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Business Major: Questionable Value?

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley 6084 replies100309 discussionsFounder Posts: 106,393 Senior Member
edited May 2013 in Business Major
The Wall Street Journal, certainly a bastion of business, ran a story, Wealth or Waste? Rethinking the Value of a Business Major, that begins:
Undergraduate business majors are a dime a dozen on many college campuses. But according to some, they may be worth even less.

More than 20% of U.S. undergraduates are business majors, nearly double the next most common major, social sciences and history.

The proportion has held relatively steady for the past 30 years, but now faculty members, school administrators and corporate recruiters are questioning the value of a business degree at the undergraduate level.

The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don't develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses.

Author Melissa Korn points out that employers rarely hire based on specific coursework, and are usually looking for broader problem solving skills and diverse knowledge.
And while most recruiters don't outright avoid business majors, companies in consulting, technology and even finance say they're looking for candidates with a broader academic background.

So what are undergrad B-schools looking at to meet this need? Adding liberal arts coursework...

Lots of CC members point at art history as the poster child of useless majors, but the article suggests that some employers might opt for an applicant with that kind of background vs. one who loaded up on finance and accounting classes.
edited May 2013
72 replies
Post edited by Roger_Dooley on
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Replies to: Business Major: Questionable Value?

  • taxguytaxguy 6244 replies385 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 6,629 Senior Member
    For the most part, I would agree with the WSJ article. However , there are certain exceptions where I think the WSJ article either misses the point or is outright wrong.

    The first exception would be for certain vocationally oriented/skill oriented business majors such as accounting and actuarial studies.There are plenty of employers who appreciate these majors.

    The second exception would apply to students at a top business school such as Wharton or CMU. A business major might be fine simply because of the cache of the school name.

    A third exception,which is a bit riskier, would be for students who are very entrepreneurial. Majoring in entrepreneurial studies or accounting might benefit them greatly with their career goals.

    However, regardless of the major, I do also feel that even the majors listed above should take a lot of courses that improve critical reading and writing and logical thinking. This includes courses in symbolic logic, philosophy, which I would require one year for all majors, a year of English, and a literature or history course or two.

    I would probably advise against majoring in most other business majors as an undergra especially in business administration, management, and marketing.
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  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley 6084 replies100309 discussionsFounder Posts: 106,393 Senior Member
    I agree with all your points, taxguy. I don't think this issue affects elite undergrad B-schools, as they often have rigorous business coursework plus considerable distribution requirements and, by their admissions process, serve as a pre-screener for applicants. At less well-regarded schools, though, the business major may be a sort of catch-all for students unsure of their career direction or for those who found STEM majors too challenging. Those are the folks who will find their management degree doesn't actually qualify them to be a manager.

    My only quibble might be entrepreneurship classes. I don't think you can teach people to be entrepreneurs, though I guess you could attempt to equip would-be entrepreneurs with some basic business tools that might help them with their first start-up.
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  • londondadlondondad 2090 replies61 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 2,151 Senior Member
    Roger/Taxguy,

    Well put. I pretty much agree with all of your points. I have told my son that. if he wants to go into banking or private equity that he should get a BA in Econ at a good school and make sure that he learns critical thinking, quantitative skills and how to write well.
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  • rodneyrodney 9267 replies139 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 9,406 Senior Member
    Easy solution to this problem is to go in the direction of many accredited communication schools; require breadth in the liberal arts by requiring distribution requirements, or, alternatively, a minor/second major outside of the school of business.......

    Writing, critical thinking, detailed analysis of problems..........all can be accomplished if liberal arts requirements are added......

    Honestly, I thought this was a given in most business curriculums worth their weight?
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  • shawbridgeshawbridge 5678 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 5,731 Senior Member
    I agree with Roger (and largely with taxguy) except for one thing. Even at some of the higher-end schools (like for example McGill), the business schools (or commerce as they call it up north) water down the non-business courses like economics so the kids do not have to learn to think well.

    I have interviewed some business undergrads in hiring for a couple of companies and had bad experiences with the small number who have been hired (I had to do the firing and in each case we had people who couldn't even understand that they were doing a poor job). My experience, coupled with my sense of what undergraduate business students learn (which is quite consistent with the article), has made me very cautious about hiring kids with undergraduate business degrees.

    taxguy, my only quibble. Even those in accounting, if they want to rise beyond the purely functional job, might be better served by a more challenging major that forces them to learn to think and write and take a few courses in accounting. [I've found tax/accounting folks sometimes get the rule-following part but not the thinking part of the job and one has to lead them to thinking sort of like leading a horse to water; this isn't true of the top partners at some good firms but is far too prevalent].

    I don't know the actuarial sciences curricula, but suspect that students taking such a curriculum would of necessity have to learn to think, so I'm less worried about that path. Whether actuarial sciences graduates want a non-technical job will depend upon personality and skills, but I doubt think their training will hurt them (and I gather many get poached for management because you need a reasonably high IQ to pass the actuarial exams).
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  • shawbridgeshawbridge 5678 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 5,731 Senior Member
    londondad, I told my son the same thing, but also that if he wants to be an econ major, he should take one math course each semester. He's done that and with one more course, he will also be a math major. So he's taking that course. He's gotten very good grades in all of these courses and in applying for summer internships for the pre-senior year summer, each of the prospective employers to whom he sent a resume/transcript has asked to interview him.
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  • iamanappiamanapp 442 replies28 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 470 Member
    Business majors are far better for employment than liberal arts ones, at least. Accounting, Actuarial Science, Business Statistics, Operations Management, Finance, etc. are all majors that prepare students for actual jobs in the current economy.
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  • KudryavkaKudryavka 859 replies20 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 879 Member
    ^I don't understand why "liberal arts" is used like it's a bad word. The liberal arts cover almost the entire spectrum of college subjects, including several STEM fields. Saying that liberal arts are poor preparation for employment is painting with the single largest brush there is.
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  • shawbridgeshawbridge 5678 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 5,731 Senior Member
    iamanapp, the question is whether the students get a fundamental education in fields like operations research, statistics and finance or whether they just get the analogue of art appreciation -- they may be able to reproduce some of the things they've seen in class and on assignments but they can't make art. I think the concern that I have had in hiring folks is that they've learned to use software packages but not how to think. This is certainly true for the folks in accounting that I interviewed. If that is case, an undergrad business major may be a good degree for getting the first job but a bad degree for being creative enough and flexible enough to shift as the global economy shifts and employers need different things from employees.

    I do think that employers want to have it both ways at entry level -- they want employees who can think critically and also have the specific training needed for specific entry level jobs. It is hard to get both at the undergraduate level. It is certainly not impossible to do both, but will be harder as you drop down the spectrum of academic ability (which is where a lot of the business undergrads tend to be).
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  • londondadlondondad 2090 replies61 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 2,151 Senior Member
    Shawbridge, I also recommended to my son to try and double major in math if he could. I tend to often hire math majors for entry level jobs also.
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  • taxguytaxguy 6244 replies385 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 6,629 Senior Member
    Shawbridge notes,"taxguy, my only quibble. Even those in accounting, if they want to rise beyond the purely functional job, might be better served by a more challenging major that forces them to learn to think and write and take a few courses in accounting."

    Response: First, you assume that accounting majors don't learn to think. Oh Contrare, accounting is very problem solving oriented and is a tough major to finish. However, I have also noted in my post, "However, regardless of the major, I do also feel that even the majors listed above should take a lot of courses that improve critical reading and writing and logical thinking. This includes courses in symbolic logic, philosophy, which I would require one year for all majors, a year of English, and a literature or history course or two."

    Taking these extra courses should solve your problem with accounting as a major.
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  • hkem123hkem123 674 replies40 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 714 Member
    It seems like these articles have become very common over the past year, but I always seem to have the same question. If business students are so academically inept, then why is the business school usually one of the most competitive schools to gain admission to at most of the best public universities in the country?
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  • taxguytaxguy 6244 replies385 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 6,629 Senior Member
    hkem123 asks,"It seems like these articles have become very common over the past year, but I always seem to have the same question. If business students are so academically inept, then why is the business school usually one of the most competitive schools to gain admission to at most of the best public universities in the country? "

    There are several reasons. First, they are NOT all academically inept. Some majors are very tough and produce kids who can read and think logically and well.

    Secondly, some business schools have majors that result in very employable skills. Let's face it: you are much more employable getting a degree in accounting over that of Philosophy or Political Science.

    Third: Business school is perceived to provide more job opportunity. I don't think that the reality of this is true for all business majors,but the perception is certainly there.

    Fourth: Because of this perception, more people apply for these majors than that of many other majors; thus, making it harder to gain entrance. Thus, you will get some top kids going into business because it is harder to gain entrance.

    Fifth: There are many students who started out in STEM or other tough majors and couldn't cut it. They then gravitated to something easier, assuming the school allowed them to transfer to business. Business was perceived as an easier major especially in business administration or management, which is probably true.

    Finally, for those that want to earn a PHD in business especially in a high demand business area such as accounting, the rewards are much greater than earning a PHD in other types of majors.
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  • WatermarkWatermark 213 replies1 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 214 Junior Member
    ^(post 13) Also, why the graduate surveys from most of the colleges show business major have better placement than the "liberal art" major within the same college.

    cross post with taxguy.
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  • tfm1993tfm1993 8 replies5 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 13 New Member
    Would you classify goizueta as one of the elite b-schools that does not need to worry about this?

    Maybe to be more broad, what schools would you classify as the elite B-schools?
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  • NJMom23NJMom23 124 replies3 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 127 Junior Member
    I was a business major in the mid-80's. To be honest I think it was a waste of time. I didn't have a reference for anything I was being taught. I now work for one of the biggest companies in the world and most of what I learned I did so through their training. I think I would have been better off with any other undergraduate major. I could have then gotten an MBA after several years of working in the business world.
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  • hkem123hkem123 674 replies40 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 714 Member
    I think that many students who go into undergraduate business schools of any level just don't understand the point of it. I feel like this every time a student comes on here and says
    "I want to study business, but I don't know which degree pays the most". Your degree does not determine how much money you're going to make; your talent and performance do. Some students have the attitude that completing the academic requirements of an undergraduate business education qualifies them for a job. It just doesn't. The best undergraduate business schools provide an environment where students can go well beyond the classroom and develop their professional skills in other ways.

    The secret is that all of that development happens outside of the classroom, and many students go through four years without taking advantage of it.
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  • iamanappiamanapp 442 replies28 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 470 Member
    ^ @hkem: That's true for all of the useless liberal arts degrees as well.

    I go to an Ivy and out of the six psychology majors I've met, all have been girls who are more into partying and finding a husband than their studies and getting a career.

    The business major women are a lot more focused, confident and, generally, a lot more willing to grapple intellectual issues.

    I feel there is a huge bias towards liberal arts on CC, perhaps because some of the most established and reputable members are parents, and thus those that went to college in a different time. The liberal arts, minus perhaps Economics and Physics, by and large result in unemployment for graduates at my Ivy League school, while the Finance majors here demolish even Harvard grads in elite first job placement. They also learn to "think" just as well, and experience just as good an education since 40% of the electives can come from any department.

    I'm sorry but 99% of the liberal arts are utterly useless on the job and most would thus be better off with any other business major. The liberal arts may be a fun hobby on your way to becoming a "Mrs." like those psychology majors, but they don't prepare you for any sort of employment. And let's face it, with college being 40/50/60K a year now, most kids are simply looking for employment after graduating, NOT "finding themselves" in a philosophy of underwater basket weaving class.
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  • seekingknowledgeseekingknowledge 596 replies64 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 660 Member
    I'm going to push back here. If the business degree is of questionable value, then why do the VAST majority of internships in our corporate world require a business related degree (I'll leave engineering out of this for now)? I'll leave it at that for now.
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  • seekingknowledgeseekingknowledge 596 replies64 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 660 Member
    wow iamanapp...just read your post. I'd love to have the opportunity to speak with you in 10 years or so.
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