10 Biggest Surprises About Majoring In Business

“We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents.”

That’s how Bob Ross responded to missteps. A painter and television host, he would take viewers through the creation of landscapes filled with mountains, meadows, and maples. Sometimes, Ross would miscalculate angles or spacing. Rather than starting over, he responded by changing direction, often creating something better than originally planned. For Ross, imperfection produced opportunity – a catalyst for learning and growth.

Happy accidents aren’t just relegated to art. Just ask Dana Birke. At Cornell University, she joined the Nolan Hotel School with the intention of someday building a chain of bakeries. While her artistic side gravitated to cookies and cakes, Birke discovered a quantitative knack for finance and analysis at Nolan. This unexpected – even happy – shift positioned her for bigger alternatives after graduation.

“This discovery opened my eyes to new possibilities that I will continue to explore when I join McKinsey & Company,” she tells Poets&Quants.

Tia Williams, Notre Dame (Mendoza)


Indeed, a Business major was often the happy byproduct of miscalculations and soul-searching. After a series of trials-and-errors, students began to recognize their underlying passions and talents. An event here and an elective there, they discovered that a Business major was far from a by-the-numbers pursuit that didn’t require much creativity. Instead, it was a calling that combined a mission to serve others with a pathway to make an impact.

Before majoring in Business Consulting, Tia Williams expected business to be a space where she’d find established practices that couldn’t be questioned. Instead, the Notre Dame grad learned that right-and-wrong answers were rarely clear-cut.

“I was encouraged to go beyond what was standard and consider whether and why it did or did not align with what I learned or knew,” explains Williams, a 2023 grad who’ll be pursuing a doctorate in Education this fall. “Because of this, I feel more confident in what I believe and how I might go about paving my way in the field in the future.”

Maybe the best part of business, says Ryan Saunders, is that there is never a dull moment. That leaves plenty of room for happy accidents throughout their careers.

Geeta Jhangiani, Tulane University (Freeman)

“There’s always more,” adds the University of Miami grad who joined JMP Securities this summer. “Even when you think you know it all, there’s more to learn. While I’ve always had the viewpoint that 2 + 2 = 4, studying business has shown be that there may be a million different pieces of context, information, or behavior that suggest answers that may not be as absolute as the sum we want to believe.”

What are some other surprises awaiting future Business majors? P&Q asked this very question to our Best & Brightest Business Majors from the Class of 2023. From the versatility of business to the value of going slow, here is what this year’s grads say were their biggest surprises from studying business.

1) Applies To Almost Anything: “Business is so versatile and is used in every field in some way or another. No matter what field you go into, knowing something about business is important: it can help you manage your finances, build relationships, and communicate effectively. Studying business helps one build analytical skills and see every situation through multiple lenses to come to a holistic solution, which is applicable to any career path you could pursue.”
Geeta Jhangiani, Tulane University (Freeman)

“The most surprising thing about majoring in business is the connection to different subjects outside of business. In my marketing major, I learned about the connection with psychology during my Consumer Behavior class. We studied the connections of memory to the brain and how that impacts the consumer journey. In my International Business classes, I learned the importance of world history and anthropology in international business practices. For example, when doing business in another country, it’s important to know the history and culture of that country to demonstrate respect.”
Maria Klostrakis, University of San Diego (Knauss)

2) Requires More Than Hard Skills: “The steepest learning curve as a business major is not the formulas, software, or theories that get tested on quizzes and exams. Instead, it is the soft skills that you iron out by working in teams and with other people. Embrace the frictions and challenges that come with teamwork and you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process.”
Thee Rongkawilit, University of Washington (Foster)

3) Contains A Deep Ethics Component: “I was surprised at how much “Business for Good” is emphasized. Many class conversations revolved around ethics, innovation, and sustainability; topics I didn’t think would be covered as heavily as they are here. And it’s not just professors. Students are focused on these topics too. Business students sometimes get stereotyped as only caring about profit. However, there are so many of my peers committed to addressing societal issues through business. Many students at USD’s Knauss School of Business are already entrepreneurs with products and services that reduce waste or change how we accomplish daily tasks. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by these individuals.”
Carmen Gomez, University of San Diego (Knauss)

Derek Nhieu, Wharton School

4) Not A Zero-Sum Game: “Yet, I often see students treating business, and their business education, in that same manner: that, for them to win, someone else has to lose. I came into business to uplift and empower other people, not put them down. Even the terms winners and losers in business are a misnomer. I think, when done correctly, everyone can “win.” That’s what creating shared value is all about, and something I wish more people knew and understood.”
Derek Nhieu, Wharton School

5) Don’t Underestimate Salesmanship: “Your work and idea can be good, but it can only be great if you are able to sell it. Although research and factual evidence will always go a long way when tackling any business challenge, what will set you apart from the competition is the ability to customize, design, and deliver your ideas in accordance with your client’s needs. It’s not only about knowing your facts and figures but also about understanding your target market, their priorities, and the reasoning behind every choice. Only this way will you be able to convince others on why your plan is most beneficial and you are the person who can execute it.”
Kamilah Latif, Hult International Business School

6) Attracts A Wide Range of People: “Throughout my time studying business, I’ve been most surprised by the diversity of backgrounds and career goals of my peers. Coming into USC, I wasn’t aware of how many opportunities are available to business majors. I’ve since realized that a background in business is valuable across many industries, and the skills gained are transferable across fields. In my classes, I’m surrounded by musicians, entrepreneurs, consultants, producers, authors, engineers… This makes for engaging conversations, creative ideas, and unique perspectives.”
Jennah Motani, USC (Marshall)

Raleigh Dewan, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

7) Know When To Move Slow: “When I came to Cox, I had always thought business had to be fast. You must move fast, fail fast, etc. While in innovation and start-ups, speed does remain a critical component to success. However, I’ve learned another modus operandi in Cox—slow. Be measured, be efficient, think about second-order effects, and understand deeply. While certain activities require expedited execution, I’ve learned that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Additionally, Cox has shown me that progress is not always how but who and taught me how to leverage my network to find subject matter experts who can help me avoid failures and find the right path forward.”
Raleigh Dewan, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

8) Accept Adversity: “I’ve been surprised to learn that, as a business leader, you will never have perfect information to make decisions. Operating under uncertainty is a constant, so you must learn how to be agile and scrappy to learn as much as you can to choose the best path forward. Learning the importance of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and tackling challenges in stride has been a surprising lesson from my business school experience. In many of the cases we have unpacked in classes, the successful founders and leaders were able to stay on their toes to withstand bumps in the road or unexpected outcomes. I held a preconceived notion that the successful businesses we interact with daily had leaders that always took the best course of action; this is not true. The leaders of businesses we know and love today were able to act, adjust, and thrive without having perfect information or certainty of outcomes.”
Elizabeth Collingsworth, Georgetown University (McDonough)

9) Don’t Discount Finance: “Coming to Stern from an arts school, I never would have thought that I’d end up concentrating in finance. I believed it was all about stocks and formulas, and I knew I wanted to focus on a discipline that’ll be challenging and intellectually stimulating. Luckily, Stern’s curriculum is built in a way that allows us to take classes across different disciplines before we pick a concentration. As a result, I found myself in an introductory finance class as early as in my second semester at Stern. I had somewhat of a lightbulb moment in that course because I realized how much finance requires you to think critically, find evidence, make an argument, and get people on board with it – which are all skills that are crucial not only to your business career but also your life at large. I quickly fell in love with this mode of thinking and declared my concentration right away.”
Ori Chevio, New York University (Stern)

10) Going To Be Supported By Everyone: “Business is often thought of as a competitive and highly individualistic field, where success is determined by one’s ability to outdo others and rise to the top. However, this perception is not entirely accurate. While competition and individual achievement are certainly important in business, the field is also heavily reliant on collaboration and teamwork. Collaboration has been an integral part of the classes and organizations I am involved with in Binghamton, where students work as a unit toward a common goal. For example, when my classmates and I were going through the recruitment cycle in our junior year of college, we would take turns interviewing each other to practice and become better at interviews. Upperclassmen would provide us with their guides, always willing to give advice and share their experiences.”
Laman Mirzaliyeva, Binghamton University

“My biggest surprise from majoring in business was the enormous amount of mentorship I received. When I started business school, I sought out upperclassmen mentors to answer a few random questions I had come up with about the finance industry. However, they took the initiative to greatly broaden my understanding of the field. For the next two years, one mentor would sit with me and hammer out my resume down to the bullet spacing. Another mock interviewed me every weekend during investment banking recruiting season, and yet another referred me to my first VC internship when my original opportunity was paused due to COVID-19. These acts were completely unexpected, and I am so grateful for the mentorship at Stern. Now an upperclassman, I have tried to give back to the NYU community in the same way.”
Jieying “Jo” Tong, New York University (Stern)


DON’T MISS: 100 Best & Brightest Business Majors of 2023

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