The Ross School of Business is located on Tappan Avenue, in a building so large, orange and modern that it almost looks as though it was intentionally designed to differentiate itself from the rest of campus. The inside — filled with hanging artwork, glass windows that flood the space with natural light and small study rooms each equipped with audio-visual equipment — looks nothing like Lorch Hall down the street, or Mason Hall a few blocks away. When I visited the University as a prospective student, this was intensely obvious to me.
Last winter semester, I was one of a handful of people in my Economics 101 class who had no intention of applying to the Business School. One day in discussion section, as my class and I waited for class to begin, I listened as students detailed their concerns that, if they didn’t get into Ross, they wouldn’t have anything else to study at the University. Trying to be helpful, I offered economics, statistics and communications studies as possible alternatives. “No,” one student told me. They had no intention of staying in LSA. If they didn’t get into Ross, they would be applying to the Ford School of Public Policy, another exclusive “special program.”
Happy to have found someone who I thought might’ve shared my interested in politics, I excitedly asked what kind of policy they were interested in. Oops, I had again misread my classmate. As it turned out, they weren’t really interested in policy at all.
And that kind of made me wonder — out of the probably hundreds of people in my class who were applying to the Business School, how many were interested in business? Not business as a high-powered career and a perceived path to a high starting salary. Not business as a major that might provide added benefits like an intense recruiting process, a shiny, high-tech class building or a closer community of students also in their major. But rather, how many of these students were interested in the major for the skills and lessons it might provide? How many of them even knew, beyond what they had been told in mass meetings and read on the Ross website, what those skills were?
There’s no doubt that the Business School, ranked fourth in the country in 2014, is an excellent program. Likewise, there’s no doubt that Business School graduates are highly desired by employers — 92 percent of 2014 graduates were offered a job by graduation. But, if a student finds themself in the program for the wrong reasons, the overall strength of the program won’t make up for the missed opportunity to study something about which they were truly passionate.
So to freshmen considering applying to Ross, do your best to ensure that you’re doing so for the right reasons. You’ll do the best at the thing you’re most passionate about. The ability to demonstrate that passion and commitment — not to mention show off the higher grades that often follow true engagement with coursework — will likely get you a whole lot further in the job market than a BBA degree and Ross-sponsored networking opportunities. I can personally tell you that I’ve found a lot of incredible internships and opportunities as an LSA student. If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, this is the time to find out — but don’t settle for a major just because it’s highly ranked, likely to get you a job or housed in a pumpkin-colored architectural masterpiece.
While it’s important that students do some serious introspection before choosing a major, it would be unwise to ignore the many ways in which University action has nudged students toward programs that they may not truly be academically interested in.
The Business School also offers so many resources to its students that students from other majors usually don’t have access to. For example, Ross-affiliated student organizations can get access to special funding, and can use Ross facilities for meetings and events. Meanwhile, non-affiliated groups have to pay to use University facilities. The Business School also holds a professional recruiting process that is generally restricted to Ross students — though other students can pay a fee to participate. Many Ross students also participate in student organizations explicitly restricted to or mostly filled with other Ross students, providing an added sense of community. Due to the exclusivity of the school, it’s completely understandable that many students might apply to the Business School, even if they’re unsure whether the program is right for them.
In some cases, similar resources are available to general LSA students. It’s certainly possible for them to get career guidance and ad-hoc funding for student organizations. However, while smaller special programs can offer a more centralized and structured approach to connect students with resources, LSA students are often on their own. For example, while professional planning and recruitment is heavily emphasized for Ross students, 36.8 percent of unemployed recent LSA graduates didn’t begin their job search until after graduation. The Career Center can provide resources to help students find a job, but they have to seek that guidance out on their own.
The University has a responsibility to ensure that the perceived (or actual) inequality of experiences or resources between LSA and special programs like the Business School is not contributing to students’ decisions to pursue any given major. When students decide to attend the University of Michigan, most do so with the expectation that they will receive a world-class education in whatever they choose to study. Once they arrive on campus, they deserve the freedom to decide what that subject is without feeling constrained by a disparity in available opportunities. By striving to provide a uniform quality of experience and opportunity to all students, the University can surely make progress toward that end.
Victoria Noble can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.