Haas To Be Business: My Unorthodox Path To Business

Students at Sather Gate (© 2017 UC Regents, all rights reserved)

“Why did you choose to become a business major?” 

This is the question that business students get asked by prospective business students during panels. Some of the most common answers I have heard are “It’s what I am interested in pursuing after I graduate” or “I want to learn to make money”. However, the most frequent answer that I hear my fellow students say is this: 

“It’s the most versatile major. I haven’t fully decided what I want to do yet, but I know I can take these business skills I learn and apply them anywhere.”

One of the best aspects of Berkeley Haas is the wide range of career interests in their student body. On one hand, Haas has a significant portion of the student body who enters the standard business fields called the ABCs, which stands for jobs in accounting, banking, and consulting. On the other hand, for students who are looking to get into other fields — such as marketing, real estate, communications, or entrepreneurship — one only needs to walk through Sather Lane during the first week of school to find an organization that focuses on these niches.

As I get ready to graduate, I’ve been able to reflect on the last couple of years at Haas. I am more grateful for the freedom of a business degree from Haas than anything else. Here are the three primary reasons why:

1. A Business Degree is One of the Most Versatile Majors

For freshmen who are unsure of their career interests, choosing a major can seem like a decision that pigeonholes them into one area. For example, a chemistry degree is great if you want to pursue something medical- or pharmaceutical-related in the future. Unfortunately, the skills that you gain with a chemistry major may not easily translate if you suddenly decide you want to work in film.

On the other hand, a business major can effectively get you a foot in the door in nearly any industry. That’s because there are business roles in literally all industries. Personally, I have translated my interests in business and writing by becoming a writer here for Poets&Quants. After I graduate, I will be pursuing business in another non-traditional way by working in corporate law and intellectual property. I know that the skills I learned in accounting and other core business classes at Haas will be relevant in my future jobs — even if it’s not in a traditional business role.

But, you don’t have to just take my word for it. Here are testimonials from two other business students:

“Studying at Haas has been so amazing because it has equipped me with the ability to not only understand really complex financials and datasets but also develop core leadership skills in the non-profit world! Haas equipped me to be an entrepreneur, and it inspired me to co-found an educational enterprise, Connect-in-Place, with my Haas colleague where we offer hundreds of free classes to thousands of middle and high schoolers worldwide! A degree at Haas is amazing not only for the core technical skills but also for the exposure to entrepreneurship in the heart of Silicon Valley.”
Saumya Goyal, Berkeley Haas (’21)

“I think that being a business major opens a lot of doors because you’re not limited to an industry or your degree. I came into Cal convinced that I was going into the financial industry, but soon found my passions realized in more creative work. As I am telling stories through film and art in hopes of one day becoming a producer or creative development director, the same skills of business still apply.”
Engel Yue, Berkeley Haas (’22)

2. You Get a Great Network In and Out of the Business Community

As a Haas student, you are surrounded week in and week out for at least 2 years with about 700 other smart and ambitious business students. One of the best parts of this program is the smaller class size and tighter community. This means that you will always be able to see a familiar face in class, build deeper relationships with your peers, and spend more time with your professors.

In my three years at Haas, I have never met a professor who was unwilling to schedule a time to meet with me one-on-one for office hours. This proved to be an invaluable resource before midterms and finals. Even more than class support, I have found Haas professors to be a crucial part of my network. There is no better resource for industry expertise or career advice than our professors, most of whom have already been successful in the areas we are looking to enter. 

The best example I can give is, just this month, I needed to get some advice on salary negotiations to prep for a meeting I was going to have with a future boss. In just one email, I was fortunate enough to contact a former professor of mine to schedule some time on her calendar. It is these sorts of networks with the business community that I am confident will be useful to business students — not just while we are in school but also after we graduate.

Now, the question is what about networks outside the business community? For business students looking to break into industries that aren’t conventional, we are served well by going to a school that has an average enrollment of 40,000 students. However, it takes some courage to be a business student looking to get involved in something different. Coming into college, I knew I wanted to find a pre-law community to join so that I could get more exposed to the law and law school. With this in mind, I was prepared to go ahead and be “one of the few”.

Haas courtyard picture – can also be headline)
(Noah Berger, Haas School of Business, 2018)

So, at the first chance I got, I joined Kappa Alpha Pi pre-law fraternity on campus. I needed a group of friends to talk to about legal issues, politics, and eventually advice on law school admissions. After two weeks of flyering from clubs recruiting new members on Sather Lane and info-sessions for different student organizations, I decided to apply to this one.

Here is the reality I share with every Cal student: joining a student organization is complicated, especially at Cal. Sure, being a member is one way to make this massive school feel a bit smaller. However,  joining a club is difficult because it’s hard to know which of the hundreds of clubs is the right one for you. With some clubs boasting an acceptance rate even lower than the colleges we got into, it’s easy to get discouraged from applying altogether. Personally, I applied for five clubs to start. By process of elimination on their part and mine, I finally ended up at KAPi. While the three-week application and interview process was difficult, the life-long friendships, intellectual conversations, and law school admissions knowledge I’ve gained make it all worth it.

As a business student, I was afraid of trying something that would make me be “different” from my peers because that might mean doing things alone. Being at Cal made it easy for me to see that you are never alone. You just might have to spend some extra time and effort building out a community that fits your needs and interests.

3. It’s Hard Being on an Unorthodox Path, But There Is No Better Time to Try or Fail Than Now

The other day, I was listening to a podcast called “How I Built This” with Guy Raz. I heard Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha, say, “I was becoming increasingly impatient with spending the hours of my waking life doing things that I didn’t believe.” This quote really spoke to me. As I near my own graduation, I’ve been thinking more seriously about what I want to pursue with my life. The big realization I have come up with is this: I spent a lot of time during sophomore year applying to internships in fields like consulting or accounting like many of my friends. While these jobs seemed interesting to me, it wasn’t what I was passionate about and not something I could see myself doing 40 hours a week. The reason I applied was because it seemed like the natural thing to do cause everyone else I knew was moving in this direction.

Eventually, I applied to other positions that fit my career aspirations better. As a result, I am now on a path to pursue law which is what I have always wanted to do. In hindsight, I just wish that I didn’t waste so much time pursuing avenues that I didn’t care about. Instead, I should’ve taken the plunge earlier and tried my hand at something that I was interested in even if I didn’t have any prior connections or experience. 

Ultimately, business students have a lot of free rein to pursue their passions and surround themselves with people who are successful at those respective passions. The only real pitfall that we have to avoid is to get led on a path we don’t choose for ourselves. College is the time to explore fields of interest, try your hand at things you’ve never done before, and cultivate a network that you can eventually give back to as much as it has given to you. If you are a business student on an unorthodox path, you can rest easy knowing that your major affords you the freedom to try things and meet people in any area that you choose. And, if there is one thought I want to leave with you, it is just know that you aren’t alone; you’ll never regret forging forward in a direction that you are passionate about.

My name is Grace Huang, a rising senior studying Business Administration at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a member of the founding class of the Global Management Program. Passionate about traveling, writing, running, and finding the perfect scrambled egg recipe, I want to explore the world at the speed New Yorkers walk.

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