Babson College has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to studying entrepreneurship as an academic subject. Back in 1979, they were one of the first institutions to offer an entrepreneurship major to undergraduates, and they have been on the forefront of innovations in the field for more than three decades. Today, they’re no longer the only game in town when it comes to entrepreneurship. There are 476 colleges and universities today that offer a major in entrepreneurial studies, according to the College Board’s BigFuture website, not to mention hundreds of other universities that offer courses in the subject.
Despite the fierce competition, Babson has managed to maintain its sterling reputation as a hot bed for innovation and entrepreneurship. Money Magazine released a new ranking last year that looked at which undergraduate institutions gave students the best value for their dollar, and Babson topped the list, putting the small Massachusetts school, only 15 miles outside of Boston, onto the radar of many prospective high school students.
Not surprisingly, more students are clamoring now to get a seat at Babson, which is music to the ears of Courtney Minden, the dean of undergraduate admission at Babson. In the last admissions cycle, the school saw a 21 percent bump in applications, and these days landing a seat at the school is no easy feat; the school accepted only 26 percent of applicants this year, Minden said.
‘A LOT OF GOOD PRESS ON RETURN ON INVESTMENT’
“We’ve been getting a lot of press around return on investment,” said Minden, who joined the school’s admissions team three years ago. “I think those rankings, combined with President Obama and his initiative to make college more affordable, has gotten a lot of students on our radar to apply who wouldn’t normally think about Babson.”
Babson got on Minden’s radar back when she working in the admissions office at neighboring Tufts University. She often traveled to Europe to recruit applicants for Tufts, and she and an admissions representative from Babson often tag-teamed when giving presentations to prospective students. She soon realized that Babson’s approach to education – which combined business education with liberal arts studies – was innovative, and jumped at the chance to join their admissions team when a spot opened in 2012.
“For such a niche school, there were so many possibilities and directions you could go,” she said. “I loved how Babson looked for the creative or entrepreneurial students, and helped them learn how to apply that to business.”
Minden spoke with Poets&Quants’ Alison Damast about why the school’s approach to entrepreneurship is still unique, new offerings for students that allow them to explore entrepreneurship outside the Babson campus, and why it is so important for the school to keep on innovating in a competitive landscape.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about Babson?
We love talking about entrepreneurship and continue to do so, but that is not the only thing we do. One of the misconceptions that I run into is that students come to Babson because they want to become an entrepreneur. It is not a requirement that you attend and start a business. We have a lot of students who are interested in business, but know that they are not creative enough to think of the next big thing, and would rather work at Goldman Sachs. The thing about entrepreneurship – and more and more schools are talking about this – is that it is a mindset. It’s about applying creative and outside-the-box thinking to problems, even if it is not the most established idea. We have students who come here and spend their entire career in consulting, banking or accounting. For us, what differentiates us is the ability to think differently, and that is what entrepreneurship means here.
Entrepreneurship is more popular than ever, with hundreds of undergraduate business programs adding courses and majors in the subject. With so much competition, how will Babson stay ahead of the curve?
I think we’ve enjoyed quite a few years of being the only game in town. Where we are differentiated is that we are one of the few small colleges to be able to offer entrepreneurship in this environment. We have small class sizes and faculty that not only teach but advise students on their career path. I do think that we need to keep innovating and looking at the curriculum with a critical eye to make sure it is still relevant. I don’t think any school that claims to be an innovator in the entrepreneurial mindset can ever discount that.
We’ve recently added some exciting new study abroad programs. Our San Francisco “study abroad” program has been really successful this year, and our students had a wonderful time. We also have a BRIC program, where students spend a semester dividing their time between Russia, India and China, doing factory tours, taking classes and spending time with a professor who is an expert in that region.