Why you should pause before choosing the Business Degree
Amongst the dozens of majors that American colleges offer, and the promise of freedom that education abroad stands for, the popular route for students from India is still a degree in Bachelors of Business Administration. First, it was all about Wall Street, more recently about Entrepreneurship, but business is still the most popular major out there.
We’ve had students go to Wharton, Stern, Kelley, truly the best of business schools because they are certain of what they want and we are definitely there to support them. And there are those students who apply for reasons that are less than perfect – pressure to manage the family business or a misguided desire for money. But before they make the decision, we have a conversation to make sure it’s what they really want, not just what they “believe” they should study.
And that conversation is essential. And that is the conversation I want to share with you. Because I am sad to say that some students lose their opportunity to broaden their minds with a liberal arts education by sacrificing it for “safety.” And I’m not just here to drill in on the values of Fareed Zakaria’s “In the Defense of a Liberal Education,” I really want to use this opportunity for you to explore if this is a good idea.
So What Are Wrong Reasons to Pick a Business Major?
Because you don’t know what else is available. The ingrained mentality that Indian Students study Engineering, Medicine or Business is hard to shake, even though times are changing. Sometimes, students say they want to study business without even knowing why. It’s like saying, “I like to read” because it’s the “right hobby” without having an opinion on what genre of literature you like. Do you know what part of business you like? What do you want to do after the degree? What does Accounting, Marketing, Operations, Strategy entail? And even then, if you want to get to Consulting do you need to be a business major to get there?
Because of the flashy title. What was once a desire to be a banker on Wall Street has become a desire to be an Entrepreneur or Founder. But remember, each entrepreneur you idolize became a success because they had a different idea that changed the world. And they didn’t necessarily get that idea from an accounting classroom. Often, it was an unusual experience that prompted it. In The Social Network, Zuckerberg got the idea from social interactions rather than classes. Don’t get swayed by a title, recognize that you need a foundation perhaps but you won’t get an idea for “the next big thing” with your diploma when you graduate. You need more.
Because you don’t realize you don’t need the major to do the job. This is something we’ve been hinting at in the last two points but the biggest thing that students forget is that you don’t need to study business to do business. Consider the fact that each year, students from top liberal arts schools – Harvard, Princeton, Stanford – go into consulting, banking and finance. And none of those students have a business degree. Because those schools don’t offer them. Yet those students are a success in the world of business.
Companies hire English majors who can analyze novels to manage communications, history majors who understand cause and effect to analyze patterns, and social science majors to take their theoretical understanding and apply it to the world around them. A designer developing products works in business, an HR person works in business, there is more to business than the degree. Managers need teamwork skills, leadership, and problem-solving skills, something you can learn in any degree.
And sometimes, the broad base of the liberal arts education is valuable because what is business today, is not business tomorrow. The smartphone didn’t exist in the last millennium, and yet there are businesses built on just building smartphone apps. As the world changes, you need adaptability, creativity and strong people skills for success, not just finance classes. The exploratory approach that the liberal arts education follows can encourage the flexibility you might need.
This is not to say we don’t encourage students to study business if it is right for them. Like we said, we have students going to top schools each year. But this is a decision that should be thought through and explored carefully. Don’t pick business because it’s a default, pick it if you truly want it. And if you are one of those students who loves the Mock Stock Exchange and started their own business in middle school, maybe you are right for business.
Others may want to wait till the MBA where you study those same courses but after you’ve built a foundation and improved on it with work experience. Remember that your undergraduate education only comes around once. And by jumping right into the business world, you may be closing those opportunities to explore that led you to apply abroad in the first place.