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The 10 Top Things You’ll Learn At Business School, According to Students

Business school can teach you a wide range of soft and technical skills. Find out which ones students consider the most important

Fri Oct 20 2023

Business school teaches you far more than just how to calculate tax returns. According to a recent GMAC report, soft skills comprise most of the top abilities that students want to learn on business programs. 

The 2023 Enrolled Students Survey received responses from over 660 participants, either currently or recently enrolled in graduate management education, representing 192 business schools from 36 different countries. 

As part of the survey, students were asked to state which knowledge or skills they believed were the most necessary for business school graduates to possess for current job openings. 

Here's what they said. 

What are the top 10 skills? 

The report found the top-rated business skill to be interpersonal skills, with 53% of students considering it the most important attribute to pick up during their business education. 

As a close second, 50% of students rated communication skills as desirable to learn, while 48% cited learning, motivation, and leadership. 

Interestingly, these top three skills coincide with a 2023 corporate recruiters survey, which found that interpersonal and verbal communication skills are amongst the most sought-after by business employers. 

Coming in at number four was decision making, with 47% of students highlighting its importance, followed by the more technical skills of strategy and innovation, and data analysis and interpretation (45%).

This also corresponds with the corporate recruiters survey, which found data analysis to be one of the most desirable tech skills for business school graduates to possess. 

In seventh place, 42% of respondents said they valued a knowledge of business functions, while a further 37% of respondents considered managing human capital to be the most important skill. Following closely were business ethics (36%), and administrative activities (34%). 

However, there were differences between the responses given by MBA and business masters students.

For masters students, the number one skill they felt it was important to learn was communication (58%), followed by interpersonal skills, and data analysis and interpretation.

Conversely, MBA students rated interpersonal skills first (54%), with decision making coming in second (50%). 

Tied for third were communication and learning, motivation, and leadership, with 49% of MBA students considering them important.

How well-prepared do students feel in these skills? 

While most business school students reported feeling sufficiently set up with these top skills for future employment, there were still differences in preparedness between the disciplines. 

The strongest subject areas were business ethics and leadership, with 82% of students stating that they felt well prepared in these skills.   

However, by comparison, skills such as administrative activities saw only 72% of respondents say they felt adequately prepared. 

This concern was shared in the subjects of data analysis and managing human capital, where just 70% of business school students reported feeling sufficiently able. 

The level of preparedness in different subjects also varied by region.

Students in the US said they felt the least prepared in technical skills such as tools, software, programming, and technology. 

In Europe, students also felt underprepared in certain tech skills, however they pinpointed data analysis and knowledge of business functions amongst their main concerns. 

The gap in data analysis learning was mirrored by Africa and Asia, which both cited the subject as being amongst the weakest. Similarly, students from the two regions singled out knowledge of technology, product design, and production as being a lesser area of expertise.

Respondents from Asia also said they felt less prepared in their knowledge of media communication. 

Notably, South America was the only region to cite psychological skills as being amongst their weakest, with students reporting lower levels of preparedness in managing human capital and knowledge of human behavior. 

Furthermore, masters and MBA students also reported varying degrees of preparedness in different skillsets, with MBA students generally citing a higher level of skill readiness. 

In terms of interpersonal skills, 80% of MBA students felt sufficiently prepared compared with just 71% of masters students. 

Even more strikingly, while 83% of MBA students reported feeling well versed in communication and leadership skills, just 67% of masters students said they find their communication skills to be sufficient.  

How can business schools improve?

The survey respondents highlighted several ways in which businesses could improve their curriculums to leave students better prepared. 

These include creating more challenging content, creating more relevant content, as well as incorporating flexible and online learning options. 

Students also said they wanted schools to offer more industry-specific training, such as ESG and healthcare. 

Equally, other areas in which schools could improve include offering better student mental health support, a higher quality of alumni events, and individualized career advice. 

Overall, the survey revealed graduate business education leaves the vast majority of students well-prepared in a high number of highly sought after industry skills, however there are some areas which can be improved.