Business major blues: Lack of purpose and guidance

Gallup survey finds low work engagement, sense of career purpose among business undergrads

Undergraduate business majors are less likely to be interested in their work, have a sense of purpose in their careers, and feel supported while in school compared with other popular fields of study, according to a new survey released by Gallup.

The survey was sponsored by Purdue University and the Lumina Foundation and was administered online to nearly 30,000 bachelor degree holders. For this analysis, researchers compared the results of business students with those in other popular major groups: social sciences, education, arts and humanities, science, and engineering.

Regardless of students' eventual career path, those who majored in business significantly lagged behind their peers in career engagement and other measures of well-being.

Business majors lagged behind the others in agreeing with the statement "I am deeply interested in the work that I do." The percentage of graduates who agreed was:

  • 37% for business;
  • 43% for science and engineering; and
  • 47% for social science.

Tracking and leveraging alumni data

The trend was similar for "purpose well-being," which Gallup defines as people who like what they do each day and are motivated to achieve their goals. The percentage of graduates classified as "thriving" in this area was:

  • 48% for business;
  • 54% for science and engineering; and
  • 56% for social science.

Arts and humanities majors also fared better than business in both measures, but by a smaller margin.

What's behind the gap?

Gallup hypothesizes that the gaps are caused by inadequate emotional support while in school and relatively lower rates of graduate education among business students.

Emotional support was defined as having exciting professors, feeling cared about as a person by faculty, and being mentored. The percentage of students reporting they were emotionally supported in college was:

  • 9% for business;
  • 12% for science and engineering;
  • 15% for social sciences; and
  • 18% for arts and humanities.

Previous Gallup research found a strong correlation between feeling emotionally supported in college and a range of postgraduate well-being indicators.

Encouraging faculty mentorship of student research

Graduate education also seems to play a role in the Gallup findings. Across all majors, attending graduate school was highly correlated with well-being—fully 61% of those who pursued graduate studies reported having a strong sense of purpose, compared with 47% of students who did not. 

Business majors were the least likely of the four most popular majors to attend graduate school. Only 22% of business students continued to graduate school—compared with 46% of social science graduates, who were most likely to go.

Business students who did attend graduate school fared better in well-being, although they still lagged behind other majors. They were 10 percentage points more likely to have a sense of purpose at work than their non-graduate school peers—but were still 6 percentage points behind arts and humanities, the next lowest category.

Business students were ranked second behind science and engineering graduates in financial well-being. Only 43% reported they were thriving financially, compared with 48% for science and engineering.  However, financial well-being was more tightly clustered among all types of graduates compared with the other measures.  

The full results of the survey are available on Gallup's website (Dugan/Kafka, Gallup, 10/2; Dugan/Kafka, Gallup, 11/6; Digest of Education Statistics, 2012).

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