Perception vs reality in Business degree’s

Imagine walking into a new job with a feeling of intelligence and self-worth, within days this feeling is jarred from your ego and replaced by nothingness, confusion. You just completed your business degree and your perceived experience in the work force was much different. A feeling of being lost like you’re a young child learning to crawl again. Imagine every day is a new task that you haven’t faced that you’re expected to complete and have no idea how to complete it. Everyone around you seems calm and focused you are frantic and disheveled.

One of the common themes of Business undergraduates is they are underprepared for the work world. Undergraduates with higher GPAs also have higher employment rates, although this does necessarily mean they are the top performers in the work world. Students with higher GPAs may have an easier time applying concepts from the classroom, but still there is a very steep learning curve. When learning a new concept, the first thought is how is this going to be tested, instead of how it can improve an organization or business. In a way, students are sheltered from actual application or knowledge testing. For example, if you take a multiple choice test you are usually given four options, from which you are to select the correct answer. The idea behind this is to show your application of knowledge and select the best choice. Although, if you take a similar scenario outside of the university testing environment: there are no alternatives, you have to create and understand the possible solutions to problems. Select the correct solution, and you do not receive feedback on the quality of your decision for an extended period of time.

Students work very hard to get the best grades they can, in consequence of the time dedicated to learning technical skills, students can forget about the soft skills that need to be developed to succeed in the business world. Working in the accounting field as a student, you quickly realize that what you have learned in school doesn’t help you as much as you thought. Many of the business terms used while working in the accounting field were understood, but the work itself seemed foreign. Many of the concepts learned in school seem to be much easier than what was experienced in the work world. The concepts are easy to apply in the classroom because there are in an ideal scenario never the case in the work world.

Being in the school of business does not necessarily equip you with the skills to do business, it is the study of business and how it works, which means you won’t necessarily know how to be a good businessman. This is the misconception about university that many people believe.  Working hard does not always lead to success. Networking and great negotiation skills also play a big role in a successful businessman. The perception of students in university is that what they are learning will help them succeed outside of school, although the reality is, university serves as more of a foundation then the actual structure to a business professionals success. The foundation is very important, although university should not be relied on solely to propel a student into the workforce. In many cases university students do rely solely on the classroom component of their development, which creates a one-dimensional individual. The university student lacks essential skills of person-to-person communication, salesmanship, as well as critical thinking skills.

There are several reasons for this, to start, students are under immense pressure to perform in the classroom. In many cases, entry-level positions will ask for a transcript detailing courses taken and grades received. Students see this as one of the factors they can control in landing a job, and in many cases put much of their focus on pursuing the highest grades possible. In the process of trying to get a high GPA, the focus is taken off of learning and directed towards test taking. This results in memorization and short-term performance, in sacrifice of long-term intelligence development. This issue is not solely to blame on the students. In the classroom, the professors main focus is the curriculum and the syllabus. Rarely will a professor go outside the curriculum. There could be several reasons for this; lack of time, lack of knowledge, or a general disinterest.

The reality is that the attitude of most professors is “If you can’t test it, why teach it”. There is a general obsession with curriculum’s, exams, and grades when the perception of university is that you go there to learn and develop as a person. Unfortunately, in many of the classes this perception is not achieved and you merely receive a letter grade.

Walt Disney, founder of the Walt Disney Company. Dropped out of high school at 16.

North America has fallen in love with the quantification of knowledge, we have IQ tests, GPA’s, and many other measures for how smart someone is. The reality is it is very hard to quantify someone’s knowledge because different individuals bring different assets to the table. Many of the most success people never earned a college degree. A look at the company IDEO shows the value of bring different assets and thinkers to the table to create a substantial product, the video below walks you through there idea generation process.

Another reason for the unprepared graduate is the label as a student, and not a developing professional. In today’s world a degree is an absolute requirement for many professions. Many students enroll in university and enter the business faculty because of its general applicability to many of the current jobs available. Although, there is a limited focus on actually developing these professional skills. There are resources for students to develop their skills such as University clubs, networking events, workshops and information sessions. Students know these particular activities are useful, and will be helpful for their future as a professional but many fail to attend, usually citing the reason of “I don’t have time” for those things. This statement is arguably contradictory, many students attend university with the intention to become professionals and ultimately to increase their earning potential. So the lack of involvement in such events hinders their success as future professionals.

Students are more worried about school work then expanding their network and meeting potential future employers. In reality, grades will be irrelevant without a proper network and the ability to sell yourself. The weight of being an exceptional student hinders individuals in reaching their fullest potential as a professional. In undergraduate business studies specifically, many students have a desire to work in an office or run their own business. Taking this into account, GPA will not be a great indicator of future success.

Mark Suchman proposed a theory that legitimacy creates a gap between perceived effort to get success and actual success“Legitimacy is a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions”(Suchman, 1995: 574).

“Legitimacy is a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions”


The student’s perception in university is ultimately hindering their success. Much of this relates to Suchman’s theory. Students solely pursuing high GPAs are actually pursuing the perceived success instead of actual success. Student’s with high GPAs show an ability to dedicate themselves to something but are not necessarily the best professionals.  In fact, this perceived success can be detrimental, to students who are used to applying their knowledge in test environments that have or have not developed the skills necessary to demonstrate their knowledge in a social environment. This can come as a shock to individuals who in the past have been able to demonstrate their knowledge very successfully in the testing environment.

The reality is, the world is not as black and white as the university grading system and a variety of skills are needed to become a successful professional. The social norms of the university student often limit the individual from attaining these skills. The norms of a student are to study, have a job, and receive a degree at the end of their four years of studying. Although, this degree will be merely be a piece of paper without the development of additional soft skills. This is achieved through adhering from student norms and putting effort towards becoming a professional and a well-rounded individual instead of just a student.

There is a perception of university as the holy grail, the place you go for four years get your business degree and hop in your Mercedes-Benz immediately after convocation. This perception like many others is laden with the bleak promise of no promise at all. The reality is Business degree graduates have the third highest unemployment behind architecture and the arts, with many employed individuals holding a job different from their major. The reality is we are in economic downturn; low skilled individuals can’t be brought into most business. Business’ do not have capital to train inexperienced individuals.

The companies that do have the necessary resources to train graduates often have a very competitive recruitment and hiring process, and only hire the top candidates. So what if you are not one of those top candidates. What if you had to pay for your tuition and lived on your own, requiring a large amount of work hours and giving you less time to study.

In order to get the most out of university, students must put an emphasis on these soft skills, additional to academics. One of the ways of achieving this is through the university. The university can put on workshops, fund student groups and clubs and give resources to help a student plan their career. Though, it is up to the students to use these services and a majority of students don’t.

Another option that might be more effective is having a work experience requirement to complete a commerce degree. In 2002, the school of business at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB) in Belton, Texas adopted a work experience requirement in order to graduate, “All undergraduate students with a business major [are] required to acquire at least 300 hours of practical work experience that [is] closely related to their academic field of study prior to graduation”. The result of this requirement was “90% of the responding alumni believe that this practical requirement is a good idea, has been valuable to them and should be enhanced and continued”. Additionally, participants who responded to surveys said the work experience requirement “taught me about customer service, gave me self-confidence, taught me about time management, and taught me how to take constructive criticism”. These skills are essential to becoming a quality professional and having a successful career.

Taking into account the cost of co-op programs, universities can put the responsibility of finding jobs on the students, but providing resources such as resume reviews and job boards to facilitate the recruiting process. Hours requirements should take into account market conditions, as this could have an effect on the student’s chances of landing a job. The addition of having a work experience requirement will give prestige to the business degree, and create more well-rounded graduates.

Although the suggestion noted above would be ideal, it would take a large financial investment from universities and most are not willing to do so. So what is a recent graduate or current University student left to do. Three words:“Believe in yourself”.

“Believe in yourself”.

Yes it may sound optimistic or cliche but you will never get anywhere without complete belief in your ability to find a way to succeed. You must immerse yourself in the process of bettering your craft and developing yourself as an individual. Your focus should be on providing value to others. you will never have to worry about employment or income generation. If you make this your focus as a life long journey to bring value to the world, you will outperform and individual with a four-year plan. Be truthful to yourself about your efforts and strategies to achieve your goals in your career and you will go very far.






  1. This is excellent – very insightful, thank you. I’ve read that the education system is broken, in such a way that we continue to pump out graduates who are carbon copies of each other into a world that evolves faster than ever before! We do need to help to develop curricula to encourage creativity and free thinking, so people can find out their strengths and how to apply them! Knowledge is only power, with application!

    1. Thank you for the comment, the post came from absolute frustration in the current education system. I do belive there are alternatives to education although they won’t be able to be demonstrated until there is a change in thinking in the decision makers.

  2. Grades and standardized testing = doom. I remember when SAT scores and college acceptances/rejections came around, everyone was inquisitive. I wish things were different. The worst part is, studying is like a remember-then-forget sequence. Most of the time, students just concentrate on the exams and forget the information after unless the course is part of a series. The only course I truly enjoyed was the Classical Greek language besides a few environmental science classes. I don’t even apply 90% of my coursework at work. If we focused more on training, maybe we would be able to produce efficient workers and quickly advance as a society and fix the multitude of issues!

    1. By the way, thank you for the wonderful post; If only we weren’t so competitive in and even getting into the workplace would we be able to help each other out and improve!

    2. Thank you for your insight!What was your major and what is your current occupation? I am interested in other degrees path to the workforce and how the university can experience can be increased as a whole. Thanks again for your comments and kind words!

      1. I was an environmental science major and I’m working as a certification coordinator. Also, it was a BA but many people think I did lots of hard core science. But it definitely helped me grasp a lot of the world’s problems and how we are connected with our environment in every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately it was not a ‘popular’ major since many people went into the core sciences.

        Most people at my university go as bio majors but drop because of organic chemistry so it’s interesting to see how diversity sprouts from there. Other than that, I learned Classics majors tend to be more analytical in different aspects than engineers, yet there aren’t that many jobs for them. It seems the whole ‘major’ concept needs to be redefined as well. Perhaps prospective students should be free to choose rather than have limitations and time restrictions to complete certain courses.

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