from the last, in an online, part-time format. There is also the option to pay module-by-module and take breaks as needed. 

Which type of business degree is right for me? 

Generally, the level of business degree you choose will depend on what qualifications you already hold. If you already hold an undergraduate degree (in any subject), you can consider enrolling on a masters degree in business or postgraduate short course across a range of specialisms. 

If you have existing work commitments and/or time limitations, a distance learning business degree – such as the online, part-time Business in Tech MSc programme from Ulster University – may provide the flexibility you need. 

How long does it take to get a business degree? 

The length of your online business degree will depend on the qualification level and the mode of study.  

Many full-time masters programmes – both on and offline – can be completed in one to two years, while part-time masters courses may take between two and four years. A Masters in Business Administration (MBA) may take slightly longer than a normal masters course but an increase in online, part-time offerings has made the MBA more accessible. 

If you don’t have enough time to gain a business masters degree, a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma may offer more time-effective solutions. These shorter qualifications are recognised internationally, with the added benefit of being achievable in as little as 8 months (for the PG Cert) or 16 months (for the PG Dip). 

Is a business degree worth it? 

Many students choose a business-related degree because of their value in a global market and the wide-ranging job opportunities they offer. 

As well as opening doors across a multitude of sectors, a business degree can also positively impact your salary and lifelong earning potential. According to leading university rankings company QS, masters in business graduates earn an average of £46,000 just six months after completing their degree, compared to an average of around £35,000 for those holding only a undergraduate degree. Some of the benefits of studying a business degree in the UK include: 

  • Access to a diverse range of job opportunities 
  • A balance of theoretical and practical education 
  • Online, part-time course options 
  • Academic excellence 
  • Multi-disciplinary skills development 
  • Project management experience

What jobs can you get with a business degree? 

A bachelor degree in business can help you develop skills in communication, finance, market strategy, and business policy to prepare you for a great many entry-level roles. Beyond this, a masters in business will develop advanced business acumen and set you up for early to mid-level roles in management. 

According to the UK’s higher education admissions service UCAS, graduates with a more general business degree go on to careers across a wide range of industries, in fields such as business development, marketing, HR, recruitment, banking and industrial relations. 

Graduates with specialist degrees, such as finance and accountancy, are more likely to gain employment in their field and, after which, can gain further specialist qualifications on the job, such as certified chartered accountancy from the ACCA and CIMA. They may also find roles in investment analysis, financial advising, tax management or business consultancy.

Postgrad business course comparison chart: PG Cert vs MSc 

So, you’ve decided to undertake a postgraduate course. Now’s the time to figure out which level is right for you, based upon your time commitments, career ambitions and desired expenditure. 

Below we compare two of the most popular postgrad course options – the PG Cert and MSc – each one offering distinct benefits for certain types of students 

PG Cert vs MSc – comparison chart 

  PG Cert  MSc 
Content  Business analytics and consulting  Strategy, transformation management and leadership 
Learning outcomes 
  • Broad business acumen 
  • Advanced problem-solving skills 
  • Consulting, analytics and project management ability 
  • Practical consultancy project management experience 
  • Complex project management skills 
  • Ability to drive transformation and innovation 
  • Advanced consulting, strategy and leadership ability 
  • Practical project management experience 
  • Practical transformation leadership skills 
Modules  4 modules 

(3 taught, 1 project-based) 

10 modules, plus a capstone project  


(inclusive of everything covered in the PG Cert) 

Time commitment  8 months (minimum)  24 months (minimum) 
Career opportunities  Early to mid-level management careers  Mid to senior-level management careers 
Fees at Ulster 

(2022/23 fees) 

£3,333  £9,999 

Study business online with Ulster University 

Ulster University Business School is the 6th largest business school in the UK. Our expert academics hold decades of industry experience and close connections with business employers around the world. 

Ulster University Business School’s PG Cert in Business Analysis & Consulting, will enhance your business acumen, with the option for you to advance on to a PG Dip in Transformation Management & Leadership and gain the skills to successfully lead transformation within tech-led organisations.  

If you choose to take up the full MSc Business in Tech, you will have further opportunity to put all your learnings into practice on a work-based capstone project. 

Study takes place in a flexible, distance learning model, meaning you can enrol throughout the year to gain a PG Cert, PG Dip or MSc, taking breaks along the way if necessary.

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Thumbnail image of online learning student cross-legged with laptop against a blue background - researching online business courses

The different types of online business degree, explained

Tuesday, 24th January, 2023