June 5, 2023 | Estimated Read Time: 7 Minutes
By Kate Sitarz
Choosing what to study in college can feel overwhelming. Some people you talk to will tell you to follow your passion, while others will recommend you be more practical with your choice. Browsing college websites, you will see hundreds of majors you can study, making the decision even harder.
So, how do you choose the “right” area? And how do you ensure that whatever you choose will make sense to employers—and allow you to land a job?
The good news is there's no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing a business program with majors versus concentrations. Understanding the differences will help you better decide what makes most sense for you and your career goals.
College Concentrations Vs. Majors: What’s the Difference?
When it comes to the definitions of a major versus concentration, the difference is subtle. You’ll take the most classes in a given subject whether you choose a degree program with a concentration or major, but the total amount of classes you need to take to satisfy requirements will vary.
What Is a Major?
Traditionally a major is the broad area of study you choose to focus on in college. A major gives you the foundational knowledge to understand the basic concepts and theories involved in the practice of the field. Because of this, you take many classes related to your subject and concentrate most of your credits within this field. Typically, you need to take six to eight courses in your major to satisfy graduation requirements.
Minors are secondary subjects you can study that may or may not relate to your major. Usually, they are obtained by taking three additional courses, allowing you to explore other areas that interest you. For instance, a person studying business with a passion for film can earn a minor in film studies to better understand the field.
What Is a Concentration?
According to Wendy Murphy, the Associate Dean of the Undergraduate School and a professor of management at Babson College, “a concentration is a more focused path. It generally enables you to take a variety of courses in an area rather than just in one discipline. This gives you a broader base of knowledge to draw on while allowing you to take more electives in the area giving you more options.”
You generally need to take four courses in your concentration.
At Babson, we think of business as your specialization and your concentration as narrowing in further on a specific focus within business or liberal arts that interests you. So, for example, you may opt to have a concentration in marketing, business analytics, or environmental sustainability.
Note that some colleges may use concentrations and majors interchangeably, so you’ll want to ensure you understand what the requirements are for each specific school and what that means for your academic plan and career goals.
How to Determine the Best College Concentrations for Your Degree
Before you decide to choose a concentration, you’ll want to ask (and answer!) questions like:
- What classes did I enjoy most in high school?
- What classes did I enjoy least in high school?
- What kind of job do I want after graduation?
Answering these questions will help you narrow down areas you’d like to explore further. But Murphy also recommends leaning into the discovery process. “Follow your interests. Be open to the unexpected and pivot when something isn’t working the way you want it to work. Take some courses just for fun or try something different.”
By navigating all your options early in your career, you have more opportunities to try different classes. “A concentration gives you space to do that. It’s only four classes and you have other elective options,” Murphy says.
As an example, maybe your deepest desire is to go into financial services. But then you discover during your first internship it’s not quite what you expected. You still have plenty of time and opportunities to gain exposure to other areas of interest.
Do I Need to Choose a Concentration?
The short answer? No.
One of the major benefits of choosing a business degree that doesn’t require you to choose a major or a concentration is it doesn’t box you into any single area of business. “This allows students to explore different areas of interest without penalty,” Murphy says.
That means if you’re not sure what areas of business you may like most, you can take the time to explore all of them and find the areas that play to your strengths and interests.
According to Murphy, “25% of students don't concentrate at all [at Babson]. Instead, they use that time to explore areas of interest.”
What’s far more important than choosing a concentration is learning how to problem solve and think strategically. That’s why Murphy says Babson is so focused on educating the whole person. “Getting that classic liberal arts and sciences education alongside a business education means you will graduate with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. You have more creative possibilities for problem solving.”
According to Forbes, 93% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills are more important than your undergraduate field of study.
Will Choosing a Concentration Limit My Options?
One of the misconceptions about majors, minors, and college concentrations is that it will determine your career success. Choose the right major or concentration and you’re set. But that’s not how it plays out in real life. In fact, less than half of college graduates have a job in their major.
You may have an obvious career path with a certain concentration, but it doesn’t mean you’re stuck on that path. You can choose to take another path any time you like.
“Education is about having the opportunity to try on different areas and disciplines and gain different lenses on the world,” says Murphy. “It’s about discovering where you can make the best contribution given your skills, abilities, and interests.”
As Murphy says, you will bring those skills to your job whether you concentrate or not. “A concentration is a nice signal in the marketplace of a deeper interest, but it’s not the only way to signal that deeper interest,” she says. “You get broad exposure to industry professionals through other co-curricular activities on campus.”
She highlights the Stephen D. Cutler Center for Investments and Finance, where students can manage a portion of the Babson College endowment, and the International Consulting Experience where you and your team learn from in-country experts. “You can navigate your way through Babson and create a curriculum that supports your interests and future career goals.”
If you have chosen a concentration, it is an area to highlight on your resume, as well as relevant internship experience and experiential courses you’ve taken. Murphy also cites study abroad and consulting team projects as elements to highlight, encouraging students to present their experiences as a portfolio of work showing employers their skills and capabilities moving forward.
Why College Concentrations Work for Business Degrees
Because college concentrations require fewer courses than a major, you’re able to explore more areas of interest before even deciding on a concentration—or whether you want one. With a major having more requirements, you can feel pressure to declare one as soon as possible to ensure you meet requirements and graduate on time. But that leaves less room for exploration and experimentation—and may box you into a field you don’t actually love.
While most schools’ majors and minors are on a three-credit system, Babson is on a four-credit system. “That means more class time and deeper dives into topics, deeper relationships with faculty and peers, and more time in the classroom,” explains Murphy. “Building those relationships is a priority.”
At Babson, you also learn about business under the lens of entrepreneurial leadership. This thread throughout the curriculum means you’re learning to harness creative thinking and a different lens on the world.
That begins on day one. “One of the nice things about the Babson curriculum is that first-year students are given a broad base of exposure to all disciplines within the business school while concurrently learning critical thinking skills through liberal arts courses that enable students to apply skills in the curriculum later on,” says Murphy.
A key component of this is the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME) course. This course—taken by every Babson student—gives you hands-on experience running your own business. This exposes you to every part of business operations, from creating a business plan and marketing plan to financials to operations to the digital marketplace. “These aren’t deep dives,” explains Murphy. “But it’s enough to taste, experiment, learn, and try things on. And you can continue to try on various roles as you take core courses.”
Running a business—within the safety net of school—means you can experiment with the support of faculty, staff, and peer mentors. And you can figure out what you like and don’t like. At the end of the year you may realize you really love marketing or maybe you thought you’d love accounting but found operations fascinating.
At Babson, you can choose from 24 concentrations to create a business degree that works for you and adapt it for many different career paths and industries.
Murphy emphasizes the flexibility of the curriculum and how that offers students more options when it comes to landing jobs after graduation. “You see it in our outcomes. We don’t have huge numbers of students going to the same two or three companies.”
She points out that there are certainly companies that have a sizable Babson population, but that students really go everywhere and anywhere they want. “One or two may go to a boutique firm or entrepreneurship startup, some are a better fit for the culture at a midsize company,” she says as an example. “There is more variety in outcomes than you may find at other institutions.”
That’s a result of the career education that happens at Babson.
“The feedback we get from employers is that Babson graduates can hit the ground running in ways that graduates of other institutions can’t,” Murphy says. “They don’t have the same skill sets. They haven’t been interacting between concept and application the way our students have throughout their four years.”
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About the Author
Kate Sitarz is a copywriter and digital marketer with more than 10 years of experience helping startups, Fortune 500 companies, and every size business in between achieve their goals.