Overview of Canadian Undergraduate Business Schools

Are you thinking of applying to or currently attending an undergraduate business school? Before students choose business as their degree, they should have an understanding of what it is like to study the four basic streams of business:

  • finance
  • accounting
  • consulting
  • marketing

And what the career is like in each. To assist students with their research, the following will explain the structure of select business schools, four basic specializations, and the lifestyles to expect following university.

While university business programs are similar, they all vary in certain forms with regard to the structure of the program. For this purpose, the following prominent universities will be analyzed:

  • Queen’s University’s Bachelor of Commerce program (Queen’s Commerce).
  • University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey Honours of Business Administration program (Ivey HBA).
  • McGill University’s Desautels Bachelor of Commerce program (McGill Commerce).
  • York University’s Schulich Bachelor of Business Administration (Schulich BBA).

Queen’s Commerce

Queen’s Commerce is a four-year program in which you start your business career from day one. In the first two years, students take a range of commerce courses. The final two years can be used to take courses of interest in addition to the required strategy courses. However, you are required to take one non-commerce elective per semester as well as fulfill communication workshop requirements to attain your Bachelor of Commerce degree.

McGill Commerce

McGill’s Commerce program is also a four year program and while you begin business courses from the first year, you have more flexibility from the beginning than you have with Queen’s. In first year, students have four required business courses, three restricted electives, and three open electives. In future years, students have the option of honouring, majoring or minoring in a combination of two subject fields. You are allowed to double-major and can even double-major with one of the majors being a subject outside of commerce.

Schulich BBA

The Schulich BBA is extremely similar to the Queen’s Commerce program structure. In the first two years, students take eight business courses each year along with an external course per semester. Following this, you choose a specialization and focus on a career in that respective field.

Ivey HBA

The Ivey HBA is a completely different program than most business schools in Canada. Students spend their first two years studying in a different faculty at UWO before enrolling in Ivey. In addition to required strategic and ethical classes in fourth year, Ivey students must also complete a year-long consulting or new venture project to attain their Honours in Business Administration.


Once undergraduates experience the broad range of business topics covered in the early years, they have a decision to make regarding their specialization. To assist with this, the following evaluates four concentrations including finance, accounting, consulting and marketing and what their courses are typically like. While these streams are the most common amongst Canadian business schools, they are by no means the only paths to a successful career.

Business schools specialize in different areas due to the prevalence of their alumni networks and reputation. One way to look at the specialties of schools is to look at their placement figures. 


Finance is essentially the study of the management of money. A popular division of this is investment management and banking which is one option of study at the undergraduate level. In this topic, students will learn about derivative securities, fixed income portfolios, valuation of securities, risk management, and capital markets. In addition to this, other options include global finance, financial planning, financial theory and corporate and real estate finance. Many of the topics taught in business schools, such as the efficient market theory and dividend discount model, are very theoretical and are commonly refuted by those working in the industry.


There are two sections of basic accounting. Financial accounting and management accounting. Management accounting focuses on the use of basic concepts of internal accounting that underlie management decisions in performance appraisal, financing, investments, output levels and various other purposes within an organization. This is primarily forward-looking and differs from financial accounting. Financial accounting focuses on the preparation of financial statements and how to report various events and costs. In addition to these two main fields, an accounting specialization will encompass in-depth applications and fields such as income taxation, auditing, and underlying accounting theory. 

Marketing, Sales, and Advertising

Marketing, while generally considered a very creative and objective subject, encompasses more than just designing advertising campaigns for firms. The subject encompasses consumer behaviour, market research, brand development, advertising, retail management, and implementation of marketing decisions. Marketing research, a fundamental need of corporations, is much more quantitatively focused than many expect.


Consulting differs from the rest of the streams. There are no specific consulting courses within a business school as this is a very general field. Businesses use consultants for various reasons, such as human resources, strategy, and marketing. The most important trait of a successful consultant is critical thinking.  Thus, the best way to prepare for a career in consulting is to gain exposure to a wide array of courses, ranging from marketing, international business, strategy, and organizational behaviour.

This article was written by Lance Fraser, a contributor to DayOnBay.ca – Canada’s largest blog on financial markets.

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