The world is full of advice. Take risks. Think about the long-term. Don’t settle. It’s a lot to digest, especially when you have so many options. In school, your major is one area where you’re certain to find some strong opinions. And one is to “be practical.” Forget self-discovery, some will say. Major in something where you can find a job.
Here’s a thought: Why can’t students do both?
For generations, business has been the “practical” major. It is the safe field where you can reap the benefits of an upper middle class life. For the Class of 2016, business is more than a means to an end. Instead, it is a way of thinking and a means for making a difference. Rupinderpal Singh Grewal, who aspires to be a CFO and entrepreneur after graduating from the University of California-Berkeley, describes business as the “backbone of everything.” And Georgetown’s Sarah Long, who’s already garnered four offers to work in management consulting, observes that today’s business major prepares students for far more than banking. “The coursework gives you the tools and background, comprising both hard and soft skills, to explain so much of why the world is the way it is,” she tells Poets&Quants. “It also prepares you to be an effective catalyst for change, turning data in to actionable information that can be used to advance causes, enhance capabilities, and create jobs. A business degree prepares you to think practically about the world in a newly enlightened way.”
In December, Poets&Quants honored over 50 of the best and brightest business majors from the Class of 2016. These students, elected by their schools, set themselves apart by their “academic performance, extracurricular leadership, personal character, and innate potential.” If you’re curious about business –or wondering how to get the most out of school – you won’t find a better group of for advice.
PROBLEM-SOLVING AND PASSION DIFFERENTIATE BUSINESS MAJORS
Not surprisingly, the biggest question asked by prospective business majors is, ‘How would I know if I should major in business?’ And Notre Dame’s Carolina Gutierrez has a simple response to that. “I would ask them if they enjoy problem solving in general, because that is what studying business is all about,” Gutierrez writes. Initially, the University of Texas’ Rachael Huynh viewed business as a way to secure a “solid financial future.” However, she, like Gutierrez, quickly discovered that it was a vehicle to channel her passion to make things better. “[Business] is for systematically solving problems and putting together valuable answers, and that will apply to anything, in our out of corporate America. Once you see the incredible possibilities business offers to do good and transform our society, the entire discipline opens up to you and becomes so much more meaningful.”
Indeed, “passion” is a term used frequently by this year’s best and brightest business majors. Several students warned against majoring in business to make money or because it was “the right thing to do” or “they don’t know what else to do.” Instead, they encourage future students, in the words of William & Mary’s Erica Amatori, to “go in with an open mind and with a heart full of desire.” “Follow your passions, not just what sounds the most impressive, states Ben Cunningham of the University of Virginia. “You’ll be more genuine when you follow what you care about and you’ll be better at it.”
Most important, adds Cornell University’s Alex Muchoki, forge your path – even if you have to create one. “Do not be afraid of walking the road less travelled. This is especially true for people who want to get into “nontraditional careers” in business or even entrepreneurship. You have to be willing to take the risks and trust that eventually the “dots will somehow connect in your future.”
BE OPEN TO NEW IDEAS, PEOPLE AND OPPORTUNITIES
At the same time, this year’s top business majors also counsel incoming students to open themselves up to the possibilities around them. “There is no single defined path to success,” argues Emory’s Max Mayblum, who’ll be joining Kurt Salmon this summer. “Read a lot, speak to experienced people, connect with a mentor, and as soon as you find what it is that you derive satisfaction from, make a career out of it. The best way you can position yourself to learn is to get your hands dirty and do something. Give yourself the opportunity to learn through extracurriculars, internships, and leadership activities.”
For Georgetown’s Vaibhav Agarwal, the biggest danger is for students to limit themselves to a particular specialty. “The world of business is so broad with endless opportunities that it is important to expose yourself to as many of those areas as possible. With possibilities in areas like consulting, banking, non-profits, incubator start-ups, academia and research, and countless other tremendous opportunities, the world is your oyster so go out with an open mind and expand your horizons.”
By extension, that means stepping into the spotlight to share your ideas and engage in dialogue. “Some of the best learning opportunities come in the classroom through arguing for your perspective and hearing the rationale and logic others used in coming up with their perspective,” explains the University of Michigan’s Reetika Purohit. “It truly allows you to better understand how concepts apply to the real world.” Echoing Agarwal, Purohit adds that developing your knowledge in all business functions increases your value and enhances your existing strengths. “A lot of students come in being incredibly focused on just finance or just marketing and don’t put in the time to learn about other areas. Having a well-rounded business education prepares you to deal with the real world while also allowing you to explore different career paths you could have easily never come across by being too narrow minded.”