Wharton Tops Poets&Quants’ Best Undergraduate Business Programs Of 2017

A student at Indiana Kelley School of Business’s Direct Admit Day. Courtesy photo


Obviously, there is more to a school than employment rates and admissions statistics. Time spent at college is meant to be transformative, ann opportunity to engage in enriching experiences and relationships. According to this year’s alumni survey, no other school did a better job at that than Virginia’s McIntire. We asked alums from the Class of 2015 to rate their schools on a one-to-ten scale on 15 core questions, including how likely they were to recommend the business program to a close friend or colleague, if the business school experience was life changing, and to assess the quality of teaching in business courses. Of the 15 prompts, McIntire ranked highest in five. Across all 15, McIntire averaged an impressive 9.37 out of 10 possible points. Wharton followed with 9.32 and Mendoza and Kelley was right in the mix with 9.31 averages. Georgetown rounded out the top five with a 9.16 average score. Of the 82 schools that met the minimum alumni participation rate of 10%, 19 posted averages of at least nine.

The dean of the McIntire School was not surprised by the program’s top satisfaction rating. “Although constant innovation is essential, the McIntire School consistently emphasizes creating the best end-to-end student experience, and we believe that a great program is built on enduring values and strong fundamentals,” McIntire Dean Carl Zeithaml tells Poets&Quants. “In our case, and I know that it sounds like a cliché, it starts with great people working together as a team. We have terrific students, who work very hard and work together to achieve exceptional outcomes. We have a tremendously dedicated faculty and staff who are focused on building a rigorous and highly differentiated curriculum and excellent student services.”

The values and fundamentals carrying McIntire to the top of the alumni experience was the school’s Integrated Core Experience (ICE). The ICE program was mentioned most by McIntire alumni surveyed and is a “team-taught, modular integrative core curriculum,” Zeithaml explains. McIntire students must successfully complete two years in the UVA College of Arts and Sciences before applying to the Commerce School and enrolling in ICE courses, which were first established 19 years ago.

“ICE balances the development of a broad and integrated business perspective with required functional skills,” says Zeithaml, who has been at McIntire for 20 years and spent a decade at North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School before that. “We also emphasize the so-called soft skills such as communication and teamwork throughout the third year, as well as applied projects for our corporate sponsors.” Corporate sponsors this year included AB-InBev, CarMax, Hilton, and Rolls Royce.

“Teams of students work on these integrative projects throughout the fall semester,” adds Zeithaml, “and executives from our corporate sponsors engage with them throughout the process and participate in the final evaluation, which includes both oral and written presentations of analyses and recommendations. ICE is intense and demanding, but it also builds a strong sense of engagement among our students, faculty, and sponsors.”


NYU Stern School of Business, where 98% of undergrads have a key global experience. Ethan Baron photo

We also asked alums if their first jobs were in their desired companies and industries. Combining the two, Virginia also topped out, with 91.8% of alums reporting receiving first jobs after graduation in a desired industry, company, or both. As stated previously, Santa Clara followed closely with 91.6%. Wharton was next with 90.4% and was followed by the University of Illinois (90.3%) and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management (90.1%). Some 80% of alums from more than half of the schools (44) reported receiving desired positions right after graduation.

Lastly, alums were asked if they had a global immersion or other signature experience, which was defined as project work, simulations, experiential learning, a senior thesis, or capstone project. New York University’s Stern School of Business topped that category with a score of 86.1%. NYU was followed by Hult International Business School at 82.1%. Rounding out the top five were Minnesota Carlson (78.3%), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (75.0%), and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School (71.8%).


Not just an intriguing academic exercise, signature experiences within school can provide valuable cultural exposure, in-depth assignments that can lead to potential jobs, and a lifelong community. Almost universally, graduates single these opportunities out as among the most memorable parts of their undergraduate years. “I was enrolled in the Advertising & Promotions class taught by Professor Carrie Heilman,” a graduate from Virginia McIntire’s class of 2015 told Poets&Quants on the alumni survey. “The class is centered around competing in the National Student Advertising Competition where we were given a real client brief and operated like a student-run advertising agency. During this class, we visited ad agencies in New York which cemented my decision to go into advertising. Through alumni of the class, I was able to get my current job.”

At Minnesota’s Carlson School, where all students are required to complete a global experience before graduating, students gain mindset-shaping perspectives on business and societal challenges all over the world. “This really widened my perspective on the international business community and immersed me in global phenomena,” one Carlson grad said about an international finance course completed in Rome. The graduate studied the European debt crisis along side Greek economists and German embassy members.

The most successful business schools are also finding ways to create important communities and supportive environments. “This is very much a collaborative, supportive environment, not really a cut-throat, hyper-competitive environment,” Olin Dean Mark Taylor tells Poets&Quants. “That’s not to say we don’t appreciate the importance of free enterprise market competition. But I want people to know how important it is to engage as human beings. It’s about the people as much as the profit.”

McIntire Dean Zeithaml echoes those sentiments. “In terms of creating a strong sense of community, our faculty and staff organize many formal and informal events that build important relationships among all of our stakeholders, and the students themselves organize many of these activities in keeping with UVA’s core tradition of student self-governance,” Zeithaml says. “We can provide you with many examples of such events and activities, but we consciously and consistently reinforce the concept that we are all in this journey together, and we need each other to make it successful and enjoyable.”

Of course, rankings are hardly perfect. Nor should a college decision be based on one individual ranking. Poets&Quants advises students to do thorough research, to visit schools and ask challenging questions of administrators and faculty, and when possible, to speak with recent graduates who are likely to give more candid assessments of their alma maters. As a starting point, we have detailed school profiles on each school included in this year’s ranking. Within the profiles are deeper dives into data, culture, and what separates certain schools from others. That allows applicants to make the most informed decision possible about where to go.


  • Sheldon Deng

    Thanks for this plethora of info and analysis. Just curious as to what happened to Ohio State, which was #41 last year but is not even in the top 82 this year?

    • Nathan Allen

      Thanks for weighing in, Sheldon. Ohio State submitted school survey data but unfortunately didn’t make the 10% minimum participation rate. Based on what they submitted and responses they did receive from the alumni survey, it’s safe to say they definitely would have finished well within the top 82. We expect them to try again next year and be included.


    • JohnAByrne

      The 10% threshold for alumni responses is, in my view, fairly low. The fact that a school is unable to meet this requirement is telling. I find that that alums who are generally happy with their degrees are more likely to respond to a survey like this. Those who are less satisfied may just prefer to stay quiet. Remember what everyone’s mother has told them: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

      • Sarah Diaz

        I would hold off on making assumptions about why the alumni response rate was not met on any particular school. It could be a multitude of factors. Additionally, larger graduation classes mean higher number of individuals who need to complete the surveys. This is very difficult to accomplish, even at 10%. It takes a very strategic and concerted effort. It is not just done by emailing out a few surveys. There is also a thing called survey fatigue, and alumni are already getting surveyed by the schools.

        • Nathan Allen

          Generally speaking, our data seems to support the idea about larger (and public) universities struggling a bit more with hitting the minimum response rate. The schools asked about in this comment thread (sans USC) are examples. On the other hand, there are many large state institutions easily hitting the 10% mark. Texas, Arizona State, Texas A&M, and Indiana, to name a few hit the minimum rate fairly quickly.

          All that said, this is one of the big questions we’re going to tackle and ask schools to offer some feedback on when we do the evaluation period early next year.

          • Sarah Diaz

            I agree, Nathan. Being larger isn’t the only reason one wouldn’t meet this threshold. And, as you see and mentioned, some large schools did. I just don’t think it is responsible to assume that schools who didn’t hit the alumni response threshold have alums who are less satisfied, as John indicated.

          • Nathan Allen

            Yep, that’s fair. As I mentioned, we’ll open up more discussion with your school and others about this topic as well as the methodology and surveys early next year. It bugs me when schools are willing to survey their alums and take the time to complete the school survey and then are unable to be ranked because of alumni response. I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep this from happening as much next year.

          • JohnAByrne

            One other observation I would add to all this. While what I am about to say does not apply to every school, it does apply to a good number of schools that are unable to get to a 10% response rate for a single alumni class. Failure to meet this minimum threshold may also suggest that a school hasn’t invested enough resources in the alumni network. Some schools, frankly, aren’t keeping very good track of where their alums end up. That is also, to my way of thinking, a measure of a school’s quality. If some schools do this well and invest in alumni relations and development, those networks are going to be more valuable for current students and graduates. It is another indicator of quality.

  • Avery

    USC? #17 last year to nothing this year.

    • JohnAByrne

      Avery, unfortunately the response rate from alums was below 10% so USC was excluded. We do think the school has a solid undergraduate program. Sadly, we couldn’t get much cooperation from the school to help.

    • Nathan Allen

      USC didn’t meet the minimum alumni response rate, nor did they submit a school survey. They likely would’ve been up around there if they had qualified.

  • Taric Sam Alani

    Complete garbage, Creighton University isn’t even listed, despite being the only CFA Institute University Affiliate to offer a degree that prepares students for all three levels of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam. They also offer a graduate certificate that prepares students for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam.

  • Pranav Desai

    Thanks for publishing this, can you tell me why Boston College is not on the list. Is it the 10% participation threshold?

    • Nathan Allen

      BC decided not to participate this year. We’ll invite them again next year.

  • JS

    What happened to Uconn this year?

    • Nathan Allen

      Same. Submitted school survey data. Fully willing to participate. Didn’t meet the minimum response rate. We expect them to try again and be included next year. Definitely still a top 80 school.

  • A. Murray

    Same as other questions….What happened to University of Missouri and University of Tennessee from last year’s rankings? Not enough response, or something else?

    • Nathan Allen

      Yep. Not enough response. Both schools submitted school survey data, which is updated in their school profiles. Just not enough response. Both indicated they will try again next year.

  • Red Layug

    I’m confused how the admissions criterion was computed and given weight on this ranking. For example, Cornell’s admission rate is a measly less than 3% — that’s substantially lower than Wharton’s and Haas’, yet it only ranked number 3 for admissions. It doesn’t make any sense.

    • Nathan Allen

      Here’s a breakdown of how we do it. Each category (admissions, alumni survey, employment) have 100 available index points. Within each category, we assign weights to different datapoints. As you can see in the chart on acceptance rates carry a 30% average. We assign a calculation that gives descending points based on the difference between the data points. For example, out of 30 points available for acceptance rates, Cornell earns the 30. Wharton received 28.62 and Haas got 28.11.

      Then you jump over to average SATs where 35 points were available. WashU scored 35 with the highest SAT, Wharton received 34.11, and Haas with 30.1, and Cornell with 30.01. Finally, top 10% of high school class, which again had 35 maximum points available. Haas and Cornell earned around 21 and 26, respectively, while Wharton earned about 34.

      The short way of saying all of this is the differences between acceptance rates weren’t as great as the differences between average SATs and high school class rank, so Cornell didn’t get as big of a gap on acceptance rate as Wharton did on average SAT and high school rank.

  • Red Layug

    % In Top 10% of High School Class (35%). University of California-Berkeley (Haas) – 60.87% ???

    Really? I think this figure needs to be double checked. The UC’s admit only the 10% of their graduating high school class, and UC Berkeley reported 98% of their students were in the top 10% of their HS. I think it’s safe to say that the missing 2% were due to athletes, not those students heading to Haas, which is an oversubscribed program.

    • Nathan Allen

      We question that as well. It comes from the alumni survey data (alums of the Class of 2015 are asked if they finished in the top 10% of high school class). But, you have to remember that around one-third of the Haas class each year comes from outside UC-Berkeley (transferring in from mainly two-year junior colleges in California). They are not required to report SAT scores or many other high school stats. So while UC-Berkeley could be enrolling 98% freshmen in the top 10% (we question that as well), that’s not the exact population actually enrolling in and graduating from Haas.

  • Wait, who me?

    Kudos to us at Providence. We never get our respect. But when you only have 4,000 students you can see why.

  • Enrique Seir

    When you have so many historical well known and ranked business schools missing from this list is hard to read too much into these rankings. I can name so many schools that are missing from this list. Whether some information is missing or not, I think it is unfair to not even mention Boston College, USC, Ohio State, Mizzou, UF, etc In addition you have schools such as last year’s darling (Minnesota) falling to 22… As much as i hate the US News rankings, they tend to be more consistent from year to year. Hard to believe business schools would fluctuate so much in such a short period of time. Going forward you should probably mention schools that would have made the list but not enough data to provided in order to be ranked.

    • Nathan Allen

      Hi Enrique,

      Let me clear up a few things. First, this list is nothing like U.S. News. The U.S. News sends surveys to senior faculty and administrators at schools and asks them to rank other schools on a one-to-five scale. It’s consistent because most admins aren’t going to suddenly rank a school at a three when they’ve been giving it a five year after year, and vice versa.

      Ours takes yearly data that usually changes year after year and so it will fluctuate. It’s important to look beyond the actual ranking and into how schools perform in each category.

      As for schools left of this year’s ranking, we built their school profiles, which you can find on the site, but I get your point about mentioning schools that fell off the list.


      • Enrique Seir

        Gotcha!!! Being that this is fairly new way of qualifying Business schools it would be a good idea to include those that would probably be on the list but for whatever reason they are not longer on it.

        Keep in mind that a lot students and parents alike put a lot of weight on these rankings. Obviously, it should not be the deciding factor, but you can understand how powerful rankings can be…

        • Nathan Allen

          Understood. While we believe this list does the best job at portraying which schools are doing the best at this point in time, this is very much just a starting point for students and their parents. All of the data should be carefully examined in the other articles and then schools should be visited and alumni should be spoken with. And, just because a school finishes 82nd, it is still an incredibly elite school. These are the best of the very best.