Purpose ‐ This paper seeks to examine whether the primary factors motivating the career plans of high-achieving Indian adolescents vary between academic specializations. Particular attention is to be paid to differences between science and business students. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The study surveyed approximately 2,700 secondary school students in South India regarding their academic and career plans and their perceptions of business compared with science. Survey results were analyzed using both descriptive techniques and multinomial logistic regression. Findings ‐ Students perceive business to be comparable with, but not superior to, science and engineering. The proportion of students choosing business over science increased among males and in some more economically developed cities. Engineering students were most likely to cite parents as a major influence, while business students more often pointed to salary and career prospects. Research limitations/implications ‐ The study's scope was limited to South India. Greater geographic coverage could broaden the generalizability of the results. Practical implications ‐ The increasing desirability of formal business education can give rise to a stronger entrepreneurial base and greater business development in India. Furthermore, improved management skills in the Indian workforce can attract higher value-added offshore work from multinational corporations. Originality/value ‐ The existing literature contains little empirical research directly comparing business students with their peers in science and engineering, with no such study previously conducted in India. The results shed light on what attracts students to each track and can inform policy aimed at encouraging further enrollment in specific fields.