The Non-DB MBA

The musings of a decidedly non-douche-baggy future MBA.

Leave business majors alone

As a former liberal arts major embarking on an MBA, I’d like to perform a pre-emptive act of goodwill toward some of my future classmates and defend the much-maligned undergraduate business major.

According to a recent NYT article:

Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.

Indeed. This simply confirms what anyone who went to a college with an undergraduate business program already knows: business majors are probably the least intellectually curious of all college students. Upon enrolling in an academic institution, they all chose what is probably the least academic major.

But so what? College degrees serve primarily as signaling devices, showing potential employers that their holders are reasonably smart, capable of finishing long-term projects and able to sit still for long periods of time. Your future employer doesn’t care about your ability to critically analyze a Keats’ poem; it just so happens that we’ve created a credentialing system that requires a significant proportion of aspiring professionals to analyze Keats poems in order to get decent jobs. 

Your future employer wants to know if you’re smart, which people admitted into selective colleges—regardless of their major—usually are. Your future employer probably wants to know if you can do math, which business majors usually can. Your future employer also wants to know if you have social skills, which—give them this—most business majors have. And, lastly, your future employer wants to know if you can follow bureaucratic institutional rules, which anyone who has successfully completed a college degree can.

What the NYT article reveals is that business majors are able to navigate a complex and inefficient bureaucratic system with minimal effort and maximum effect (business majors start out making more than humanities and social science majors). If I were looking to hire someone, I’d say that business majors are pretty appealing.

  • 21 May 2011
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