Student in a business program

Business is a popular degree subject for undergraduates. Many students in their last years of high school want to go into business programs or other related fields such as management, economics, finance, and accounting. Such degrees can open doors to almost any kind of career.

However, because so many people want to go into business (and naturally, into the world’s top graduate business programs), some schools have enrollment caps—meaning that only a certain number of students can get in. (Schools such as Pennsylvania State University, Stanford, and NYU all have such caps.)

The reasons for such selectivity are not always as simple as “schools only want the best students.” The high number of students wanting to get in often means that there simply are not enough faculty resources available to accommodate everyone and ensure everyone gets the best education possible. So the question then becomes: what can you do to better your chances of getting into an undergraduate business major?

The undergraduate business program is actually an elusive beast. Most focused business programs are at the graduate level, and the business schools that do admit undergraduates are very competitive.
The undergraduate business program is actually an elusive beast. Most focused business programs are at the graduate level, and the business schools that do admit undergraduates are very competitive.

What kind of business are you planning to go into?

Before you commit yourself to too many extracurricular activities and courses that might not be relevant to you, consider what kind of business field you want to go into. Are you more interested in managing people? Are you interested in numbers and the small details that go into running a business or larger company? Are you curious about how the stock market works?

Any future business student can benefit from studying economics, particularly if you are interested in the theoretical side of business and economics. The AP curriculum offers both Microeconomics and Macroeconomics courses, plus Statistics. International Baccalaureate (IB) schools offer courses in economics, global politics, and business and management. These courses are offered at both standard level (SL) and higher level (HL).

Planning events helps build communication and networking skills, and these skills will be valuable when you need to take business and cultural communications classes in college. If you are a number-cruncher at heart, becoming the treasurer of a school or community organization is an excellent activity to participate in. A treasurer’s job is, as you might guess, to manage the treasury for a club, governmental body, business, or organization. Learning how to balance books, understand account balances, and help allocate funds for events and purchases will prepare you for some of what introductory business classes cover in-depth.

Getting involved with planning and organizing events is another great way to prepare for a business program. Organizing a fundraiser for a local charity in your community, helping with a school banquet, or hosting a party at a large venue are just three examples of this. From this, you can move on to running the books for a charity or small business. When you do, keep track of your accomplishments for your résumé. You will want to mention that you raised a certain amount of money (and exactly what that money funded), or that you increased outside contributions by X%. This may seem like a daunting task, but attention to detail shows business programs that you are serious and ambitious.

Do you want to go into international business or management?

For many American universities, studying 3 or more years of a single foreign language in high school is highly recommended. This is even more critical if you want to go into graduate business programs, especially if you want to attend school in Europe or the UK.

Especially if you are planning to work with a global clientele, you will need foreign language skills. International students who are learning English already have an advantage in this area, but you do not have to stop at English. If your school offers language classes or language/cultural clubs, stay involved throughout high school. Remember, though, to stay committed and don’t stop something halfway through. Complete as many years’ worth of language classes as your school offers.

Studying abroad in high school also looks great on your résumé. Even a summer program abroad for a couple of weeks in the summer counts and looks great on applications. This is especially true if you take university-level courses in your career field, which demonstrates competency and drive. Most students do not get opportunities like this, so if you do, make the most of it. Keep a journal of your experiences. Think about the differences between the culture you experienced and the one you grew up in. These can also be valuable for when you start writing personal essays for your university applications.

Debate, philosophy, and literature clubs are also great ways to study culture and learn communication skills. While it may not seem like these things are directly related to business, many skills you will need in jobs later have little to do with economic theory or statistics or bookkeeping. If you want to go into management, you need people skills. There are many ways to communicate with people you are in charge of, and that is what clubs like these help you learn.

The most important rule? Challenge yourself, but don’t take on too much.

When you are going into high school, it is easy to try and want to do every single thing you are interested in. But if you find that you are starting to run out of time for homework, it might be a good idea to cut back on your extracurricular activities. Your work in school is what admissions committees look the most closely at.

If you can only do one or two things during the school year, that is fine. It is better to do one or two things consistently and well than it is to put mediocre effort into four or five things. Ideally, we would recommend focusing on two or three areas and then working to master those.

Ultimately, not only is it easier to focus on fewer things for a longer amount of time but as we mentioned before, it will demonstrate commitment. Particularly during your third year in high school when you will need to be studying for exams and working with tutors regularly, don’t bite off more than you can chew. After all, your own energy is also a resource you need to manage.