Business impacts every aspect of our lives. From the commerce that governs how we shop, to the management that keeps businesses running smoothly, to the entrepreneurship that moves innovation forward and makes Earth a better place, business appears in almost every tendril of our world, no matter how isolated.
That, of course, makes it an excellent field in which to get a business degree. We commonly associate the term “business school” with the MBA, or Master of Business Administration, but getting your undergraduate degree in business is an equally smart career move.
While going to business school as an undergraduate might be a no-brainer, however, choosing a program is not. According to some estimates, there exist almost 450 accredited business programs in the United States and hundreds or even thousands across the world. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business alone accredits more than 750.
With such a wealth of choices, how are you to pick the one that’s right for you? And with advice on selection ranging from the best possible school to affordability to location, how do you know which factors to weigh? Answering questions such as these, as well as examining the smartest approach to applying and getting financial aid, will form the subject of this article.
But first, let’s start with a more basic question: Is business school even right for you?
Why Go to B-School?
There are many reasons to attend business school, but some are better than others. For instance, you shouldn’t go just to impress colleagues or because you think you “should.” These are shallow reasons and won’t fill you with the enthusiasm you need to succeed in your undergraduate program. Good reasons, however, include the desires to:
- To increase your salary and earning potential: Not only does business school increase your chances of landing a higher salary upon leaving college, it accelerates the rate at which you will get raises as you move through your career.
- Help others: Business school is an excellent way to put yourself in a position to travel internationally, work with nonprofits and charities, and even start them yourself.
- Increase job opportunity: Because it sets you up for such a wide range of skills, depending on your focus, a business major can help you become a manager, an entrepreneur, a CFO or CEO, and more.
Naturally many other reasons exist, but these are some of the most common. No matter your motivation, think carefully about why you’re going. It will not only help you determine if it’s a good idea, but will help you home in on the right program for you.
One of the best ways to begin sorting through the huge range of business school options is focus. This will be determined by your interest areas, which you may have refined in high school or through work experience. Common business school focuses include:
- Finance: This will prepare you to interpret and create financial data to help inform companies and individuals for the best monetary decisions. Possible careers include stockbroking, managing funds and creating budgets.
- Sales and Marketing: If your focus is in these areas, you will have a strong skillset to help companies and startups get their message out to the world, as well as to convey to individuals and businesses the unique benefits of a product or service.
- Management and Administration: Many business majors end up going into management and administration. A focus such as this provides the “eye from above” skills you need to be a good manager and oversee operations comprising dozens and sometimes even hundreds (or thousands!) of individuals.
- International Business: Many business students set their sights internationally, choosing to work in global corporations or organizations, or work in remote locations or villages to encourage micro-businesses or artisanal entrepreneurship.
Consideration of your desired focus will also help you explore the programs which might be right for you, and narrow down the list of those to which you should apply. Before you can do that, however, it’s helpful to look at the range of options all in one place.
The Top 100 Programs
One of the best sources for information about business schools (and any other degree, for that matter) is U.S. News and World Report. Their breakdown of the Best Undergraduate Business Programs is excellent, as it offers a list of the most esteemed programs overall as well as the top programs in each category. Whether you’re looking for schools in entrepreneurship, finance, information systems, real estate, supply chain management and more, you can find them here.
The most efficient system is to select your interests beforehand so you don’t become overwhelmed, then peruse programs in one or two categories. Each school is linked so you can click through to the program website if it catches your interest. Looking at the schools in more detail will allow you to weigh an extended variety of factors, all of which should weigh into your final decision.
The following list includes, but is not limited to, several other factors you might consider in differentiating between your options and landing on the one that works for you.
- Cost: Whether or not you can afford school will be among the main determinants of your program. We will address this further in the financial aid section, but the most basic difference in cost is whether the school is private or, much cheaper, public.
- Prestige: Many people care a lot about how highly regarded the school is. Prestige does, admittedly, go a long way toward determining salary and opportunity, but it shouldn’t be the only factor.
- Rigor: The excellence and usefulness of each program also depends on how challenging it is, which will have direct impact on the skills with which you emerge.
- Location: How close is the school to where you live? If you have competing duties, such as work or a family, this will matter more than if you are free to go where you want.
- Culture: Some schools have a reputation for partying while others have a culture of alumni connection and networking. Without judgment, you should pick the one that fits your style, although aiming for seriousness is probably the best bet for your future.
- Support Services: Some schools offer students much more in the way of support, such as writing centers, career counseling and more.
A quick note on applications: Business schools, like colleges and universities across the country, have hard deadlines and specific requirements. If you miss these deadlines or provide incorrect/incomplete information, your application will be disqualified until the following year. For each of the programs you have selected for application, make careful note of the deadlines and requirements, and ensure you meet them to the letter.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
Sometimes the “best” program is simply the most affordable one. If you or your parents have limited funds, this could narrow the field considerably if you aren’t willing to hunt for financial aid and scholarships. By no means does that mean you can’t attend some of the best schools in the country, however.
Organizations abound that will offer scholarships to qualifying students, while the government gives grants based on both need and merit. Neither scholarships nor grants need to be paid back, an excellent argument for pursuing both aggressively. If you cannot get what you need to cover the cost of your education after that, take out financial aid and plan to work.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line? Simple, really: If you want to major in business and reap the many opportunities such a degree brings with it, you have a wide range of choices. Make sure to think them through carefully and choose the program that best aligns with your interests, goals, work habits and financial situation, and you’ll be prepared for a lifetime of success.