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Invest in Your Future - Cash in with a Business Major

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Invest in Your Future - Cash in with a Business Major

From the MCG 2009 edition By Laura Nathen

You're addicted to The Celebrity Apprentice and Deal or No Deal. You're persuasive and think you're good at selling your ideas. You've got good people skills, and you like to analyze situations. If any of these statements apply to you, you should consider majoring in one of the business fields.

If you've already ruled out business because you're not a "numbers cruncher," you may want to reconsider, especially if you're a top-notch writer or speaker. Today, business majors come from a variety of backgrounds.

"There's an idea that you have to be strong in technical skills and math, but that you don't have to be good at the behavioral side and communications side. That's not true anymore," says Joseph T. Foley, chair of Assumption College's department of business studies. Foley notes that while some business students have strengths in statistics and math, others concentrate more on oral and written communication skills.

What Can I Major in?

Although different schools offer degrees in different fields of business, almost all colleges offer a major in business administration and management. This major covers the general principles of running a successful company and dealing with clients, employees and shareholders.

If the idea of running a business appeals to you, but you'd rather launch and run your own business, consider entrepreneurship. This major covers all of the administration basics, plus specific skills you'll need to run your own business, including finance and taxes, marketing, organization, and sales.

If you are good with numbers, you might want to consider accounting. Keep in mind that accountants do a lot more than maintaining a company's books or tax returns. They also help manage and plan a company's financial activities and often provide business consulting services for their clients.

A major in finance will prepare you for a career in financial management, financial planning, investments, insurance or real estate by teaching you to identify and manage risk, determine whether to spend capital or produce new products, and find funding for companies.

Love to travel and learn about different cultures? You might want to think about majoring in international business, which will teach you international finance, sales and marketing. As more companies seek employees who speak a foreign language or have immersed themselves in another culture, this is becoming an increasingly popular major.

Information technology specialists design computing systems tailored to the research, data and communication needs of a company. Or you may consider studying management information systems (MIS), which will teach you how to solve business problems using technology.

You can also explore the creative side of business. Marketing and advertising majors help determine what customers want and need and how to get them to buy those products or services. You can focus on either the selling of a product or service, or the creative aspect -- coming up with slogans and concepts that will lure customers to buy.

If your strengths lie in public speaking and writing, you may prefer majoring in public relations. Nicknamed spin-doctors, public relations specialists -- or publicists -- help their clients maintain positive images by writing press releases and helping them get media exposure. Sometimes public relations specialists even write speeches or help raise money for clients.

What Sorts of Classes Will I Take?

Regardless of your major, you'll take courses in writing and different areas of business, including business administration, accounting, statistics, micro- and macroeconomics, marketing, and management. Many colleges require business majors to learn a foreign language, study abroad and take public speaking, too.

Of course, you'll take more creativelyminded courses if you focus on the creative side of business. According to Sara Brookshire, Emerson College's senior assistant director of admission, students who complete the school's core integrated marketing curriculum "take coursework in broad disciplines covering marketing, advertising and public relations [and then take specialty courses] to hone in on more specific interests, including sales promotions, event planning, media planning, design and layout, etc."

Some schools, like Green Mountain College, also require coursework in sustainable business so that students learn environmentally-sustainable business practices. "It used to be that business success was determined by shareholder value and profits, but now success is defined by the triple bottom line -- profit, the business's impact on people and the business's impact on the planet," says William Throop, the college's provost and vice president of academic affairs. "So we're requiring students to study sustainable business."

What Will I Need to Do to Get a Job When I Graduate?

It's a great idea to complete an internship during college (and may be required by some schools). Most programs will give you school credit for your internship, and some internships will even pay you! No matter where you intern, though, you're likely to leave with a better sense of what you want to focus on professionally.

Internships aren't just a chance for you to learn about business. They are also a chance for business people to learn about you -- and possibly offer you a job. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' 2008 Experiential Education Survey, employers offer full-time jobs to about 70 percent of their interns.

What Kind of Job Can I Get When I Graduate?

Every fall, businesses send recruiters to college campuses across the country to interview soon-to-be graduates for positions as accountants, investment bankers, bankers, salespeople, marketing analysts and more, so you'll have plenty of options. Many companies offer management development programs or assistant positions that allow graduates to learn the ropes from more experienced colleagues.

This Sounds Great! But the Economy Hasn't Been So Hot. Will I Be Able to Find a Job When I Graduate?

No matter how bad the economy gets, people will always have to spend and protect their money. So there will definitely be work for business majors. Plus, says Bradley J. Alge, associate professor of management at Purdue University, "With the aging baby boomers [soon retiring], there will be a need for jobs across a wide range of careers."

"There hasn't been a downturn in career fairs and exhibitions where organizations and companies visit universities to recruit the top students," adds Tim McCartney, professor of management at Nova Southeastern University. "So students looking for jobs should be aware of this."

In 2008, more accounting firms recruited college graduates than any other industry, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Winter 2008 issue of Salary Survey. (Other big recruiters included consulting services and financial services employers.)

Some sectors may struggle in the near future. Banking and finance, for instance, will likely suffer from the major losses in the sub-prime market. And, because of the currently depressed real estate market in most areas, students interested in a career in real estate might have more trouble finding jobs.

But don't let the economy deter you from majoring in business, Tom Madison, associate professor and chair of accounting at St. Mary's University, says. "If you're thinking about majoring in business and you're concerned about the economy... give yourself more options by developing a broad background in a number of areas, such as accounting, marketing and finance."

You've got quite a few years before you graduate, and chances are that many of the business sectors that are down now will be booming by the time you're ready to launch your career.

As with any field, you'll be more successful (and happier) if you enjoy your work. So be sure to consider all areas of business you could major in, and you'll be more likely to find one that appeals to your interests and skills. And don't let current economic trends weigh too heavily on your decision. After all, business trends are cyclical, and there will always be a need for skilled aspiring managers, sales and marketing professionals, and executives.

How Much Money Will I Make In My First Job?

Despite general economic woes, 2008 graduates fared well when it came to starting salary offers. Here are the average starting salary offers for 2008 graduates by sector, according to the Spring 2008 issue of Salary Survey, a quarterly report published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE):

Accounting $47,429
Business Administration/Management $44,195
Finance $48,616
Management Information Systems (MIS) $50,800
Marketing $43,318
Sales $44,005
Information Technology* $59,873 to $65,379
*(for students offered software design and development positions)

Keep in mind that the above figures don't include signing bonuses, which can be $10,000 or more. Many employers offer signing bonuses to convince graduates to join their companies. In fact, despite the waning economy, nearly 54 percent of employers plan to use signing bonuses in 2008, according to NACE's Job Outlook 2008 survey. That's up from 47 percent a year ago!

Also keep in mind that these are average salaries, and that you might make a little more or less, depending on where you live and work. You can barely live off of a $30,000 salary in New York, so Manhattan firms may pay new grads more than their peers in, say, Topeka, Kansas. And if you're in sales, you can potentially make a lot more based on commissions.

Remember, too, that this will be your first salary, not your salary for life. "If you think near-term, the highest salaries are in accounting and finance," says Dennis Garrett, Marquette University's interim dean of the college of business administration and associate professor of marketing. "But if you think longer-term, marketing students start at lower salaries, but many of them are making more than their accounting counterparts were five or ten years later."

Laura Nathan is a freelance writer and editor.

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