For most college students, summer is a time for catching up with friends back home and laying out on the hot sand of a beach to work on your tan. But for an increasing number of striving undergraduates, it’s also becoming a time to prepare for a less-than-certain job market by enrolling in a summer program at a business school.
These summer experiences, which typically range from three to eight weeks in length, are deep dives into business fundamentals that are especially helpful to liberal arts graduates with little class work or training in business. They give graduates a leg up on landing an important internship and eventual job after graduation—and an edge on later attending a premier MBA program if their academic transcript lacks many quant courses.
And they’re put on by some of the finest business schools in the world, including those at Stanford University, Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (see Guide to the Best Summer Business Programs).
TRYING TO DIFFERENTIATE ONESELF IN A TOUGH JOB MARKET
Summer business programs for non-business majors are designed for ambitious undergrads like Sam Ellis who don’t want to limit their curricular choices but feel the need to differentiate themselves in a tight job market. As a double major in Exercise & Sport Science and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Ellis took the Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Business Essentials program in 2010, prior to his senior year.
“I wanted exposure to business principles prior to pursuing a full-time job,” he explains. “I figured that having a fundamental understanding of business practices would be advantageous to me no matter what career path I ultimately chose.”
Summer programs such as the one at UNC not only introduce students to hard quantitative and analytical skills but provide practical career advice on creating professional resumes and cover letters to interviewing and networking skills. Most are held on campus, though some are offered exclusively online to give students the flexibility to take advantage of existing internships and other opportunities at the same time.
LAYERING A BUSINESS BACKGROUND ON TOP OF ANOTHER MAJOR
Most companies recognize the importance of bringing in people with varied academic backgrounds but they also see the added value of having a business background layered on top of that, says Brenda Stover, director of Professional Development and Business Institutes at the Villanova School of Business.
Although 25.5% of the Class of 2012 that applied for a job already has secured one, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) 2012 Student Survey, that’s roughly half the percentage of accounting, engineering, computer science, economics, and business administration majors, who had received at least one offer.
Most summer programs cater mainly to a university‘s own students, while some, like the Business Bridge program at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, cast a much wider net. Up to 40 percent of Bridge students may come from Dartmouth, with the rest representing 50 other colleges on average, from across the country.
TUCK’S BRIDGE PROGRAM NOW IN ITS 16TH YEAR
The Business Bridge program, now in its 16th year, holds two four-week sessions back to back that fulfill a particular need since Dartmouth still insists on a liberal arts education and doesn’t offer undergrad majors in business or any other professional tracks. “The problem is that the job market in the last 25 years has become more focused on students who have gotten business training and internships,” concedes Paul Doscher, Marketing Director for the Business Bridge program.
Despite the proliferation of summer programs in recent years, Tuck sees its only real competition as Stanford University’s program, and the job market, says Doscher. “In more prosperous days, students would not hesitate to turn down some jobs and come to Bridge because they had faith they would benefit and get better jobs eventually. The drop off in jobs has made students more cautious.”
Villanova’s Summer Business Institute, launched in 1997, consists of six courses, runs eight weeks and has the added cache of providing a business minor that gives students entry to more advanced finance or management courses in the business program. Villanova’s admissions criteria also tend to be less regimented, rejecting any specific GPA threshold and weighing SAT and ACT scores and students’ involvement in extra-curricular activities on campus. Students must also submit an essay on why they want to attend SBI and what their goals are, which range from a desire to better understand financial news to entrepreneurial aspirations, says Stover.
KENAN-FLAGLER NOW BOASTS AN ONLINE OPTION
Kenan-Flagler launched its Business Essentials program in 2009 and has so far enrolled nearly 600 students. Almost all of them are from other colleges at UNC and a majority of them do it between their junior and senior years, though a surprising number of them are graduates who already have jobs and just want the business acumen, says Kip Kelly, Kenan-Flagler’s Director of Marketing and Business Development.