Beware the business administration major! There are so many ways that those programs run astray. But...but...it’s so...POPULAR? What could be wrong with it? Does business “deserve” to be the major associated with 1 out of every 5 college majors?
From the National Center for Educational Statistics we learn that: “Postsecondary institutions conferred 2.0 million bachelor’s degrees in 2017–18....business (19 percent, or 386,000 degrees)...” So...when people graduate with a business major, what might they be getting? A rigorous program that exposes them to the rough-and-tumble realities of the business world? Activities that teach them about how to balance the books and read financial statements?
Maybe not. Instead, if their program emphasizes group work - which many do, since collaboration is at the heart of business - they might be doing less learning than normal!
The New York Times article about this extremely popular major (within the USA) is quite an unflinching look:
...a business professor at the University of Denver, studied group projects at his institution and found a perverse dynamic: the groups that functioned most smoothly were often the ones where the least learning occurred. That’s because students divided up the tasks in ways they felt comfortable with. The math whiz would do the statistical work, the English minor drafted the analysis. And then there’s the most common complaint about groups: some shoulder all the work, the rest do nothing.
How do professors hold their students accountable? Do they even hold them accountable? Or are they apathetic?
Although the students at brand-name programs might work hard and learn much, not all programs are of equal value (from the NYT):
[G]et much below BusinessWeek’s top 50, and you’ll hear pervasive anxiety about student apathy, especially in “soft” fields like management and marketing, which account for the majority of business majors.
For the sake of contrast, consider the way the University of Virginia’s undergraduate business program operates (again, from the NYT article):
On a recent morning, a strategy professor led 40 students through a case study of the missteps that led to Arthur Andersen’s debacles...The students in the room know they’ll be grilled on each day’s case study. And when they hand in papers, they’re marked up twice: once for content by a professor with specialized expertise, and once for writing quality by a business-communication professor.
What are employers willing to hire a 22-year old to do? And, what are they hoping to find?
According to national surveys, they want to hire 22-year-olds who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data, and they’re perfectly happy to hire English or biology majors. Most Ivy League universities and elite liberal arts colleges, in fact, don’t even offer undergraduate business majors.
But surely, a business major would be good preparation for entering into an MBA program? Not necessarily so.
...when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.
What’s more, the results of national standardized tests... found that students who major in business made significantly fewer gains in college in critical thinking, writing and communication, and analytical reasoning than those who studied mathematics, science, and engineering, as well as the traditional liberal arts (philosophy, history, and literature).
OK but what if you picked this major because you want a steady paycheck after college? Again...no. Selingo cites a Georgetown University study that found:
The top quarter earners who majored in humanities or the liberal arts make more than the bottom quarter of engineering majors.
When to Choose Business Or Alternative Majors
By now you might be wondering, yes, yes, you’ve explained what not to do, what is the constructive direction? When is a good time to major in business? The answer is, it DEPENDS.
If you study business with a specific concentration that will result in a concrete “hard” skill, such as accounting, finance, information systems or supply chain management.
Understanding concentrations within a business major is important, because, as Selingo notes:
Value of Math-Focused Business Majors
Not all business majors are created equal in the job market. Research shows that general business and marketing majors are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, meaning they hold jobs that don’t require a college degree. They also earn less than those in more math-focused business majors, such as finance and accounting.
Alternatively, you might just major in economics. It’s a humanities major which usually ends up paying more than most business administration majors, since it shows up at the top of salary surveys.
The Value of Top Undergraduate Business Programs
If you can get admitted into a top undergraduate business program that is very rigorous, that can be a great option. Programs such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton, or the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business offer excellent opportunities and results for admitted students, as Forbes notes:
Wharton is a powerhouse of opportunity. Students lucky enough to overcome the school’s high admission hurdles are awarded with one of the best undergraduate teaching experiences in the world. And when they graduate, world-class employers are waiting for the school’s graduates with open arms. Some 95% of the graduates land jobs within three months of commencement at starting base salaries and sign-on bonuses that bring starting pay to a record $92,057 this year.
Harnessing Dreams Within Reality
Here at Enlighteens Education, we are very mindful of these kinds of minefields affecting business majors and other options when we advise students about potential majors in college and career trajectories. At all times, we rely on what we know about our students along with vetted, objective information to make our recommendations.
That is because we believe it is important to plan one’s life with logic and solid information, not hunches or mythologies. It is always important to understand - and even pursue - one’s dreams and aspirations - all within the clear context of reality.