Business is the most popular college major in the United States, and that trend is not too different at GW. The School of Business is the third largest at the University, trailing the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the Elliott School of International Affairs at No. 1 and 2, respectively.
Pursuing a business degree makes sense – graduates are among the highest paid of any major. But we should not measure the success of academic programs in terms of salary and employment. The success of an education program should be weighed by its academic value, not its career value. Business schools are inherently flawed because they are not designed for learning but for career building – a skill that students can pick up through other campus resources.
Students should not shy away from taking business classes, but majoring in business is a mistake.
Pursuing a liberal arts education can help students learn skills like writing better than they can in business courses. Earning a degree in science or engineering can provide practical skills that can help students start businesses, and degrees in humanities topics would better teach students skills like writing and critical thinking. Students who value entrepreneurship or Wall Street careers do not need business school to get there, and they should not sacrifice their education for their careers. Using other resources on campus, like the Center for Career Services, can help them get these jobs, and choosing a different major will better prepare them for their career.
Criticism of business schools is not new. Administrators leading some of the country’s top business schools – as well as higher education experts, students and journalists – have questioned the quality of business schools. Most of the criticism is based on the idea that universities should teach students about the sciences and arts instead of how to turn profits.
Business students take a core curriculum built on introductory courses and higher-level management courses, in addition to a required minor. Business courses put an emphasis on teaching management and leadership – from the mandatory first-year development course to advanced courses on career management strategy, which focus on resumes and job searches. Most business courses are not easy, but on average, business students spend less time reading and writing while studying for fewer hours than students pursuing other degrees.
Students who want to work in business can learn career skills while seeking a more substantial major. Students can learn how to network and build resumes in the Center for Career Services, they can learn about the market in economics classes and they can learn how to make spreadsheets in statistics classes. Business degrees might bring gainful employment, but they teach the philosophy of business as if it were a science, which is not useful to students when they can gain these skills elsewhere and obtain a more meaningful degree.
Students in the business school are required to major in either business administration, finance or accountancy. Students majoring in business administration are expected to choose at least one concentration – accountancy; business analytics; business economics and public policy; finance; information systems and technology management; innovation and entrepreneurship; international business; marketing; real estate; or sport, event and hospitality management. These concentrations require students to take additional field courses and include suggested minors.
Concentrations make the business school seem more practical by giving students a deep dive into a particular area of business. But some concentrations, like innovation and entrepreneurship, are more vague than practical and include throwaway courses like Innovation and Creativity.
Students do not need generic courses on business fundamentals, and they should not learn the best ways to take advantage of markets. Teaching management without substance is pointless, but universities continue to throw money at business schools because of the major’s popularity.
One of the reasons business schools create higher paying jobs is because connections to companies make it easier to get internships. But in D.C., there are already internships readily available, and going to business school is not necessary to find an internship. The University already offers services to help students find internships – and majoring in business does not give students more than what they would otherwise be able to find at the University.
There is plenty to learn in the business school, and not every major in the business school is impractical. The business school offers degrees in accounting and finance that set students up for specific careers. But vaguely titled majors like business administration should be avoided.
Students majoring in business should know that getting a high-paid job does not need to be accomplished through a business degree. An in-depth understanding of another field combined with some business classes is good enough. College should be about more than what comes after college.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a junior majoring in political science and psychology, is the opinions editor.