How to Make the Most of an Undergraduate Business Degree

by
Freelance Writer

The most popular undergraduate degree these days is Business, and for good reason. Business majors are in high demand in the professional world, according to a 2018 report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Of the top 10 majors in demand with employers, eight of them fall into the business category.

That makes Business a great choice for undergraduate students. It can position you for a career in government agencies, public utilities, insurance companies, banks, brokerage firms, personnel management, finance, retail and sales management, market research, social media management, and many more.

Here’s how to set yourself up for the best return of investment on a Business major. 

Related: Finding an Undergraduate School of Business That Works for You

Align your degree with your interests

You don’t have to pursue conventional paths like selling real estate or providing financial advising for Edward Jones if those don’t interest you. Don’t let those lists of business jobs pigeon-hole you.

Business is woven into every field, making it a highly flexible choice that you can tailor to your other interests. Love mountain biking? A bike manufacturer might need your marketing acumen and your enthusiasm for the sport. If you’ve always wanted to live or travel abroad, global businesses want worldly minded college grads. If you’re passionate about social impact, a Business degree can be a powerful tool for mobilizing positive change.

Related: Business/Management Majors and Potential Jobs

Explore the possibilities

Possible Business major strands include Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, Information Systems, Supply Chain Management, International Business, and Sustainability. Business degrees are typically interdisciplinary, incorporating courses in writing, mathematics, marketing, business statistics, economics, and technology as a foundation for upper-level courses in a particular focus. That’s what makes the majors so versatile.

Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, for example, offers a Biology + Business degree that helps science-minded students integrate scientific inquiry with entrepreneurship and commercial applications. It positions them for work in biotech innovation, health care fields, and research.

Marketing degrees incorporate economics, sociology, psychology, and statistics to understand consumer behavior, marketing management, product development, social media, and sales management.

Sustainability Business degrees bridge business and economics classes with the environmental, social, and cultural aspects of sustainability. This focus sets you up to work in environmental management such as state and federal environmental regulation compliance, sustainable energy systems, green supply chain analysis, sustainable investing, and other socially and environmentally conscious avenues.

You may be able to add a minor for a particular strength within a field as well. At Michigan State University, the Broad School of Business offers minors in Sports Business Management, Insurance and Risk Management, Hospitality/Real Estate Investment Management, and more.

Related: The Power of a Business Minor

Integrate your electives

Beyond the degree requirements, Christos Kelepouris, PhD, Business professor at Michigan State University, recommends students focus their elective coursework on subjects they’re interested in. Your academic interests can inform your business degree’s focus.

“If you’re interested in agriculture, take courses in agriculture. Then you’ll have a leg up in that field because you’ll understand the product or service on the business side of things,” Kelepouris says.

Perhaps you’re interested in geology, anthropology, or a foreign language. If you have a penchant for creative writing, English classes lay a solid foundation for marketing and communications. Being a versatile writer benefits you in any field.

Related: How to Choose College Electives

Get involved with clubs and initiatives

Getting involved beyond the classroom is also critical, Kelepouris says. He encourages students to join clubs and other extracurriculars and apply for their schools’ business initiatives to explore and develop interests and gain relevant experience.

College business initiatives partner with businesses in the community to give students connections to the business world. You’ll be invited to attend workshops, meet guest speakers, and learn how business leaders got started. You might get to partner with other Business students to help community business leaders solve real issues.

In some cases, applying to a school’s initiative can be competitive, but Kelepouris says the benefits are worth it, going beyond what is offered in the classroom and textbooks. New York University’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business (new in 2016), for example, launched a two-year sustainability initiative in 2019 to accelerate the city’s efforts in building a strong, sustainable economy using the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. 

Pursue competitions and a study abroad semester

Some Business schools hold competitions that put students in charge of solving a real-world problem. The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business offers several competitions. For the Holloman Health Innovation Challenge, students team up to create new solutions and approaches to health, health care, and related products and services. These opportunities outside the classroom are what give your Business degree teeth when you’re applying for jobs.

Kelepouris also recommends taking a semester to study abroad, if it’s feasible. Understanding different perspectives is crucial to providing a good business product. “You have to understand there are different points of view,” he says. “You don’t have to agree with them, but you have to understand, for example, why a certain marketing approach might not work for a specific part of the sector.”

Take an internship…or two

Having an internship gives you a leg up after graduation. Typically, students aim for internships the summer after their junior year, but it never hurts to start applying earlier. If you get one, great! You can work for another company the following summer.

Be aware that many students have their summer internships locked up by winter break. Visit your campus career center and talk to your Business professors to learn about opportunities for students.

“Try to do one at a place that has a business focus you’re passionate about, if possible,” Kelepouris says. But don’t be discouraged if you land somewhere that doesn’t align with your interests. Any experience is good experience, and you may discover an interest you didn’t know you had.

Related: How to Find Internships for Business Majors

Beware of your assumptions

One assumption Business students make that can come back to bite you: you very likely won’t be earning $100,000 right out of the gate. Those pay raises and increased responsibilities take time. And you likely aren’t going to land in a CEO or mid-level manager position within five years, particularly if you haven’t completed one or more internships.

“The Business degree is phenomenal because it gives you variety, but the degree itself is not a golden ticket,” he says. “It’s a checkbox to get in the door to prove yourself. If you want to be Chief Marketing Officer, you’re going to need to be a rock star in marketing in your specific field. The degree is the foundation to begin studying and becoming a specialist.”

The downside of the Business degree’s popularity is that you’re competing with many others for jobs. That means you need to start laying the groundwork for experiences and involvement when you get to college. But it’s still a great career choice. Just be sure to make the most of your time on campus—it can only help you.

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