How to choose a business program in the USA or Canada

Posted 21 October 2015
Find the right business program for you

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Business is among the most popular majors for both undergraduate and graduate students, with a wide variety of jobs seeking candidates with business skills. Business has a broad reach, and determining the specific business program can be confusing. Read on to see the critical factors in evaluating a business program.

The demand for a North American degree in business continues to grow as international students from around the world are drawn to universities in America and Canada owing to the reputation of leadership both in academic studies relating to business and in operating within the ‘real’ business world. In an increasingly competitive job market, employers seek candidates with existing work experience, professional references and the soft skills that are developed as a result of academic and on-the-job training. Top universities in the USA and Canada design their business programs to give their students these employability skills and prepare them to tackle the business world through hands-on learning opportunities built into the curriculum.

While the ground rules in choosing a university remain the same in selecting your overall student experience based on personal preferences for campus location, college size, and university ranking, the selection of a business program hinges on three important program-specific factors.

Work experience during your degree studies

Some of the best programs offer a more vocational, jobs-readiness approach, adopting a less theoretical or academic method in their business curriculum and emphasize instead the need for a more practical and hands-on style of learning and teaching. Courses that include real world training in the curriculum immerse students in a business setting, allowing them to practice their business skills while learning on the job. Both undergraduate and graduate degree programs incorporate the opportunity to gain 6-12 months' work experience through well planned co-op and internship opportunities for their students. 

Universities strive to build and maintain a strong business network through their alumni and among local businesses to place students into work environments aligned with their specific career goals. This is a significant advantage when applying for jobs after graduation as companies worldwide seek new hires that have trained in a program combining highly-rated academics alongside business critical experience. More often than not, the deciding factor between two equally qualified candidates would be the work experience relevant to the role and responsibilities of the open position.

Most large companies and multi-nationals in particular have training programs which involve their taking on bright young business graduates. Internship programs may even lead to a company absorbing the student into the full-time workforce through an Optional Practical Training (OPT) program in the USA, or a Work Permit in Canada, extending the value of the business program to life after graduation.

Degree program concentrations

Another important question in choosing a degree program in business is whether or not to go for a general or a more specialized degree. Top universities continually add to the spectrum of concentrations offered within the discipline of business – a more specialized program allows you to gain particular rather than general business knowledge and skills, which are highly valued by prospective employers. The ideal structure at university may be a first year which introduces the undergraduate student to a broad overview of business and its various functions, before allowing students to choose a specialization such as marketing, human resource management or finance, culminating with related work experience opportunities. 

Liberal arts study at university

Having a liberal arts background means that your courses will be in general areas of study--philosophy, mathematics, literature, art history, economics, languages, and so on--rather than in applied or specialized fields. A liberal arts education is not intended to train you for a specific job, however, it prepares you for the world of work by providing you with an invaluable set of employability skills, including the ability to think for yourself, the skills to communicate effectively, and the capacity for lifelong learning. Universities in the USA and Canada recognize the value of a strong liberal arts foundation and accordingly structure their programs with flexibility.

Within the field of business, employers are looking for people from diverse backgrounds, those who can inform business decisions by their knowledge of another field. Today, it is not uncommon for leaders of business to have studied something quite different in their undergraduate years, such as Engineering, Psychology or another Science or a Social Science. Having entered the business world with this different skills-set they gain experience at a middle management level, and then enhance their business expertise by studying for an MBA. For instance, the product marketing arm of a pharmaceutical company would probably give preference to a candidate with literature and biology courses at the undergraduate level, copy writing experience in an advertising agency, and an MBA degree than they would to a student with business degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. 

There are many considerations to think about before you apply for that Business Administration degree – find the right program for you.