Why business degrees are such a popular third-level choice

One in every six 2017 CAO applicants for a level 8 degree lists a business course as their first option

Business graduates will develop a set of generic skills which they can apply throughout their working lives in any career area. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Business graduates will develop a set of generic skills which they can apply throughout their working lives in any career area. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images


A qualification in business is a great investment in your future career and there is a huge selection of courses to choose from. A total of 11,021 or one in every six applicants to the CAO seeking a college place in a level 8 higher degree in 2017 has listed a business degree programme as their first choice, second only in popularity to arts, an increase of 2 per cent on 2016.

At ordinary degree and higher cert level, the numbers seeking a business qualification rises to one in three applicants. At post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) level, business courses are hugely popular with students, either as a route back into the CAO, or as a means of starting a career journey in a business environment.

A quick search on the qualifax.ie website identifies over 300 CAO courses in business, from business in Athlone IT on 300 points to tourism marketing in DIT on 290. This points range may surprise many students who tend to focus on the high-points courses like commerce in UCD at 500 and business, economics and social studies in Trinity at 515.

All prospective students need to be aware that there is a wider choice of options in business for prospective students of every level of academic ability than in any other area of study.

Why opt to study a business programme at PLC or CAO levels?

All business qualifications deliver a wide range of courses common to all institutions, although they may be titled differently from institution to institution.

A typical level 8 programme will deliver modules, such as UCD’s bachelor of commerce, which include modules in accounting, economics, organisational behaviour, management theory, maths, statistics, and information and communications technology (ICT).

Many degree programmes such as global business in DCU and business and management at DIT are offered over an additional fourth year, which will be spent on a work placement in companies operating in all the key business sectors from financial services, pharmaceutical, retail and ICT to consultancy, or a year abroad in another university.

Where the degree programme includes a language, such as NUI Galway’s commerce (international) with French, the year abroad will be in a French university, where lectures and other academic activity will take place through that language.

There are many colleges which offer specialised business degree programmes

Some universities such as DCU have a range of global business degree programmes, in partnership with universities in other countries – France (DC112), Germany (113), Spain (114), USA (116) and Canada (119), where the country in which they will study for a year is selected by the student on their initial CAO application.

From a student’s perspective, the option to attend some of the top business schools in the world for a year – where their classmates will have paid annual fees of $40,000-$50,000, for the €3,000 registration charge, or nothing in the case of those who secure Susi grant funding – is very attractive.

There are many colleges which offer specialised business degree programmes. Dún Laoghaire’s IADT, for example, offers a Business studies entrepreneurship and management degree, which is very practical, with students learning how to identify and take business opportunities by combining knowledge, skills and competencies, through setting up a market stall in first year, followed by an online business in second year, as a core part of their assessment.

Business students will come to understand how businesses develop strategies, handle risk and take decisions

IADT also offers a degree programme in cultural enterprise, focused on employment opportunities in radio, film and television production, theatre management, music management, visual arts management, festival and events management, advertising copyrighting, arts venue management, marketing, programme management, event logistics management, market research, and social media marketing.

The National College of Ireland was originally the College of Industrial Relations, and it continues to offer degrees specialising in the field of human and industrial relations, alongside accounting, finance, and business degree programmes.

What skills will business graduates acquire during their studies?

Central to the skills a business graduate will acquire will be the development of their understanding of business organisations and their key elements. Throughout their programme, students will investigate how organisations think, how they’re managed, and the external world in which they operate.

They will come to understand how businesses develop strategies, handle risk and take decisions. They will also come to understand key functions within all businesses such as marketing, accounting and finance.

Business graduates will also develop a set of generic skills which they can apply throughout their working lives in any career area. These will include: analytical ability; communication and presentation skills; goal setting; leadership skills; numeracy; problem-solving; team work; and time management.

As students’ progress through their business programme, they will decide to focus on business management or management consultancy, or opt to specialise in areas of accounting, economics, leadership practice, innovation and enterprise.

Advertising, public relations, retail management, sales, banking investment or financial services or marketing will also be options.

Where can I research my course options?

Every education and training board throughout the country offers a wide range of business programmes either in their training centres or through post-Leaving Cert colleges.

The costs associated with these options are modest and are locally based, thus avoiding accommodation and maintenance expenses.

Third-level colleges and private business schools are all accessed through the CAO application process.

Video and online profiles of those working in a wide range of business roles are freely available on the www.careersportal.ie website, which will show prospective students where their course may ultimately lead them.

How do I decide which courses to apply for?

A wide range of criteria come into play when deciding between business programmes on offer.

Happily, unlike other areas such as science, there is no requirement on commerce applicants to have studied a business subject for the Leaving Cert, so this option is open to all.

Another positive factor is the fact there are suitable courses for every applicant, from those who secured passes in five ordinary level papers in the Leaving Cert, to those who got 625 CAO points.

Adults who may not have ever sat the Leaving Cert can access business programmes at introductory levels and progress upwards to graduate and post-graduate levels over time.

The key is to know your own competencies – better to start at a level 6 higher cert programme and progress up through the qualifications ladder, than to attempt a level 8 course beyond your current level of competency and fail at the first fence.