Looking at studying business? Here’s what a strong course should offer you
Business is a popular subject and there are plenty of degree programmes out there to choose from. So how do you know which ones are going to be worth it?
We spoke to lecturers and staff from Warwick Business School to find out some of the most important things to look out for.
1. A well-rounded curriculum
'Business' is a pretty vague term, really, and it needs to be: it covers anything from huge pan-global investment banks, to giant retailers, to corporations who own the companies who own the companies who sell us the stuff we like. It also covers setting up an Etsy store and making money from whimsical unicorn rice sculptures.
A good business degree will set you up with the knowledge to help any of those operations (and many more) be successful, touching on marketing, economics, accountancy and more. Maybe not how to actually make the unicorn rice sculptures, though.
2. Knowledge that works outside of the classroom
Theory is all well and good, but businesses operate out in the wild world, so a good degree programme will help you make the connection between the two.
Sandra Pereira is a lecturer at Warwick Business School (WBS). “The link between what we teach and the so-called 'real world' is always on our minds,” she says. As such, courses at WBS will focus on case studies of actual businesses and assignments that involve number-crunching of real datasets.
Most business students at WBS also choose to take a year-long final-year module where they get to focus on the challenges of major businesses such as Facebook, Sports Direct and Ryanair.
“Students are given a real-life case and are asked to prepare a group presentation exploring the complex situation of their case company during a period of challenge or adversity,” says Gemma Barber, undergraduate student experience and engagement manager at WBS.
“This module is the perfect preparation for students as they are about to enter the job market or further academic study as it brings the complexity of the world post-university to life.”
3. Imaginative teaching
There’s a lot to learn on any business course - and absorbing that information is a lot easier if you’re being taught in an interesting way. So, when you’re choosing a course, look for innovative teaching and evidence that students are having a good time (this is where open days can be invaluable).
For example, some of the modules at WBS use techniques borrowed from the performing arts. “Students find the hands-on activities and peer-to-peer interactions a refreshing change from sitting in lectures or attending seminars,” says lecturer Angela Lorenz.
Lectures are also given by people who are currently working in the business world. “Guest speakers and real-life cases are peppered throughout modules,” says Gemma.
And students can learn by shadowing real-life managers in their place of work. “It doesn’t get much closer to real-life than that!” adds Angela.
4. The chance to meet and learn from all kinds of people
You'll often find that your fellow students are some of your best teachers. Uni is a chance to meet people from all over the world, with backgrounds and world views that are very different to your own.
On a business course this can be particularly helpful, because businesses operate very differently around the world – so a diverse student body can give you some invaluable insights.
Students from more than 70 nationalities currently study undergraduate business at WBS, says Angela. “The diverse cohort brings numerous benefits in allowing students to understand the global environment and the way that business or accounting and finance may differ around the world, but also there is great social benefit in working with other cultures.”
5. Contacts with businesses
Industry contacts matter because a good uni will introduce you to people who can help you understand the real challenges their businesses are facing, so that you can start to see where the theory you're learning will come in handy.
You'll also be able to ask questions, sniff out internship opportunities and – just as importantly – get a feeling for the kinds of companies you like, and don't like. Find out who comes to see students at the courses you're interested in – ideally you want to see big names as well as entrepreneurs from lots of different areas.
6. Credible qualifications
You'll hear a lot of business schools talking about 'accredited qualifications' and 'professional bodies'. A professional body is an organisation attached to a particular profession, like accountancy; or to a business discipline, like management.
These bodies often help people develop their skills, and offer professional accreditation (or certification) to show that the qualifications they have are at a level the industry recognises.
In other words, a degree that's been accredited by a professional body such as the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development (CIPD) is one that employers will have confidence in; which means you can, too.
7. Modern classrooms and equipment
If you're going to operate in the 21st century business world you're going to need more resources than dusty textbooks and draughty lecture halls.
An effective business school will incorporate tech into its daily life – look for libraries with all the WiFi, e-books and a seamless virtual learning environment.
“Technology is used in a variety of ways across our courses,” says Gemma. “Some modules use a ‘flipped classroom’ model where lecture content is delivered online allowing more time for face-to-face seminar interaction.
“In addition, the majority of modules operate a lecture capture system where students can watch back lectures after they’ve attended to help understand trickier concepts and to revise before assignments and exams. ”
A good school will also treat its students as people, not sardines to shout management theory at. Group workshops and small class sizes will help too, as you'll get more meaningful time with your tutors.
8. An environment that helps you develop
A good business degree will come with a good student experience: clubs, societies, sports facilities and anything else that will help you enjoy life beyond the classroom.
It should also come with a good attitude: one that expects you to think independently, but encourages you to get to know and work with your fellow students. Skills like teamwork, time management, leadership and communication all come from that kind of environment, and are highly valued by employers.