Jamie Noonan, a political science and philosophy major and rising junior at Villanova University, wanted the flexibility to be able to excel in any workplace, but felt that with dual majors rooted in the liberal arts, she lacked the requisite skills to do so. To remedy that, she turned to the school's Summer Business Institute, which immerses students in the intricacies of accounting, management, and marketing, among other topics, during six hour days over the course of 10 weeks.
Noonan's parents footed the $9,000 bill for the program, but she is confident their investment will yield a significant return. "Any job that you do, you're going to be working for a company that is trying to maximize profits," she says. "Just knowing how that system works, you can be a much better employee."
Villanova's program is celebrating its 15th anniversary this summer, and some programs have been in place much longer, such as the University of Virginia's McIntire Business Institute, which was the first of its kind when it launched in 1982. However, career and life coach Jim Weinstein notes that numerous summer business programs, including ones hosted at the University of California—Berkeley Haas School of Business and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, have been popping up in recent years to capitalize on a market of qualified college students and graduates who are having difficulty finding work, but don't want to fully commit to graduate school.
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The programs typically range from 4 to 10 weeks; most are offered only to students hailing from nonbusiness backgrounds and are available to recent college graduates or students enrolled at the host college or any other school. The bulk of what is taught is on par with material covered in introductory business courses at the undergraduate level.
"It's down in the trenches," says Brenda Stover, director of professional development and business institutes at the Villanova School of Business. "Students are not focusing on anything else but this business curriculum during the 10 weeks that they're here. They don't have jobs. They're not taking other courses."
And while the programs completely immerse students in business, students say instructors realize most students have limited business backgrounds and instruct accordingly. Though she's a history major at the University of Pennsylvania, rising junior Jesse Reich, who completed New York University's Stern Foundations: Business Essentials for Non-Business Students program this month, claims that the business professors understood how to frame the difficult concepts in ways that she could understand.
"Nonbusiness majors oftentimes truly need to start from the very beginning," she says. "The teachers had the perfect combination of teaching to those who had never taken a business class before while also covering an enormous amount of material."
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The programs cost between $4,000 and $10,000, a seemingly heavy price to pay for a new line on a résumé. School officials maintain that because many of the programs are attached to highly regarded schools, employers have been impressed by that new résumé entry. Jack Lindgren, director of the UVA's 4½ week McIntire Business Institute, says the program has had success in placing graduates in business positions, in part, because of the school's reputation.
Debra Woog, an M.B.A. career consultant, notes that employers might also be impressed with the impetus students demonstrate by enrolling in such a program while peers are spending college summers by the pool or on the golf course.
"With so many young, recent college graduates in the market looking for a job, employers need a way to distinguish among them," she says. "If nothing else, I think the effort it shows to participate in one of these programs can help people stand apart when they're one of hundreds or thousands of résumés coming in."