Business majors account for nearly one in every five college graduates. That’s what the National Center for Education Statistics found in 2017. Not surprisingly, the largest major also triggers the most stereotypes.
In some corners, business is the place for juniors short on talent and long on hubris. They are the washouts from tech fields, some say, the ones whose passion for PowerPoint is only matched by their propensity to party. Golfers and gabbers, business majors are depicted as the future Masters of the Universe — the money-hungry, work-hard-play-hard types whose outward bravado masks a sense that they’re really just imposters.
AN ELUSIVE BUNCH
Julianna Marandola ran up against these perceptions. At Boston College, she found business majors were sometimes “typecast as overly pragmatic or even mechanical.” Despite majoring in finance, she didn’t find her classmates to be dry or narrow. Instead, she describes them as “some of the most creative, innovative, and open-minded people I know.”
Marandola wasn’t alone. At nearby Northeastern University, Mary King experienced a similar phenomenon. Turns out, she says, business majors flout easy labels just like everyone else on campus. “There is a place for everyone and their interests within Business,” King says. “Whether you are extroverted, introverted, risk-averse, risk-seeking, creative, or quantitative, there’s a niche for you.”
This departure from the cliché is just one of the big surprises that awaited the Best & Brightest Business majors from the Class of 2019. This year, Poets&Quants asked Best & Brightest to share what surprised them the most about majoring in business. Here are 10 of the biggest epiphanies they gained that defy conventional views about business majors.
1) Opportunities Galore: Coming to the University of North Carolina, Dylan Brooks was inspired by his uncle’s international travels to pursue a business major. He knew what he needed to learn…he just didn’t realize how useful his business skills would be outside the classroom.
“The skill set is valued by a wide variety of firms, organizations, and industries,” he observes. “They need critical thinkers who know how to lead, communicate and clearly present information to others. I have been able to use these skills in many different scenarios, like giving presentations in my internship and even teaching students as a substitute teacher. The flexibility of the tool kit I developed is truly a game-changer and door opener.”
It also opens up some unexpected paths, adds Berkeley Haas’ Jeshua K. John. Before business school, he didn’t recognize his passions would lead him into management consulting. At the same time, he didn’t know what sustainability was until he took a human rights course. A semester later, he landed an internship with a consulting firm dedicated to the field.
“I was passionate about strategy, leadership, and sustainability in separate forms, but ultimately it was in the classroom through my major and minor that I found interesting spaces that allowed for these passions to intersect,” he explains. “At Berkeley Haas, I hear about new, non-traditional business routes being taken. I think it is great that students feel the conviction to follow their passions right out of an undergraduate degree. Seeing that was what allowed me to pursue mine with such certainty!”
2) Intense Personal Growth: Meghana Dwaraka came to Boston University to become an entrepreneur. What she didn’t expect, however, was the growth that she’d experience personally in the process.
“Majoring in business taught me how to manage myself as well as other people while working towards a common goal,” she points out. “It furthered my self-awareness exponentially by helping me understand my strengths and weaknesses.”
The growth was even more pronounced for Andres Gomez-Perry. As a freshman, his case team at New York University was actually disqualified from a competition…in the first round, no less. Many would retreat after such a disaster. Instead, Gomez-Perry took the lessons to heart – and came out better for it.
“Within a year, I had lived and worked in London, had helped a McKinsey team re-design a product for a major CPG client, and was about to move to Shanghai.”
3) Knowing Your Limits: When you’re 19, you think that you can do and be anything. Learning limits – be it time, resources, or imagination – is one of the hardest lessons that business majors must swallow. Growing up, Boston University’s Katherine Cui dreamed of the company she would launch – “A unique, one-size-fits-all business that does it all.” In her first class, the JP Morgan hire came face-to-face with one of the most painful surprises in business: opportunity cost.
“A company cannot really do it all and there are tradeoffs that must be considered,” she admits. “A socially responsible company cannot always offer the lowest prices, and sometimes ensuring a speedy production line may mean giving some slack on quality. Like how a recipe is precise in the types and amount of ingredients it requires, a business should be selective on which consumer segment it chooses to represent and stay focused on one vision.”
4) Always Something To Learn: Business is an ever-evolving discipline, with new models, expectations, and players constantly disrupting the status quo. Some formulas work only in certain contexts. Even then, success is often contingent on variables ranging from talent to funding. That can be a scary proposition, says Christopher Newport’s Elissa Britt. Even math, she argues, isn’t always “definitive.” The flip side, of course, is this uncertainty can be exhilarating too.
“What surprises me most about business is how much there still is to learn,” assert Elon University’s Max Pivonka, who’ll be joining Goldman Sachs after graduation. “Every time I read an article in the Wall Street Journal or pick up a book, I find myself learning something new. I feel that is one of the most exciting and unique things about business.”