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The Magnusficent seven: how to choose a management degree

September 25, 2017

I have the pleasure to attend several university open days each year, as well as university fairs in the UK and abroad. A recurring theme is that many parents and young applicants are rightly confused by the diversity of business and management degrees on offer. Although some people enjoy leafing through the pages of the booklets, are happy working against the grain of the index, and are happy to surf web pages, for others more prospectus words and more web pages do little to reduce their confusion.

My own practice is to go back to basics and ask the following questions, the answers to which help me identify the Lancaster programmes of study most likely to meet the stated needs of the prospective applicant. It usually works, and many find it downright helpful. Here is my set of seven diagnostic questions, in no particular order.

The bits in bold text signify what I consider to be the seven key domains to consider. Other approaches work too, and this is not an institutional directive. Views expressed are my own.


Do you already know that you want to study a single management discipline, such as marketing or economics? If so, then go and speak to that department.

Supplementary while we are talking: If so, which and do you know much about what this thing involves? Tell me what you read in this area? Why are you interested in this?

Do you want to study a generalist inter-disciplinary management degree? The rest of this post is for you.

Flexibility of syllabus

How important is it for you to have a lot of choice over what you study?

Do you want to develop a specialism in your degree?

Note: Some people really like the idea of choice. They may be looking for a subject to fall in love with. Like many institutions, we offer programmes that allow a huge amount of choice (as well as offering help to navigate that choice throughout study, perhaps devising pathways, such as the habit of taking an entrepreneurship module every year). At the extreme, I call this the buffet approach. There is the danger of choosing a very strange set of modules however, just as one could put hummus on chocolate cake at a buffet, hence the need for some guidance to ensure that foundational prerequisites are studied which enable more advanced modules to be taken later on.

Do you want to study a balanced programme of modules from across the spectrum of management domains that has been chosen by the university?

Note: This will be a proven combination that works. I call this the set menu approach. Such schemes may also have the added feature of a professional body accreditation. Some people are drawn to this format. The LUMS BBA is an example.


Are you confident in your ability to study mathematics-based subjects at university?

Do you wish to largely avoid further study of mathematics-based subjects?

Note: Schools sometimes do a very bad job here. Even in 2017 I have been meeting young people, especially young women, who have been told by their school that because they ‘only’ got a B at GCSE they should not study for an A-Level in mathematics. Worse yet is the young woman, whose accompanying mother confessed to being a maths teacher, who had been told that she was not good at maths, despite getting a B at GCSE. I suspect that some schools may be playing games in response to perverse incentives and that this is not in the long term interests of all of their pupils.


Are you already fluent in a second European language (for us, that means French, German, Italian or Spanish)?

Would you like to study and work in a second country as part of your degree, and to do so whilst being taught and assessed in a second language? This is for committed and motivated linguists who wish a management degree.

Would you like the option to begin to study a language whilst at Lancaster?

Note: if you have no other language, then why not? If it helps then I give you my permission to get stuck into learning a second human language, such as Portuguese or British Sign Language, or a computer language, such as Python or Java.

Work placement and industrial internship year

Do you wish to spend your third year on placement with an employer, returning to Lancaster to complete your degree in your fourth year?

Supplementary: if not, then why not?

Time overseas during your studies – study abroad

Do you want your degree to allow you the choice to spend your second year in a partner institution overseas?

Supplementary: if not, …

Finally, the inscrutable x-factor

Sat in class, you may often be in a mixed group alongside students enrolled on multiple degree schemes. How then do we understand properly which of these tribes will fit you best? Can we discuss your hopes for the composition of your peer group, your individual sense of volition, are you a self-starter or do you need lots of direction, do you approach university study as an ambitious quest or an exploratory voyage? Your answers to these questions will help me to guide you.

Then, go to the pages that describe in more detail the programmes which seem to fit you and work from there. It might feel more like you are in control of the process than you did before. Email me for a consult if all else fails.


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