Business Schools

The Major Attraction of a Business Minor


While arts and science degrees still lure recruiters, undergrads find a secondary specialization in business gives them an edge in the job hunt

This spring, Hasham Dabbas will graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor's degree in material science and engineering. Soon after, he will begin work at Morgan Stanley (MS) as an investment banker. How does someone trained as an engineer get a job in banking? For Dabbas and thousands of other undergrads, the answer is simple: minor in business.

In Dabbas' case, the minor was in management, but the business courses he took at MIT's Sloan School of Management helped him convince recruiters that he had the skills necessary to succeed at their company. "I made a point to mention (the minor) in interviews," he says. "It eliminated the question about how a degree in engineering was going to help me as a banker." And Dabbas isn't alone. In the past few years, the number of students pursuing a minor in business has been climbing rapidly—as much as 20% at schools such as Indiana University, where 1,500 students are currently declared as business minors.

Filling the Knowledge Holes

The reason for the rise is partially parental coaxing, but in most cases students are realizing that they are far more marketable to recruiters if they have some business background. With the option of a business minor, a student can major in an area that interests her, like performing arts, and still be attractive to potential employers. "Anything a student can do to help distinguish their résumé is going to be appreciated," says Caitlin McLaughlin, global head of recruiting at Citigroup (C), where an estimated 50% of undergrad hires are non-business majors (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/12/07, "It's Not Too Late to Choose Business").

Historically, recruiters like McLaughlin have been open to hiring grads with non-business backgrounds because they come with many useful skills. They can communicate, they can write, they can speak intelligently on myriad topics. That's all well and good, but the company ends up having to train them in basic business skills. A business minor helps to fill the holes (See BusinessWeek.com, 2/25/07, "Do You Need a Business Degree?").

In most programs the minor consists of 18 to 20 credit hours of business courses. Usually it includes a few required courses in the foundations of finance or accounting, and the remaining credits can be filled with electives of the student's choosing, depending on his aspirations. For Justin Peterson, one of 290 business minors at Arizona State, that means courses in finance and real estate. Peterson, a sophomore urban planning major, hopes to use what he learns in the minor to eventually open his own architectural design firm. "If I'm going to be successful in running my own company, I need to be able to understand business concepts and how things work," Peterson says.

More and More Biz Minors

After observing the popularity of undergrad business options like the minor, new schools are unveiling similar programs. Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management is one of them. At Kellogg, undergrads cannot major in business, but starting in the fall they will be able to enroll in a special certificate program to gain some useful business background. The first cohort of 50 students will take four courses, including principles of finance and derivatives, capped off with an advanced topics course taught by seasoned Kellogg professors. Students then have the option of a summer internship between their junior and senior years. "Firms are looking for students to enter the undergraduate-level jobs with some business acumen, but also maintain the broad exposure to their world and the thinking skills that come with a liberal arts education," says Jan Eberly, chair of the finance department at Kellogg. "This new program is a way for students to meet those needs."

Whether it's to find a job as a financial analyst, or to simply be able to prepare your own taxes, the value of the undergraduate business minor is clear. For this reason, M.A. Venkataramanan, director of undergraduate business at Indiana, doesn't see the popularity of the business minor decreasing anytime soon. "Students understand the value of a business background, and parents like it because their children are able to find a good job when they graduate," he says. "Everyone wins."

Gloeckler is a staff editor for BusinessWeek in New York.

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