Georgetown’s B-School Aims To Crack The Top 10

When Christian Keenum, 22, was debating B-schools as a high school senior he sensed an ascendant institution. “It was a program on the rise, and I realized that it had great potential,” he says. “Now it’s become one of the top schools in the country.” Keenum ultimately chose McDonough over Cornell’s Dyson School and the University of Michigan’s Ross School after visiting all three campuses. “I just felt that I could thrive at McDonough because it was a collaborative, fostering, entrepreneurial environment that really allows you to take initiative for your work,” he says. The school’s reputation in finance was also a big draw for Keenum. “I was always attracted to numbers,” he says. “I remember when I was eight years old working with my dad on calculating returns and percentages.” Now a rising senior, he’s spending the summer in New York City interning for a hedge fund. “So far it’s been phenomenal,” he says.

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The upcoming changes come on the heels of some earlier modifications spearheaded by Senior Associate Dean Norean Sharpe,  who directs the undergraduate business program. Sharpe joined the school in 2009, and by the fall of 2010 she was piloting four sections of a first-year seminar course: International Business, Public Policy, and Society. The discussion-oriented and writing-intensive class exposes students to global issues and a nonprofit case competition. This fall, the school will offer nine sections.

In an increasingly globalized economy, expanding the school’s international footprint has also been a top priority for Sharpe. “We have tried to continue to ramp up the global content and to ramp up the study aboard opportunities for students,” she says. Some 55% of students will have had a study abroad experience by the time they graduate, she adds. Students can select from a portfolio that includes summer programs in Oxford, Barcelona, Shanghai, or Nicaragua. A Hong Kong offering will kick off in the summer of 2015.

Rising senior Chris Onorato, 21, has already reaped the benefits of McDonough’s more global focus. Having spent his senior year of high school in Spain, the New York native knew he wanted to focus on a career in international finance. When the school rolled out the Global Business Experience for undergraduate students in the spring 2014, Onorato signed up. He spent the semester prepping consulting projects for multinational companies and then went to Barcelona over spring break with his classmates to present their projects before the companies’ executives. “That was hands-down the coolest class, and I’ve never heard of any other place that offers something like that,” he says. He also spent five weeks during the summer after his sophomore year consulting for a nonprofit in Nicaragua.

For Onorato, these trips and courses allowed him to explore new avenues. “Especially if you’re looking to go into finance, it seems like it’s a very scripted path,” he says. “But there are a lot of different ways to get there, and I took a nonprofit way to get to banking, and I think that I’ve had a very cool college experience because of that,” he says.

In addition to the standard business classes, students at Georgetown are expected to complete a liberal arts core curriculum that includes courses in English, philosophy, theology, and history. “In the context of a larger liberal arts institution like Georgetown, the student still gets exposed to those liberal arts concepts, but they still get the finance, the accounting, the economics, and hopefully they get employed,” Sharpe says.

To position their students for an even better shot at landing meaningful or at least well-paying jobs, the school is opening an office of professional development strictly for undergraduate business students in August. The new center will complement the main-campus career services by providing custom mentoring and coaching to undergraduate business students as soon as they set foot on campus. For Sharpe, these changes are a necessary part of the B-school’s evolution. “We’ve worked very hard to deliver the highest quality program to our students because quite frankly they deserve it with, as you know, the cost of higher education today,” she says.

Rising tuition is certainly a valid concern, particularly for Georgetown students, where annual tuition is $44,280. Multiply that by four years and you’re looking at a $177,120 investment. Tack on living costs and that rises to a cringe-worthy $240,384. The outstand debt post- graduation makes that figure a bit more palatable at $23,166, thanks to grants, financial aid, and, no doubt, parents with significantly smaller savings accounts. But if applications are any indication, parents and students alike are willing to pay a premium for a top-tier education. The school received 3,374 applications this year – out of the 16% who accepted, 55% opted to enroll.  If McDonough rises in the rankings, those numbers are likely to go up even further.

For Thomas, the jump into the top 10 can’t happen soon enough. “My view about academic institutions in general, business schools in particular, is that you should move as fast as you can because  inertia sets in so quickly, especially when you’re at a place that’s already very good at what it does,” he says.