Choosing your degree and university if you want a business career

Uni route into business
You don’t always need a business degree to work in areas such as HR, sales, marketing, PR and management consultancy. Read up on employers’ requirements.

Do you need to study a specific subject to get into a business career? It depends – not so much on the type of job you want, but the type of employer you apply to. Some employers ask for or prefer a relevant degree; others are very happy to accept applications from graduates of all degree disciplines.

Often small local employers like graduates to have degrees that relate to the job they are applying for. This is because they don’t have much time or money to train employees from scratch, and so like graduates with the knowledge and skills to be useful straight away. However, sometimes you can still get accepted whatever your degree subject if you have quite a bit of relevant work experience.

Larger employers frequently accept applications for business roles from graduates with any degree subject. This is because they have more time and money to teach graduates the knowledge and skills they need, so they can hire the ones who have the most potential be great employees in the future. However, you’re likely to need a good grade in your degree, plenty of activities and experience on your CV and sometimes particular grades at A level (eg ABB or higher). And quite a few large employers do ask for a degree subject that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Choose a degree subject that suits you – grades often matter

Business employers often ask for at least a 2.1 grade in your degree – the second highest you can get. For some employers this is more important than the subject you study, so pick a degree that will allow you to thrive.

The most important thing is to choose a subject you’re interested in. At university level, you have much more independence and it will be entirely your responsibility to get your work done and do any optional reading. If you’re not particularly interested in your subject you won’t have the drive to do this, and as a result you will find it more difficult to get the grades you need.

You also need to ensure you choose something that makes the most of your skills set, and where you have the best chance to perform well academically. If you struggled with maths at school for example, an economics degree is probably not for you.

How certain are you about wanting to work in business?

If business is the one thing you’re really interested in and you definitely want to work in the sector, it ultimately makes sense for you to study a business-related degree. However, if this isn’t the case, almost any degree will teach you relevant, applicable skills, and the knowledge you gain will still be useful. You may be able to dip your toe in the water of a business degree while studying another subject.

Most universities have a degree structure that allows students to choose a small number of elective modules in their first two years. For example, if you choose to study history at a university where students take six modules per year, it is likely you could elect to do four or five history modules, and one or two modules in another subject. If so, it would be a good idea to take a few business modules during your time at university as this will increase your business knowledge, and demonstrate to employers your concrete interest in the area.

Which degree subjects are relevant to business?

Businesses sometimes request candidates who have studied a ‘business-related subject’ at university. They are referring to subjects such as business studies/management, economics, marketing and public relations. Often it is possible to study a combination of one or more of these with another subject, such as a modern language or IT.

Read on to find out about requirements for specific careers. You can also find out about degree requirements for PR careers, degree requirements for sales careers and degree requirements for management consulting careers in our article on how to get into a career in business.

What degree do I need to work in HR?

HR is the business area most likely to request a ‘relevant’ subject, but it may not be immediately clear what counts. As well as the business subjects mentioned above, degrees in psychology are often considered to prepare candidates with relevant knowledge and skills. Employers sometimes ask that applicants have completed relevant HR modules or a placement.

What degree do I need to work in marketing?

Degree subject requirements for marketing graduate jobs and schemes vary widely.

  • Some marketing graduate jobs are open to graduates with any degree subject – particularly on formal graduate training schemes with large employers.
  • Some ask for a ‘relevant’ subject but include those such as English and journalism as well as business or marketing.
  • Some ask specifically for a business or marketing degree – or even just marketing.

What degree do I need to work in pharmaceutical sales, business roles in tech and other jobs combining science and business?

Other areas of work that sometimes require a specific degree include business roles within the IT, electronics, engineering and pharmaceutical industries. If you would like to work in pharmaceutical sales for instance, it is a good idea to study a degree such as natural sciences, chemistry or biomed, as companies will often only accept graduates with a considerable knowledge of the field.

Similarly, if you’d like a business role within an IT, electronics or engineering company you may benefit from studying an IT or engineering degree, as these companies tend to require candidates who understand technology and have computer software skills.

Which are the best universities for business careers?

Some employers in the business sector prefer candidates who have graduated from certain universities, chiefly those in the Russell Group such as Nottingham, Manchester, Warwick, Durham, Oxford and Cambridge. Recruiters target specific universities through networking events such as careers fairs, sponsored dinners and drinks, and talks. If you want a career in management consultancy it is particularly important to bear this in mind, as it is an area of business that traditionally favours Oxbridge graduates.

Research other aspects of the universities such as clubs and societies; becoming a member of an ‘entrepreneurs’ or ‘women in business’ society will help you make contacts and develop your interest in, and knowledge of, the business world. This will also help you show future employers that you have a sustained interest in the sector. Also, ensure that the university location, environment and culture are suited to you. If not, you’ll be miserable for what should be three of the best years of your life.

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