Going to business school can be the avenue to fulfilling your dreams. Attending a business school presents many opportunities, which you can match to your abilities and career goals.
You can apply to join a business school whether you’re finishing high school and want an important, rewarding career, or if you’ve been a working college graduate for years and want to improve your prospects. A useful business education is available at any stage of your working life.
Could Going to Business School Be Right For Me?
Do you wind up the leader of almost every group project you get involved in? Do other people frequently ask you for financial advice? Do you watch “Shark Tank” and similar TV shows and say to yourself, “I could do better than these people?”
Even if you never get to be the president of a multi-billion-dollar company, businesses all over the world need people with managerial and financial skills. If you get training in business administration, you’ll have skills that firms everywhere are looking for.
A company can promote employees without business management training into management or positions of financial responsibility. But the famous “Peter Principle” predicts that many such internal candidates, however competent they might be at their original jobs, won’t be great at supervising other people or handling money.
Will You Make a Good Business Student?
Before you send out any applications, you need to carefully consider whether you are actually suited for a business school and a business career.
Are you motivated, intelligent and well-rounded? Dr Diane Matthews, CPA, chair and director of the Division of Business and Technology Management at Carlow College in Pittsburgh characterizes good business students as “analytical, hard-working, motivated, dedicated, conscientious, having good oral and written communication skills, and able to use technology.”
Many sources point out how competitive business schools and the corporate ranks can be. You need to consider not only whether you can hold your own in that arena, but whether you can get along with, and function on teams with, other competitive personalities.
Types of Business Education
Business education is widely accessible worldwide, even in places where business itself isn’t prevalent. Several types of business programs are available.
Certificate, diploma, and degree programs at business institutes and career schools
Many career-oriented schools now offer certificates and diplomas in business administration that can be earned in eighteen months or less of study, as well as two- to three-year undergraduate and sometimes even graduate business degrees.
Diploma and degree programs at community colleges
Community colleges in North America and elsewhere offer diplomas, two-year associate degrees, and occasionally “accelerated” three-year bachelor’s degrees in business administration — for example, Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN; Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska; Tidewater Community College with several campuses in Virginia; and Vancouver Community College in Vancouver, BC.
Undergraduate programs at traditional colleges and universities
Business diplomas and bachelor’s degrees are offered by many four-year colleges and universities, including Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA; Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston in Houston, TX; Herzing College with campuses across the US and Canada; and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).
Graduate programs at colleges and universities
The most prevalent and widely respected business degree is still the Master of Business Administration (MBA). MBAs (and sometimes PhDs and other business doctorates) are available from such institutions as Harvard Business School in Cambridge, MA; UCLA Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles; the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA; IESE Business School at the University of Navarra in Barcelona and Madrid, Spain; and the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in Cape Town, South Africa.
Each day, it seems, more schools are willing to teach students business courses online. Some of these online programs are natural extensions of traditional schools that have been teaching business for many years. However, others are for-profit enterprises, not all of which are fully accredited (see the “Accreditation” section below); exercise caution. Online business programs include those of Saint Leo University, American InterContinental University Online, the University of Phoenix, and Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University.
You will be called on to write briefs and reports, give presentations and much more. Business communication polishes your verbal and written skills to a professional level.
Economics is the science of money and the distribution of resources; microeconomics examines it on the personal and small-business scale, while macroeconomics examines it on a big-business and government-policy scale.
Finance teaches you how the banking, capital, and debt markets work; how to use them to raise money for your firm; and how to wisely use that money through budgeting and cash-flow and risk analysis.
Study accounting to understand how to track and report your company’s financial activity, and how to use those reports as a basis for business decisions.
Leadership and organizational behavior show you how individuals and groups function in an organization, how to set goals for an organization, and how to lead and motivate the organization’s people and groups toward those goals.
Especially in today’s business climate, ethics and corporate responsibility are tremendously important. You and your firm need to make decisions that are morally right, not just for yourselves but for your shareholders, employees, community, environment, and society.
Marketing is the study of making customers aware of your product, making the product optimally available to them, and motivating them to buy it.
Negotiation will prepare you to get what you want when bargaining with employees, vendors, customers, and others.
Developing and manufacturing products is the province of operations management; learn technology management to integrate new devices and processes, especially relating to information technology, into your business.
In entrepreneurship, you’ll learn how to identify potential business opportunities, get the backing you’ll need to start them up, and develop them into viable organizations.
Strategy shows you how to evaluate the information you have about your firm and its resources, the marketplace, the industry, and society in order to make better decisions about what your firm should be doing in the future.
Choosing a Program
There are many different factors you might want to consider when you choose a school.
Jeannette Purcell, CEO of the Association of MBAs in the UK, also gives this advice to people thinking of going for an MBA:
- Are you looking for a career move or do you want to specialise in a particular area (e.g. consultancy)?
- Are you interested in setting up your own business or are you just attracted to the idea of increasing your business knowledge?
- What study method is most appropriate for you and will your employer support you?
- Do you want to study abroad?
- What can you afford?
- Would a part-time MBA be suitable to allow you to continue working?
There are a range of MBA courses available worldwide and the answer to all these questions will determine your choice of business school and programme. So have a plan and be clear about what you are trying to achieve.
One of the good things about studying business as opposed to, say, regional cuisine or high-energy physics is that good management and fiscal principles are virtually universal, don’t need special equipment, and thus can be taught almost anywhere. So a b-school’s location isn’t as important as that of other types of institutions. Still, if a school you’re interested in has a campus rather than being a strictly online endeavor, you should consider its placement the same way you would for any other school. If you’d be commuting to it, does it have adequate parking or public transportation? If you’d be living on campus, does it have adequate services (stores, restaurants, Laundromats, and so on)?
Not only is a business school’s map location fairly irrelevant, so is what’s inside its buildings; it doesn’t need surgical theaters or clean rooms or simulated control towers. Nevertheless, you should take any chance you can get to check out the campus, meet the professors, talk to students, and if possible sit in on a few classes. You’ll want to attend a school where you can feel comfortable and enjoy learning.
Kelly Wilson suggests that you watch for “on-campus events such as general information sessions, visitation programs, open houses, etc. For off-campus events, there are MBA forums held by various entities; also, many business schools host receptions in various cities around the world. Typically, this information is posted on the school’s website.”
Cost vs length and program type
It’s possible to get training at a career school or business institute in much less time and for significantly less money than at a traditional college or university. However, graduating from a college or university will be more highly regarded by employers and will open many more opportunities for you.
Diane Matthews says, “Students should attend a business [career] school when the rigors of college and the four years of work do not appeal to them. [But] I always recommend an [undergraduate] college degree, and a master’s degree.”
You will probably want to choose an “accredited” school and business program. This can be tricky if you’re thinking of taking business classes online; some online offerings are not accredited. For a school to be accredited, its finances, facilities, faculty, and procedures have to have been investigated by an educational standards organization and found to meet those standards.
There are two types of accreditation. The first is the authority given to a college or university by a regional accreditation organization, allowing it to award degrees. The second is specialized business school accreditation granted by a global business school accrediting body.
By far the largest longest-serving of the business school accrediting organizations is AACSB International-The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Founded in 1916, it accredits more than hundreds of institutions in dozens of countries. AACSB accredits the entire institution, and its accreditation covers all programs at that institution, including online programs.
Another global accreditation organization is the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), which also accredits institutions. In the UK, Canada, and elsewhere, many programs are accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA). Individual specialties such as accounting programs and faculty are often accredited by other standards bodies as well.
Of the three groups – AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA, AMBA is the only one that strictly accredits programs. EQUIS has added a product called EPAS that also accredits individual programs. Accreditations are only good for a certain period, often five or ten years; they are then reviewed by the accrediting organization and may or may not be renewed. You should always make sure that any school you’re thinking of attending has been accredited.
If you want to go to a small business school or career school, it can be challenging to try to assess schools’ relative reputations. Making sure they have the relevant accreditations is a good start. You can also investigate where the school’s faculty have worked in the “real world” and in what capacity. Diane Matthews tersely adds, “Placement of grads. Success of grads.”
However, if you plan to attend a major business school at a high-profile college or university — especially an MBA program — plenty of publications publish business school rankings.
Most college and university business programs will include an internship or practicum at an external company where you can put your education into practice. Some programs absolutely require it.
Diane Matthews reports that, at Carlow, “All traditional students must do an internship in their particular field (accounting, management, marketing, information systems, etc.) with a company of their choosing.”
You’ll want to investigate internship possibilities carefully. A good internship can perfectly position you for a job at the same company or an even better one when you finish school.
History of Business Education
In its earliest manifestation as “trade,” business is another of the professions that has been with us for millenia.
Human communities understood early on that trading goods they had in abundance for goods they didn’t have could enrich everyone involved. Simple bartering was eventually superseded by buying and selling with coin, then by mercantilism, then in the Renaissance by corporations and finance.
For a very long time, “business education” consisted only of learning from one’s parents and elders how to appraise the value of trade goods, or how to buy and sell wisely in the marketplace. In more recent times in Europe and her colonies, one might apprentice to a master or manager in a company or “counting-house,” as Scrooge and Marley did at Fezziwig’s establishment in A Christmas Carol. But during the 1800s, corporations (and their money) proliferated, management and workers came into increasingly bitter conflict with each other, and the Industrial Revolution and its excesses transformed society — frequently in damaging ways.
By the end of the century it became apparent to the liberal-arts academic community that business apprenticeships and non-business college training alone were not adequately preparing people to function in the business world.
As Esther Yogev writes, “The strong movement towards the incorporation and bureaucratization of firms had already raised weighty questions…[H]ow was the liberal ethos to be preserved in a place where modern business organization was becoming a new kind of property, and the individual’s chances of survival depended on his entering some form of association?…What would happen to little entrepreneurs when they had to compete with big ones, and what would happen to the ordinary worker?…Even rugged individualists realized that the liberal context was changing and some reorganization would be necessary.”
She goes on to report that Progressives among industry and academe concluded, “Re-educated and endowed with expert, ethical management, [‘good’] corporations could be important community assets that served the public. Correct, humanistic management of the corporation would make it work for the benefit of the community rather than rich, power-hungry vested interests. To that end, a new business leadership was required that knew its job and was committed to the public it served. Thus the university would enter as a suitable trainer of corporate managers.”
The first school for business management in the U.S., the Wharton School, was established in Philadelphia in 1881; it’s still extant, affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, today.
Dartmouth and the University of Wisconsin added business-administration departments in 1891, as did Harvard in 1908. Colleges quickly adopted the idea of teaching business management as a public service to society: Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, started a School of Commerce in 1919; New York University began the practice of training business teachers in 1926; and one hundred and twenty business programs were in operation by 1939. However, the quality of education in these business programs varied widely, and they eventually gained a stigma of poor scholarship.
Following critical reports by the Ford Foundation in the early 1960s and others in the 1980s, schools began to apply higher standards in hiring faculty and to require better and more applicable teaching from them. Now many colleges and most major universities have strong and rigorous business programs.
For decades after business education got started, it was expected that the type of business training given at career and trade schools would be suitable for secretarial and clerical positions, while management training would be reserved for colleges (and graduate schools in particular). But following the emergence of community colleges in the 1960s and 1970s and the explosion of for-profit and online career schools starting in the 1990s, management training and other higher-level business education has become available to almost anyone, anywhere, in all kinds of educational contexts.
Getting Into a School
If you want to get into an undergraduate program, begin applying to the ones you decide you’re interested in. You’ll need to present proof that you’ve graduated from high school or have a GED. Programs with competitive admissions will want your high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, several references, and probably an essay as well; cite any work experience you’ve had (the more professional, the better).
Diane Matthews urges prospective undergrad students to “have good grades in high school. Do well on SATs. Be serious about their studies.”
Most MBA and other graduate business programs will require applicants to have an undergraduate degree and to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the business graduate-school equivalent of the SAT or ACT.
Besides the GMAT score, Pitt’s Katz School MBA program (as an example) asks applicants for “[their] academic record, […] letters of recommendation, essays, work history, and evaluative interview. To help round out the picture, we also encourage [them] to provide examples that demonstrate excellent communication and interpersonal skills, leadership experience, and extracurricular and community activities.” Katz also wants MBA students to show “[d]emonstrated capacity in mathematics, including a university-level (not secondary-level) calculus course.”
Business is More Than Dollars
The business world is full of managers who make the Pointy-Haired Boss in the Dilbert comic strip look wise and benign. It also has more than its fair share of accountants and financial officers who report tomorrow’s sales today or push tax reduction until it becomes tax avoidance, as well as “entrepreneurs” who don’t make their business plans public because their “plan” mostly involves ripping people off.
If you want to study business so that you can make yourself rich at other people’s expense, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and become a bookie instead.
What we need is more people who will study business not just so they can feed superiors and shareholders the short-term numbers they want to hear, but so they can guide businesses toward both long-term success and a better future for all the people they impact.
It is possible for a company to earn more than money; namely, respect and admiration. Study and practice business so that you can make that happen.