Where to? Choosing a business course

Matching your skills with the right course, job and beyond

“Ask yourself, ‘What do you want to get out of the course? Is it just for the sake of doing a course? Is it because you want a particular job?’ ” File photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

“Ask yourself, ‘What do you want to get out of the course? Is it just for the sake of doing a course? Is it because you want a particular job?’ ” File photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

 

It’s quite fitting that so many colleges are competing for business students. But which one is best?

A human resources officer might diplomatically tell you that they all have their own strengths and weaknesses, a sales executive might demolish the competitors with promises and offerings, and an accountant might do a clinical analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of all your suitors.

Ronan Kennedy, a Dublin-based careers coach and trainer, says there is no one-size-fits-all answer as to where students should choose, but that they should start by considering their end goal. “What do you want to get out of the course? Is it just for the sake of doing a course? Is it because you want a particular job?”

Speak to people who have done the course you’re interested in and see if they are in a job they would like

If it is for a particular job, then students should look at those jobs now, Kennedy advises. “Find out what qualification is needed to have that job. What experience is needed? What is the employer looking for?”

Plethora of courses

Of course, Kennedy acknowledges that there are a lot of students looking at a plethora of courses across a range of subject areas and they might have no idea what is right for them.

“Speak to people who have done the course you’re interested in and see if they are in a job they would like. Check out the reading list on the course, and consider spending an afternoon browsing through them rather than waste four years on material that is not interesting to you. And some of the lectures are quite open, so you can sit in on them too.”

Kennedy studied Business and Japanese at Dublin City University. “It was an unusual choice and I really wanted to know if it was the right one for me, so I emailed the lecturer and she very kindly gave me an hour of her time.

“If that’s not an option, is it possible to talk to people who work in the area you’re interested in, whether that’s finance, trading, human resources or something else?”

With the growth of online learning, Kennedy also suggests that students can look at doing a short course online before signing up to three or four years of a full-time degree. “It is usually very cheap or even free, with top quality content which is very accessible and can be viewed anywhere.”

But if the student does decide that business is the right option, what then? “There are practicalities to consider,” says Kennedy. “If you’re attending the best course in the country but you live some significant distance from the university, will you actually be able to go or will the commute be tough? Will it be harder to make connections and get support?”

Fully engage

Students might investigate the class size in tutorials as well as looking at the strength of its alumni network, but the most important factor, according to Kennedy, is that students are interested in the area and will be able to fully engage with it. “Do your research. You will be working on this course for three or four years, and then possibly 35 hours a week for 40 years unless you change careers at a later stage - as many people now do - so it’s worth spending a few hours talking to people.”

Different colleges may have different strengths. According to a recent ranking by Eduniversal of business schools and universities in over 150 countries, Trinity College has the number one business school in Ireland, followed by UCD, and with DCU - a relatively young but scrappy and ambitious newcomer to business education - nipping at the heels.

The Eduniversal ranking is based on interviews with human resources directors from various countries on which universities they would be most likely to hire from, in the event of having two equally qualified candidates.

How important are rankings, what do they mean and how much attention should they get when you’re choosing your course? Prof Andrew Burke, dean of the Trinity Business School, says they can be useful because they allow graduates an overview of how they will be perceived in an international jobs market.

Project-based learning

“But people choose a course based on a composite of factors, and the aim is to develop themselves, not just in terms of their learning but also in terms of what their interests and skills are. Students should look not just at the course content but also on the way it is taught: how much explorative and project-based learning does it contain?”

Courses with non-progression rates of more than 70 per cent include computing with software development at IT Tralee; computing and games development at IT Sligo; industrial physics at DIT; and computer forensics and security at Waterford IT
"Choosing a degree that will blend business with strategy and/or analytics has to be a good option, particularly if you’re looking outside of the FDI/technology space."

A broad business degree opens doors, says Burke. “It’s no longer just about being a senior executive; a good business course will be flexible and adaptable and will develop entrepreneurial and creative skills. The Leaving Cert is not great at developing creativity and emotional intelligence but these are abilities that are critical in terms of how people get on in life and work. These are important qualities in business courses and at third-level.”

Matching your skills with the right course, job and beyond

How to choose a business degree? Michael McDonagh, director of Hays Recruitment Ireland, has years of experience of placing the right candidate in the right job, and he says students need to be strategic.

“We are an open economy and heavily dependent on foreign direct investment. So, a business or commercial degree with a language is an obvious option. Irish graduates who are fluent in one of the major European or Asian languages are rare - and therefore in high demand. Your CV will stand out and the options available to you, both domestically and internationally, will be significant.

“We’re also an economy that prides itself on our technology businesses, both domestic and international. So any business degree that allows you to weave in Data Science, Information Systems or Computer Science has to be an attractive proposition to both undergrads and employers alike.

All the degrees in the world and all the hours of studying may come to nothing if students don’t also leave college with well-developed 'soft skills'

Business and strategy

“Finally, choosing a degree that will blend business with strategy and/or analytics has to be a good option, particularly if you’re looking outside of the FDI/technology space. The domestic economy and the Irish psyche is geared towards entrepreneurs, and the ability to quickly analyse products, services or potential customers, along with building a business strategy, will see you go a long way.”

However, McDonagh has an important caveat: all the degrees in the world and all the hours of studying may come to nothing if students don’t also leave college with well-developed “soft skills”.

“Blend your studies with work experience. Learn how to talk to people and deal with customers. Work in a bar, restaurant or hotel. If you have a clear idea of the kind of career you want to end up in, look to get a placement during your degree.

Hard to come by

“It’s likely that this will be tough, because placements in the very best organisations are hard to come by, so you should be highly proactive. Why not write a report or base one of your project on the company or companies you’re targeting, and then send them a copy? Try to see who is in your network, or your parent’s network, or knows someone in these organisations. Employers want strong academics but also people who can talk to customers, colleagues and stakeholders. Work experience hones these skills.”