Business Boot Camps Cater to Students Versed in Proust, Not Price Points
Reposted from The Chronicle of Higher Education | By Katherine Mangan
After graduating from Smith College in May with degrees in architecture and Italian studies, Stephanie Strenta decided that what stood between her and her dream job was a basic grasp of business.
So like a growing number of liberal-arts and sciences majors, she performed a cost-benefit analysis and decided that a summer business boot camp was a sound investment.
This month she completed a four-week program at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, where, for just under $10,000, she got a crash course in accounting, marketing, management, and leadership. The Business Bridge Program also helped her hone her interviewing skills, polish her résumé, and tap into alumni networks.
Programs like Tuck's are booming this summer as business schools cash in on the anxieties of today's college students and graduates, who are confronting one of the worst job markets in memory.
Among the universities offering similar programs are Southern Methodist, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Villanova, Wake Forest, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. Many of the programs report record numbers of applicants, especially among younger students hoping to get a jump-start on securing an internship.
Tuck's program offers two summer sessions, each for about 130 students. The 15-year-old program has in the past appealed mostly to rising seniors and recent graduates, but in the last two years, students who have just completed their sophomore year make up about a third of the class.
Ms. Velez, who is younger than most participants in the summer business program, says it will give her an edge in competing for internships.
"People are starting earlier in their quest for a job," says Paul Doscher, director of marketing for the program. "They realize that in this job market, you need every advantage you can get."
He describes the workload as "a fire hose every day" with workshops extending through lunch. "These are M.B.A. faculty and content. It's not watered down for undergraduates."
Persuading students to pay $9,600 for tuition, books, and on-campus housing often requires appealing to parents, as Tuck did on its Web site: "Consider that hundreds of thousands of students with college degrees flood the job market every year," it said. "Bridge grads are better able to get a job they love in a top firm or nonprofit because they speak the language of business. They have skills employers want."
Ms. Strenta had worked as an intern for an interior-design shop before enrolling at Tuck.
"I found that the part I really liked wasn't necessarily picking the fabric, but working with people and making sales," she says. Some of her friends at Smith initially gave her a hard time for choosing a more corporate direction for her career, but she remained undeterred.
She says she's confident that the skills and contacts she's getting at Tuck will help her land a job in marketing or advertising.
Some career counselors urge caution before jumping into a business-skills program. Students should first calculate "the return on investment," says Kate Brooks, director of career services for the University of Texas at Austin's College of Liberal Arts.
"It's a great idea to combine a liberal-arts degree with some business knowledge, but most of the time, that can be done during the regular four-year curriculum," she says. Students can go online to learn some business skills, like working with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and universities like hers offer basic business classes like marketing and accounting to nonbusiness majors. "If an employer is truly looking for an accountant, a boot camp isn't going to compensate for that," Ms. Brooks says.
Spending Money to Make Money
But students who are flocking to summer programs say a grounding in business skills boosts their confidence going into job interviews.
Villanova University's 10-week Summer Business Institute, which gives the university's liberal-arts students a chance to earn a business minor, attracted a record 130 students this year—up from 94 students last year. A few students from outside Villanova enroll each year and earn a business certificate.
The $9,000 price tag includes tuition, books, the use of a laptop computer, and a subscription to The Wall Street Journal. Students living on campus pay extra. Like Tuck, Villanova is finding that students are applying earlier; more than half of this summer's students just completed their sophomore year.
Some are even younger. Michelle Velez, a rising sophomore, learned about the program during her campus tour. "My dad elbowed me and said, 'You should do that.' He's an accountant," says Ms. Velez, who plans a double major in environmental science and Spanish.
"It's hard finding an internship as a freshman, but this program will give me an edge next time I apply."
Asked what was the hardest aspect of the program, she replied: "Knowing in the back of your mind that all of your friends are going out to the beach while you're sitting inside studying."
But she says the experience has been worth it. "A few weeks ago, I didn't know anything about finance and accounting, and now I can write a cash-flow statement."
Two different groups of liberal-arts students are sweating it out at boot camps at Wake Forest University this summer. In addition to a four-week program, mostly for rising seniors, the university offers a 10-month master of arts in management that begins with an intensive five-week immersion in business skills. The program is geared toward recent liberal-arts, science, and engineering graduates.
"At Wake Forest, we believe the pursuit of liberal arts is important, but students shouldn't be punished in the job market because they're an English major," says Matthew Merrick, senior associate dean for students at the business school. "Having this 10-month immersion in business, with one-on-one attention from the career office, gives students a huge advantage."
Wake Forest is one of several institutions, including the University of Florida, Duke University, and Claremont McKenna College, that offer such business master's programs designed for students with a background in the liberal arts.
Students shell out more than $40,000 for Wake Forest's 10-month program ($60,000 with living expenses included). Enrollment has grown from a dozen students in 2005 to about 100 this year. Wake Forest officials say 86 percent of 2010 graduates had jobs six months after graduation, and the mean starting salary was $49,453 (not including signing bonuses).
That compares with a national average of about $40,000 for graduates of four-year programs in the humanities and social sciences, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Back at Tuck, Ms. Strenta says her summer program "has prepared me to face the uncertainty of the job market" while giving her a new network of peers to cheer her on along the way.