Allie Savino started her undergraduate career as a biology major at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but quickly found herself drawn to the school’s well-regarded undergraduate business program. By her sophomore year, she was uncertain where her biology degree would take her, and wanted a wider array of career options. “Somewhat jokingly I said I will apply to the business school,” recalls Savino, now a senior double majoring in biology and business. “I ended up getting in and it was one of the best decisions I made during my time at UNC. With biology, there were just a few career paths. With a business major, you can take it wherever you want to go.”
A business major is often one of the more popular majors on campus, with troves of students like Savino drawn to the degree’s many perks, from attractive salaries and plum job positions right out of school to the growing number of classroom experiential learning and study abroad opportunities.
Graduates from top business programs these days can easily earn more than $60,000 after they graduate. At the upper echelon of the top-ranked schools, starting salaries can top $70,000 or more, and that’s not even factoring in signing bonuses. At the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, which ranked No. 2 in P&Q’s 2018 undergraduate business school ranking, the average starting salary was $75,068, with the average signing bonus clocking in at $9,313. At Wharton, the No. 1 school in this year’s ranking, the class of 2018 reported an average annual salary of $80,354 as starting base salaries. Of that group, 90.3% reported earning an average signing bonus of $12,960.
While hefty starting salaries are undoubtedly an attractive perk of being a business major, there are countless other reasons to consider getting a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) degree, B-school administrators say. Students and parents alike increasingly view a BBA as a degree that has a solid return on investment, as well as one that can help them move up the career ladder quickly and efficiently. A business major also helps them develop a unique perspective on how the fundamentals of business can be applied to nearly any industry or career. It’s one of the reasons the business degree is the most popular degree in the country, accounting for nearly 20% of all degrees awarded, according to recent data from the National Center for Education statistics.
“It’s not just about being an undergraduate business major these days. It is about acquiring skills and a mindset that really helps them advance at an early age,” reasons Steven Malter, the senior associate dean of undergraduate and graduate programs at Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis, which ranked No. 3 in P&Q’s ranking.
Malter and deans from other top-ranked undergraduate business programs agreed to share their thoughts on what they believe are the best reasons for students to consider a business major while in college. Here are five reasons they believe students and parents should take a closer look at the business major while conducting their college searches and visiting schools.
STUDENTS CAN EXPECT AN ARRAY OF ‘HIGH-TOUCH’ SERVICES
Business schools are fundamentally tied to the greater university community, but in many ways they are their own islands. For example, business majors at leading business programs can expect to get top-caliber campus services that many may not be available to other students on campus, from specialized career services to advising, says Anna Millar, managing director of the undergraduate business program at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. At Kenan-Flagler, the program has its own career services office and academic advisors, which leads to students conducting more efficient and targeted job searches, Millar says. “Our academic advisors only need to know about the business curriculum and our career folks only need to know about careers in business,” Millar explains. “They are able to provide really high-level services to a fewer number of students. It becomes a very high-touch kind of program.”
Career services aside, business students have a rich array of resources right at their fingertips, from more modern facilities and classrooms, to high-tech labs and unique global opportunities and partnerships, says Ryan Nelson, associate dean of McIntire’s undergraduate program. “The resources we have to offer in a business school tend to be better than you might find in other programs on campus.” Nelson continues. “If you think about what you are getting for your money, you are getting not only a job but ancillary services that tend to be better in a business school.”
A VALUABLE TOOLBOX
Business schools excel at teaching students skills that often can’t be found in textbooks, from the so-called ‘soft skills’ that help students stand out in the workforce to developing an entrepreneurial mindset.
For example, at the Olin School, students learn the in and outs of entrepreneurial thinking early on in their college careers, Malter says. The first three semesters of school, students have to undertake five experiential learning projects, are required to take a course in entrepreneurship and get experience creating their own consumer products in teams. “They are forced to deal with ambiguity in situations that are reflective of the environment they will face in business,” Malter explains. “They are coming out with an advanced sets of skill in their toolbox.
At UNC’s Kenan-Flagler school, professors and career staff emphasize learning soft skills in the classroom. Students learn through class projects how to be a good communicator, a strong team player, and how to be flexible, Millar says. They also get comfortable giving and receiving feedback to their peers. “These are skills business schools give you that you can’t obtain elsewhere,” she says.
Allie Savino, the UNC senior majoring in biology and business, says she has honed those skills at Kenan-Flagler, and believes they will serve her well when she starts a job as an incoming associate consultant at Bain & Company’s Atlanta office after graduation. “You can be the best problem solver in the world, but if I can’t tell someone what that means for them and their business, it is useless,” Savino says.
UNPARALLELED STUDY ABROAD AND GLOBAL OPPORTUNITIES
At many of the top business schools today, students are strongly encouraged to participate in a study-abroad trip where they will get hands-on global business experience. For example, at UNC Chapel-Hill, approximately 72% of Kenan-Flagler students study abroad versus 35% of the rest of the campus, says Millar. While on these trips, students develop skills that enable them to view business through a global lens. “Students have to step out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in cultures that are not their own,” Millar explains. “They develop skills like sympathy, adaptability and flexibility.”
The McIntire School strongly encourages students to go abroad their junior year, and has prestigious partnerships with schools such as Peking University in Beijing and HEC Paris, where students can study international business for a semester the spring of their junior year. “In our case, the global opportunities to study abroad tend to be quite strong,” says McIntire’s Nelson. “We have a lot of very good partnerships with schools around the world and we are able to do that by leveraging the strong resources we have.”
AN EDGE IN THE WORKFORCE
The skills students obtain while a business major are ones that can help them get off to a running start when they enter the workforce, UNC’s Millar says. Students who major in business become Excel whizzes, learn in accounting classes how to create budgets and read company reports, and often leave school with Bloomberg Terminal certification. Many can pull together a PowerPoint presentation in a few hours and become effective and natural storytellers. “There are all hands-on practical skills you can put into practice the minute you step into your first job,” Millar says.
It’s precisely those practical skills that make business majors so compelling to employers, agrees UVA’s Nelson. “We hear from our recruiters that our students are not only able to perform very well right out of the gate, but tend to be the ones that get promoted faster and make it into managerial positions,” he says. “Our students have the business fundamentals, but also the communication and teamwork skills. Those are the additional skillsets that help set our graduates apart from the rest and get them on the fast track.”
A CAREER WITH ENDLESS FLEXIBILITY AND OPTIONS
Top business schools today are known for having some of the most cutting-edge courses and specializations on campus. For example, the McIntire School now offers students the chance to take classes in data analytics, artificial intelligence, global business, and machine learning. “Those are just topics that allow you to do so many things today and in the future,” Nelson says. “When you couple that with the fundamental liberal arts and business education students receive, they can do almost anything you can think of in different industries and careers.”
In fact, many students today find that the undergraduate business education they receive is strong enough that they don’t need to go back to school a few years later to get their MBA. At the Olin School, Malter says he’s noticed a fair number of undergraduate business majors — much more so than five or six years ago — bypassing the MBA degree completely. “They are getting an incredible undergraduate education and they are succeeding in the firms they go to work for,” he says. “Certainly some go back, but you see a lot of students being successful without returning to school.”