When starting out on the journey towards university, most students start looking at either the big picture, or the finer details.
Some are more concerned with specific universities. This may be because of reputation, location or family history. Others are more interested in nailing down exactly what course they want to study, and will then start searching through the UCAS website to find the right one for them. They are less concerned about which university the ideal course happens to be at.
In this article, we’re going to look at the middle ground which both types of searcher have to look into at some point – picking the right academic school or department for you.
Every university is split into schools, faculties or both, with each overseeing courses that fit under the same broad umbrella of subjects. These may then be split further into more specialised departments. For example, at Birmingham City University, our Business School sits within the same faculty as the Law and Social Sciences Schools.
These schools, and the services they offer, may be more important to your university experience than you had initially considered, so below we’re going to detail the key features you should keep an eye out for when choosing the right business school for you, whether that be at Birmingham City University or beyond.
This may be the most important thing of all to look into when researching potential business schools. Governing bodies can recognise both academic schools and individual courses, so their accreditations are a clear indication if the courses at any given business school are up to industry standards.
If a course has accreditations, they should be clearly identifiable on their websites or prospectuses. This may not always be the case, since some new courses won’t gain accreditation straight away and some subject areas do not have professional accrediting bodies. However, if you don’t find them on the course page, see if the business school itself has a dedicated accreditations page – failing that, it’s worthwhile dropping the university a line to find out. If a university course does have this industry recognition, it’s a good sign that you’re looking at a high quality degree which is relevant to the needs of the industry or profession.
A few accreditations to look out for include:
- Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS)
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
- Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA)
- Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
- Chartered Management Institute (CMI)
- Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
You have probably scoped out the accommodation and campus of each of the universities you’re considering, but it’s also worth looking into what facilities are available to you that are specific to a business school. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about business courses, as they aren’t as dependent on specialist equipment as creative or engineering courses, but some universities have invested in industry-standard equipment for courses that can benefit from them.
For example, if you are interested in finance and investment courses, having access to the same trading software that is used in industry is vital - otherwise you will have to get familiar with them after graduation. Some business schools may even have a bespoke trading room, to get you even more comfortable with how things operate in the real world.
Going even further than that, a big positive for those looking to graduate with a lot of experience are business schools with in-house work experience opportunities. For business students, this may take the form of a business incubator, where you can get help and support to start growing your business ideas even before you graduate. Likewise, Marketing students will benefit from any business school with their own student-led marketing agency that works with real clients.
Alongside facilities offered on-campus, it is also worth keeping in mind a business school’s geographical location, for more than one reason. Firstly, it’s worth looking for any information the school offers about their connections to local businesses. Business schools will naturally want to have good relations with the businesses on their door step – it can mean placement and job opportunities for students, and allow for industry experts from the local area to come to the university to give talks.
But thinking further ahead, a university located in an area with a lot of businesses means you as a student have a better chance of both gaining experience during your course, and landing a job following graduation, especially if you intend to stay in the same area once your course is finished. Do some research into local businesses related to the course you’d like to study, and it may become apparent that some areas have larger numbers in some industries than others, which could sway your decision.
Speaking of placements, it’s worth considering if taking a sandwich or professional placement year during your course to get industry experience is right for you. If you feel you could benefit from one, it’s definitely worth looking for business schools that offer them.
Graduating with not only your academic skills but also work experience can put you ahead of a lot of other graduates when looking for a job after you graduate. Furthermore, make sure you look into other employability services offered by your business school – do they have a dedicated careers team who can help you gain those non-academic skills, such as interview prep and CV writing?
Another aspect of university life you may not have thought to look into is the teaching staff. On a course page, you may get a small sampling of the key lecturers on a course, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. But it is worth looking into, as it can really show the overall strength of a department.
Business schools want not only the best teachers, but also individuals with major experience in the field. The greater the number of teaching staff that have actual industry experience to call on, the higher the probability of the course being more up-to-date and relevant to current professional practice. And from a student point of view, who better to learn from than someone who has held major positions in industry - roles you yourself may one day want to hold?
Another related area to look into is the research areas the business school operates in. These research clusters are predominantly made up of staff and postgraduate students, so may not be immediately relevant to undergraduate students, but they can point towards the subject areas the school specialises in. If they have a large and prominent management research cluster, that usually means they have a strong teaching base in that area.