20 Lessons You Learn in Business School

If you major in engineering, you learn the connections between materials, weight, and design. You master a clear-cut set of facts, where any deviation can undermine utility, longevity, or safety. English is more open to interpretation. You highlight passages and interpret motivations in Hamlet. Then, you squeeze it through a postmodern, post-structural, post-critical prism. It’s a great degree for coffee houses and trivia nights…not so much for landing a job.

In-between, you’ll find business – the most maligned of majors. The scholars dismiss it as the dumping ground for jokers and introverts alike. No doubt, there is a place for everyone in business. Seek order through planning and coordinating? Two words: Human Resources. Think numbers tell a better story than any book? Accounting, baby! Hate the status quo? That’s what inspires most entrepreneurs.

Business is the best of every major. You learn to experiment and build, forecast every scenario, and check every box. Like every academic discipline, there are time-tested models and research-backed steps to guide your activities. At the same time, the uncertainty leaves plenty of room for creativity. Learning how to manage this ambiguity was the biggest lesson that Anders Larsen took away from business school.


College of William & Mary’s Alana Coleman

“When I started business school, I expected to be supplied with formulas and ample information to always make the right decision,” explains the 2019 grad who majored in marketing at the University of Wisconsin. “In reality, I learned that business is messy, and you never have all the information you want to make a decision. You learn to make decisions based off what information you have, and you learn when that information is enough or when you need to find more.”

To make business complicated, adds the College of William & Mary’s Alana Coleman, the decision is actually just the first step. “When it comes to business problems,” she tells Poets&Quants, “coming up with a solution isn’t an endpoint, but rather a continuous process. There is always room for improvement and the moment you give up on looking for a better, more efficient way to solve a problem is the moment you fall behind.”

Those are just two lessons that graduating seniors absorbed as business majors. Each year, Poets&Quants asks the top business schools to nominate two students to be Best & Brightest Business Majors – 2019 graduates who set themselves apart through their “academic excellence, extracurricular leadership, personal character, innate potential, striking personal narrative, and overall impact on the program.” In the nomination process, P&Q asked these graduates to share the lesson that will stick with them as they enter their business career. From avoiding complacency to asking for help, here are the 20 lessons that will shape the careers of this year’s most promising business students.

1) Learn How Much You Don’t Know: “I always go into a class thinking that by the end of it, I will no longer have that ‘uncertain’ feeling and will feel 100% comfortable with everything. Well, that never happens. I’ve learned how to work through that uncomfortable feeling and be confident in my thinking even though there’s a lot I don’t know. I’ve also learned how to research and learn more about what I don’t know. I think this is an important skill. Business school has taught me that when I start working, I’ll probably always have that “uncertain feeling” about something, even though that something will change throughout my career.”
Adam Kershner, Babson College

2) Don’t Take Consumers For Granted: “Consumers are the driving force behind the business changes being made across the globe. Consumers establish the trends, and companies who don’t adapt to fast-changing trends become obsolete. While it may seem as though the multi-billion dollar conglomerates have consumers at their fingertips, it’s truly everyday people who have the power to change the trajectory of the world’s future.”
Leslie Parra, Babson College

University of San Diego’s Evie Blackburn

3) Teamwork Produces Success: “I learned the importance of organization and execution of ideas. The most successful business leaders are those who understand their strengths and surround themselves with team members who thrive in areas where the leaders themselves are weaker. Teamwork and effective interaction is the core of a business’s success.”
Evie Blackburn, University of San Diego

“The power of people was my biggest lesson. Not people who simply crave financial gains and reap at the expense of others, but people with ideas. Business is not about the margins and not about becoming “rich.” Rather, business is about people who can come together and build on their ideas. It is about people who find inefficiencies in today’s society and have ways of doing something better. It is about the relationships and thoughtful discussions that are created while ideas are crafted to make the world a better place to live. Yes, the understanding of core financial concepts cannot be undermined in the pursuit of building a successful business, but business is more than just that. Business is about the power of an idea, of a group of people who believe in it so strongly despite the doubt of others, and to stick with the idea until it comes to life.”
Katherine Cui, Boston University (Questrom)

“You are only as good as the team that you are working with. After participating in several team activities, whether in class or with extracurricular activities, I’ve learned that you cannot expect everyone to have the same mentality as yourself. Everyone is different and you have to learn to adapt to their method because both methods can lead to success. I have also learned that if someone on your team is having a difficult time on a task, it is a waste of time to reprimand them or put them down. In order to have success, you need true leadership skills to elevate that person to a position where they are able to succeed not only individually, but with the team as well.”
Adriele Almeida, University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Isenberg)

4) Don’t Fear Asking For Help: “I started off feeling as though I needed to prove myself in a ‘cut-throat’ business world. However, over the last few years, I’ve built up confidence in asking for help. Now, the accomplishments I take the most pride in are those I’ve conquered as part of a team, with the support of administrators, professors, peers, alumni, and the Atlanta community. I only wish I had learned this lesson sooner. Once I started reaching out for advice, there was greater impact through my work, more people in my corner, and fewer frantic phone calls to my parents.”
Ashwini Krishnamurthy, Emory University (Goizueta)

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