Choosing your degree and university if you want a business career

Uni route into business
Working in business areas such as HR, sales, marketing, PR and management consultancy can be possible without a specific degree.

Many businesses, especially big commercial organisations, have central departments to deal with HR, marketing, sales and PR. Others pay agencies to provide them with marketing, PR or HR services. Another area of work that is popular among graduates is management consultancy. If you know you want to work in business without specialising in finance, law, or the technical side of things, it is likely you’ll end up in one of these areas.

To get a graduate job in business it is likely you will need a 2.1 degree (the second highest grade). For many roles this can be in any subject, although some employers do request a relevant degree.

Your choice of degree

The most important thing about what you choose to study is that it’s something 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 for your future career.

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.

Relevant degrees for a career 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.

Relevant degrees for business careers in science and technology

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.

Your choice of university

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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