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Last year, 71 per cent of future business students identified only one industry where they hope to work compared to 58 per cent in 2014.

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

After the 2008 recession, prospective business school students around the world kept their options open, weighing various programs of study and postdegree careers before embarking on their graduate degree.

In a switch in strategy, possibly because of a rebounding economy, today's business school candidates are more firm than their predecessors in selecting their preferred business degree and choice of career, according to new data from the Graduate Management Admission Council.

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On average, prospective students considered 2.8 program types (such as a full-time two-year or one-year MBA) in 2015, down from 3.1 a year earlier, according to the Prospective Students Survey Report that heard from more than 10,000 respondents worldwide. Last year, 71 per cent of future business students identified only one industry where they hope to work compared to 58 per cent in 2014. As well, 61 per cent said last year they were only interested in one type of job (such as marketing or finance) after graduation, compared to 46 per cent in 2014.

"The new applicant pool seems to be more focused on the outcomes they are seeking," says Gregg Schoenfeld, director of management education research for GMAC, surprised by the year-over-year change.

"As jobs are becoming more plentiful, maybe people are becoming more focused," he says. In more robust conditions, he suggests, prospective students may feel more confident than in past years in being clear early on about study and career choices.

The new focus poses potential challenges for business school career counsellors whose job is to help students map out a study route to land their dream job.

"If you understand these students are more focused, it takes a little bit more to manage expectations and say, 'We know you want X, but did you know that X,Y and Z is even possible?'" says Mr. Schoenfeld. "It might mean some messaging when they come into class [on the first day of school] and say, 'We are here to help you explore opportunities in the business world.'"

Meanwhile, the annual survey revealed some intriguing attitudes toward online learning.

No matter the program, students like a mixture of classroom instruction and online learning. Even those taking an online MBA expect 10 per cent of the course to be delivered in the classroom. By contrast, those pursuing a full-time two-year MBA expect 86 per cent of course work to be in the classroom, with just 14 per cent online.

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In one age-related finding, the survey found that older students are more likely than younger counterparts to embrace online learning. Those enrolled in part-time or flexible delivery programs, typically an older cohort, often face competing demands from work and home while studying, says Mr. Schoenfeld. "They want the flexibility that the online course delivery offers."

He says younger students, adept at using technology, want access to the networking opportunities generated in a classroom setting.

Canadian students are first-time winners of global competition

Sometimes, the line between learning in and outside the classroom is blurred, to winning effect.

Last month, an undergraduate team from the University of Waterloo's school of accounting and finance took the $10,000 prize in the global final of the CFA Institute Research Challenge, held in Chicago.

The win marks a first for a team from Canada in the 10-year history of the competition, which drew 5,000 students from 1,000 universities around the world and is designed to test the skills of future investment managers. In the competition, each team presents a report on a company and defends the findings to a panel of global industry experts.

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Participation in the competition was an extracurricular activity for the Waterloo team of Kam Dhaliwal, Adnan Khan, Brent Small, Daniel Zhang and Rudder Zhang, all coached by faculty mentor Craig Geoffrey and industry mentor Steve Balaban.

But the preparatory work over a seven-month period drew on curricular learning as well, with all Waterloo team members participating in a student investment fund and in-house investment research challenges at the school.

"They have learned finance theory in the programs and also applications," says Ranjini Jha, an associate professor of finance at the school. "It is a significant benefit of participating in the competition that they can apply the finance theory and practice from the [school] program to a live company."

She adds that in the competition, presenting to a panel of judges, the students "have to think on their feet, respond to questions about the industry or the company. It is a great learning experience."

At Waterloo, a pioneer in co-op education, the school's accounting and finance students are required to take part in four industry placements to earn their degree.

"Understand, apply and integrate – that is our philosophy," says school director Tom Scott. "We are always looking for opportunities for students to get chances to apply [learning] in much more real-world settings."

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That approach, he adds, generates enthusiasm among students for their subject. "Also, it pulls things together when they have to work collaboratively to make a presentation, present their ideas and write well."

This fall, the school will add a new finance lab where up to 50 students will have access to live data on companies, for in-class and other instruction.

Professor named to financial services chair

Alexander Dyck, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, has been appointed to the Manulife Financial chair in financial services for his achievements in teaching and research, according to the school.

Prof. Dyck already wears a number of hats – academic director of the Director's Education Program (jointly run by Rotman and the Institute of Corporate Directors), board member of the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management and a fellow at the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship at Rotman. As of July, he will become director of the school's Capital Markets Institute.

Prof. Dyck says his appointment to the chair (endowed since 2000) will enable him to pursue his research agenda on corporate governance.

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Follow Jennifer Lewington and Business School News by subscribing to an RSS feed here.

Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net

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