High School Students Interested in Business: What You Need to Know

Padya Paramita

High School Students Interested in Business: What You Need to Know

Business is the most common college major in the United States. Last year, “Business” was the #1 most popular major in America. 289,384 business degrees were awarded, almost double the next most popular major. Undergraduate business programs appeal to students of all genders, races, ethnicities, and nationalities. As a result, the competition is also tough. To help you figure out what you need to succeed over other high school students interested in business, I’ve included the list of top undergraduate business schools, extracurricular and leadership expectations, top business summer programs, and finally, how to gear your supplemental essay towards explaining your interest in the world of business.

Who Might Study Business?

When we think about high school students interested in business, we might refer to students eager about any of the following:

  • Business
  • Economics 
  • Finance
  • Marketing/Sales
  • Management/Leadership
  • Operations
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Accounting
  • HR
  • Statistics
  • International Business
  • Supply Chain Management

Students may choose to attend specific undergraduate business colleges or pursue one of these majors at any other university. 

School List

Top students should aim for the best undergraduate business schools. Many students prefer studying business in undergrad rather than waiting for an MBA or majoring in economics due to the real-world, hands-on experiences these programs provide. Business students are prepared to take on practical challenges from the very first year in programs like USC Marshall’s experiential learning, travel, and mentorship programs. Below is a list of US News’ Top 20 Undergraduate Business Programs across the United States, along with their locations.

Rank School Location
1 University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Philadelphia, PA
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) Cambridge, MA
3 University of California Berkeley (Haas) Berkeley, CA
3 University of Michigan (Ross) Ann Arbor, MI
5 New York University (Stern) New York, NY
5 University of Texas — Austin (McCombs) Austin, TX
7 Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) Pittsburgh, PA
7 Cornell University (Johnson) Ithaca, NY
7 University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) Chapel Hill, NC
7 University of Virginia (Darden) Charlottesville, VA
11 Indiana University — Bloomington (Kelley) Bloomington, IN
12 Emory University (Goizueta) Atlanta, GA
12 University of Notre Dame (Mendoza) Notre Dame, IN
12 University of Southern California (Marshall) Los Angeles, CA
12 Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) St. Louis MO
16 Georgetown University (McDonough) Washington, DC
16 Ohio State University — Columbus (Fisher) Columbus, OH
16 University of Wisconsin — Madison Madison, WI
19 Georgia Institute of Technology (Scheller) Atlanta, GA
19 University of Illinois — Urbana Champaign (Gies) Champaign, IL

You might notice that the rankings include schools you might not expect to see among top universities, such as Indiana University. Not only do almost all of Kelley’s students graduate in 4 years, but 93% of the class of 2018 reported that they were either employed or enrolled in graduate school within three months of graduation. If you are looking for strong business programs specifically, look past preconceived notions of top schools because programs like Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business are definitely ones to consider. 

Remember, your school list should always be balanced with reach, fit, and safety schools. One good way you can choose is by narrowing down the focus of the sector of business you want to study, whether it is finance, sales & marketing, management and administration, or international business. All of the top schools are ranked highly for a reason. Apply to undergraduate business schools where you feel that your style of learning and specific interests can thrive.   

Benefits of Undergraduate Business Schools After Graduation

Graduates from undergraduate business schools are also more likely to get employed quicker than graduates from different departments at the same university. For example 98% of UMich Ross BBA graduates receive job offers upon 3 months of graduation, which is significantly higher than those at the other University of Michigan schools. 

Undergraduate business school graduates also generally earn higher salaries immediately after graduation. The average salary for Wharton graduates in 2017 was approximately $80,000 compared to an average early career salary of $72,000 by non-business school graduates. Tepper School graduates’ early salaries started at $82,216, compared to Carnegie Mellon’s average starting salary of $75,500. Over at NYU, Stern graduates’ earnings began at $78,300 while the graduates from the rest of the school made a starting salary of around $53,500

Why Is Business So Popular?

You might be curious as to why business has consistently been the most popular major since the 70s. In general, majoring in business opens up job prospects sooner. Graduates might be able to find consulting jobs as soon as they finish undergrad, and ass a result, there is higher earning potential straight out of college. Because business courses teach a wide range of skills, students have flexible career path options—business is a practical major that can be applied in any industry. Students might also apply for the practical experience in college as there are a growing number of hands-on opportunities in the classroom.

Potential Career Paths for High School Students Interested in Business

Students who have graduated with business majors have gone on to the following industries:

  • Management Consulting - Bain, McKinsey, BCG, etc
  • Finance - investment banking, private equity, venture capital, trading, etc. 
  • Marketing/sales
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Accounting
  • Operations
  • Startups
  • HR 

You could also join the business side of an entertainment company or even a law firm. Really, you can do anything you’d like! 

How to Succeed in High School

There are several qualities that admissions officers look for in applicants interested in business:

  • Academics: Quantitative and analytical aptitude
  • Clear and focused interest within business
  • Demonstrated excellence in business-related activities 
  • Strong evidence of leadership 
  • Effective communication skills — written and verbal 


There are several ways you could show your potential to succeed as a business major. 

You might bring a competitive SAT/ACT score, specifically, a competitive Math section score - (750+ for top schools). Students at schools like Wharton are also at the top of their high school class - usually the top 5-10%. You should take rigorous classes such as AP Calc BC or above and AP Micro/Macro a plus if offered. You should of course score well on your APs, particularly aiming for 5’s on Math-related APs should help you. Lastly if you have impressive academic honors such as National Honor Society, AP Scholar, etc. that is certainly a bonus.

Extracurriculars and Leadership

High school students interested in business should go beyond the classroom to showcase how they’re invested in the field. Undergraduate business schools are looking for applicants with mature, proven interests in business to fill their coveted spots. Take advantage of extracurricular opportunities to really stand out among your peers. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Start Your Own Business: A significant amount of high school students interested in business have now started launching their own company, selling a product or a service which in turns boosts their college application. There are several steps involved in the process. These are:
  • Brainstorming your business
  • Market research
  • Setting a price
  • Executing your business
  • Publicizing your business
  • Gathering funds

            If you’ve got the time and you’re truly passionate about introducing a new product or service in the market, this can be a great place to get started with gaining industry experience. You can find out more about each of the steps in our how to start a business in high school blog.

            • Start A Non-Profit: If starting your own business isn’t feasible right now, or you want your profile to reflect a more philanthropic side, why not start your own non-profit? The easiest place to start is by looking at your own community. What are some facilities that need developing in your neighborhood? Is there a technology that your school lacks? What is something you’ve always been passionate about but don’t have access to in your area? Ask yourself questions to narrow down your interests and solicit information from members in your community to find out what initiative you can start to stand out as a resourceful leader.
            • Enter Business or Entrepreneurial Competitions:  If you know as early as sophomore or junior year that you want to study business for undergrad, consider business or entrepreneurship competitions, which let your creative and entrepreneurial side shine. Blue Ocean and the Diamond Challenge are two of the biggest competitions for high school students interested in business. If you’re interested in the environment as well as business, consider the GENIUS Olympiad, which might be a good fit. 
            • Find a Job: Admissions officers at undergraduate business programs appreciate knowing you’re hardworking and responsible. An effective way to demonstrate that you would bring these traits to their school would be by seeking a job or internship at a firm — or even elsewhere. While working for a year or two under your belt isn’t required for college applications, undergraduate business school admissions officers appreciate candidates who have spent time gaining hands-on experience in the real world. You might also want to earn money while you’re at it. You can use websites such as Indeed and Simply Hired to take a look at positions especially delegated for high school students.

              Summer Programs

              Since top undergraduate business schools are highly selective, you need to figure out a unique route to stand out. One way to distinguish yourself from other high school students interested in business is to take advantage of business summer programs hosted by prestigious institutions. Some of the most competitive ones are:

              • Launch X: Launch X should be your go-to if you wish to make your own start-up. Launch X is a program that helps young entrepreneurs conceptualize and get their own startups in motion. If you’ve got an idea that you’d like to develop but don’t have the resources for executing, Launch X can guide you there. The program operates from MIT, Northwestern, and the University of Michigan. Launch X provides students with mentorship that encourages them to make a positive impact on the world, deal with challenges, as well as practice conflict-resolution and teamwork skills. In terms of admission, the committee looks for students who are ambitious and driven, excited to discover innovative opportunities, and ready to conduct market research.
              • Wharton Leadership in the Business World: If you’re a strong student interested in studying business, you probably have your eyes set on the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Here’s your chance to show further commitment not only to the field of business, but to Wharton itself, by participating in its summer program: the Wharton Leadership in the Business World. You’ll have the chance to engage in classroom discussions and learn from Wharton faculty. Often at university-organized summer programs, actual professors don’t teach the courses. This is definitely a factor that distinguishes Wharton over the others because while still in high school, you’ll receive a unique opportunity to attend lectures by people who could end up as your future professors! You’ll also have the chance to network with executives as well as hone your leadership skills through team-based projects. Leadership in the Business World also helps you work on collaboration skills with your peers, and organizes cultural and social activities each weekend so you can get to know them outside the classroom.
              • NYU Summer at Stern: Summer at Stern is among the more course-heavy programs. This NYU experience helps you build a core understanding of business concepts. Stern’s world-renowned faculty supports rising high school juniors and seniors in navigating key concepts of business that cover accounting, finance, economics, marketing, and psychology. Students enrolled in Summer at Stern are required to take two Stern Courses:“Business and Investments” and “Behavioral Economics and the Science of Decision Making.” These courses introduce you to key business concepts at a college level. Attending Summer at Stern can also help give you a feel of what college would be like as a business student with exposure to the global business hub that is New York City.
              • Berkeley Business Academy for Youth: The Berkeley Business Academy for Youth, also known as B-BAY, is a college prep program for aspiring entrepreneurs hosted by UC Berkeley’s Haas School. You’ll have the chance to connect with Haas professors and guest speakers, and attend talks on leadership, entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, game theory, and more. B-BAY also allows students to conduct their own independent research, team up with peers to create a comprehensive business plan, and at the end of the program, present their efforts. Alongside attending business-related sessions, you’ll also have the chance to talk to admissions advisors from Haas and UC Berkeley Undergraduate Admissions. They lead an interactive session for B-BAY students to help them better understand the domestic and international college admissions process and how to apply to the UCs. You’ll also have an opportunity to get a head start on how to approach and answer the UC personal insight questions, so if Haas is on your list, definitely consider B-BAY.

              Supplemental Essays

              High school students interested in business will likely apply to multiple schools. For each school you apply to, make sure that your supplemental essays are as specific as possible to each program. Thoroughly research what makes each school unique — whether it is the sunny Los Angeles setting of Marshall or the chance to work with a particular professor at Wharton. It can be tempting to want to take a lazier route and make one or two tweaks to each essay before sending to different schools. Do not fall for this. Each of these schools have distinguishing features. Let’s take a look at a couple of business-specific prompts.

              Georgetown University

              The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.

              The McDonough School wants to know how you hope to benefit from a business degree from Georgetown specifically. They want to know what you want from a business degree at this stage — how will you take advantage of Georgetown’s hands-on opportunities? What impact have you made on your community and what are you bringing to the classroom? How will you add to the diversity of your cohort?

              The word limit allows you to go into details about discovering your love for not just business, but your specific interest in the discipline. Whether it’s marketing or accounting, ask yourself questions to start brainstorming exactly what motivates you. Was there one instance that catalyzed your passion and goals? How have you explored the subject of your interest since then? How has your curiosity about the topic grown? The majority of your essay should be dedicated to tying your interest in with what McDonough has to offer. Note which professor you can’t wait to learn from or a class that stands out to you on your way to becoming a future entrepreneur.

              Babson College

              Your moment has arrived. Share with us the moments or experiences that have led you to apply to Babson College.

              You can respond to this prompt with a 500-word-essay or a one-minute video. The admissions office states that there is no preference for either format, so you can really play to your strengths here. If you are a filmmaker or a strong public speaker, you can choose the video route. If you prefer to reflect on your background and interests through writing, you may choose the essay. 

              Whichever you choose, make sure your supplement brings out the leader in you. Since Babson is business-specific, the admissions officers are asking you what appeals to you about Babson, not only as a business school, but in the unique opportunities it offers. You have to be as detailed as possible in talking about what led you to the decision to apply to Babson. You could talk about the first time you heard about a specific course, or how your campus visit affected your decision. Whatever the answer, make sure your individuality shines through in your application so that admissions officers can understand just how suited you would be for their institution.

              High school students interested in business should work hard to convey that they have got what it takes to succeed in the field long-term. As a result, it’s best to prepare starting as early as you can. Think about your specific interests in business and go all out. Start your own company, apply to summer programs, help out your community. Your profile will be automatically if you are genuinely passionate and put yourself out there. You’ve got this!

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