Nine steps to choosing the right business course
Ask yourself these questions to help you decide on the right course for you
Anne Ryan is a career guidance counsellor at St Conleth’s College in Dublin 4 and she also offers private career guidance.
Paul Vance is head of resourcing at KPMG, one of the largest audit, tax and advisory firms in the world
If you’re thinking of taking a business course, you need to look beyond what college you want to go and think carefully about a number of different factors. We asked two experts for advice on what students need to ask themselves before they make that decision.
Anne Ryan is a career guidance counsellor at St Conleth’s College in Dublin 4 and she also offers private career guidance. Paul Vance is head of resourcing at KPMG, one of the largest audit, tax and advisory firms in the world.
1. What are you passionate about?
Anne Ryan: Business and related subjects such as finance, accounting, management and economics are among the most popular fields of study at universities worldwide. Business touches on pretty much every aspect of modern human society, so business graduates are in high demand worldwide. If you’re going to do something for the rest of your life, it should probably be something you like doing, not just something that you don’t mind.
Studying for a business or management studies degree allows you to develop a broad understanding of business organisations and provides you with subject-specific knowledge in areas such as markets, customers, finance, operations, communication, information technology and business policy and strategy.
Paul Vance: It’s always worth checking your motivation for any course. Do something because you enjoy it or because you think you might have an aptitude for it, rather than just pursuing it for want of something to do. Do your research before committing to any course - business or otherwise. See if you can speak with current or former students to get their views and how their choice has helped them progress in their chosen area. If available, use career guidance resources to help you make your decision and remember it is your choice!
2. Do you want a broad business course or something more focused?
Anne Ryan: How do you identify which business course is right for you? My advice is to create a list and consider a number of different factors. One of these, as outlined above, is possible careers. Another is the transferable skills you will develop on the course (see point five) as well as the subject-specific knowledge you will get in areas such as markets, customers, finance, operations, communication, information technology and business policy and strategy.
Look at the course content and you will see that most business degrees share a lot of common curriculum. You’ll probably study some combination of accounting, finance, marketing, economics, business law, management, and information systems regardless of which business degree you choose. However, it is essential to read the course content of each of your selected courses in detail because courses can differ enormously from university to university even if they have similar names, with impressive terms such “leadership”, “entrepreneurship” and “innovation” in their titles.
Many business studies courses cover a range of subjects, but there are others, such as marketing, which have a specific vocational emphasis and this will also influence your choice of job.
Paul Vance: At the start of your career there is no harm taking a broad course to help you assess what you like most. That said, combining a business or other core subject with a mix of technology and say language skills shows ambition and will enhance you CV. It’s worth bearing in mind that employers also look for examples of motivation and ambition beyond the pure academic. Successful people are usually involved in other activity also in areas including sport or voluntary and community work or perhaps nurturing a cultural interest or artistic talent - so it’s not just about the academic side of things.”
3. Do you have specific career goals?
Anne Ryan: Ask yourself what you would like to do with a business degree. Possible careers include chartered accountancy, marketing, management consultancy, trading, investment banking, bank management, sales, human resources officer, PR officer and teaching to name but a few. So if any of these options appeal to you, then you are on the right track.
Paul Vance: It’s not always easy to know what you want to do when making these choices. A starting point is to think about what interests you have in general and whether they might be applicable to a career. So for example, if you are interested in business, economics and the wider world along with things like technology - then you might have an aptitude for business. If these things leave you cold, you should definitely re-evaluate your options.
4. Does the course offer work experience or internships?
Anne Ryan: Employers are now expecting higher education institutions to embed generic or employability skills more fully into the curricula. Most universities will say they are doing this already and, indeed, there are many examples of skills development to be found across college courses.
Paul Vance: Work experience or internships can be hugely valuable. At graduate level we’re always on the lookout for people with work experience already on their CV. It can be anything - a local shop or business, something in the hospitality sector at home or abroad - it doesn’t really matter too much once it shows ambition and commitment.
5. What sorts of skills will you develop on the course?
Anne Ryan: On any business degree, you can expect to gain valuable generic skills, such as writing well, communicating your ideas clearly and persuasively, getting along well with others, leadership abilities, creativity, time management, problem-solving and analytical and critical thinking, all of which can be put into you use in both everyday life or if you decide to take a completely different career path. So while specialised knowledge might get you a position, don’t overlook those important skills which will enable you to do your job successfully.
It’s also important to ask about teaching methods. Are classes big or small? How much explorative and project-based learning does it contain? Will you have access to one-on-one time with a tutor.
Paul Vance: It’s back to research. The best courses are those that combine theory and practice. Employers like pragmatic, work-ready people who have done stuff in teams, worked on projects, and solved problems and so on - as these are also the things we do for our clients.
6. Does the course have links with modules such as data analytics or a modern language?
Anne Ryan: Some business schools offer a number of dual honours degrees meaning you’ll be able to combine a business education with another interest of yours. For instance, a degree in International Business and Languages will provide you with a much-valued competency in a language.
Paul Vance: Technology underpins so many aspects of work and this will only become more pronounced in the future - so if you can combine a grounding in business with insights and expertise in technology it will be advantageous.
7. What are the assessment methods?
Anne Ryan: Which methods of assessment best suit you? Exams, coursework, practicals, group projects and presentations could all be in the mix in differing quantities. Every university course will include a percentage breakdown of assessment, so check it out.
8. What’s the alumni network like?
Anne Ryan: Take a look at alumni networks to find out what past students are doing. What jobs, sectors and countries do they work in? Do they work in prestigious roles or do any work for high-profile organisations?
Paul Vance: Networking plays an important role in business and are important for the colleges themselves. However there are many ways of building a network and it comes over time so I wouldn’t be overly focussed on alumni networks at the start of one’s career.
9. Do rankings and reputation matter?
Anne Ryan: To discover more about an institution’s reputation speak to past students, look at rankings and find out if the faculty has industry connections? Find out what the school’s employment record is like.
Does the faculty have global experience and business knowledge? With construction of Trinity’s new business school well underway, it has become evident that the battle to obtain educational excellence in the provision of business degrees is most definitely a race to the top. For years, one of the only avenues to study business at Trinity was through the Business Economics and Social studies (BESS) course. Now, incoming students to Trinity have the opportunity to study a specialist business degree with the introduction of the Bachelor in Business Studies. This course offers the chance to study abroad, complete an internship and also to study a language.
Paul Vance: Rankings can play an important part but I would be equally impressed by someone who had clear rational reasons for their choice of college based on their own research and aptitude.