These days, it can be tough to differentiate the country’s most elite undergraduate business programs. There are a lot of commonalities. The leading schools all turn away high percentages of qualified applicants each year while enrolling incredibly smart and talented students. They offer loads of quality extra-curricular, study-abroad, and research options. And they get their grads internships and jobs with some of the world’s most desirable employers.
For the past two years that we’ve tracked alumni survey responses along with admissions and employment data, one school has consistently performed better than others. While the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce has yet to top our ranking of Best Undergraduate Business Schools, the school has consistently climbed up the rankings from eighth in the inaugural ranking to third place last year and second this year. The school’s rise has been buoyed by superb performances in the college experience portion of the ranking, in which it has earned top marks from its alumni.
Last year, Wharton scored a composite total of 295.12 points out of a possible total of 300. The next-highest school was Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis with 272.40 points. This year, the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce surged to second place, notching a total composite score of 282.01, very nearly topping Wharton’s 284.27. Washington Olin came in third, with an impressive score of 269.61 points.
Often considered the most important piece of the entire ranking, the alumni survey asks recent alums 43 questions about their experience at business school. We calculate the category by giving an 80% weight on the average score of 16 scaled one-to-10 questions, 10% to the average of two yes-or-no questions, and another 10% to two different yes-or-no questions. (See 2018 Report Card: How Alumni Grade Their Undergraduate Business Programs.) For the past two years, Virginia’s McIntire School has topped the category.
ICE AT THE CENTER OF THE SCHOOL RATED HIGHEST BY ALUMS
The reason is largely because of its Integrated Core Experience (ICE) program. McIntire, which has one of the few remaining two-year programs, has been doing the ICE curriculum for more than a decade, but a task force reviews the curriculum before each semester and makes adjustments and changes based on what they’re hearing from employers and former students. “One of the things we continually think about is, What do we need to add?” Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School, told P&Q last December. “What do we need to take away, and what do we need to do to continually innovate the program?”
The program includes 12 required credit hours in the fall semester and nine in the spring semester of the students’ third year. Students are put into blocks of 40 to 45 and have a team of seven professors and corporate advisers. The classes run simultaneously with a real-world business problem with one of the school’s corporate sponsors.
“It’s not like the old days where every five years you sit down and look at your curriculum,” Zeithaml also told us last month. “It is an ongoing process that really requires constant attention.” Recent changes include adding courses in business analytics and big data decision making, two of the areas that corporate recruiters consider the most in-demand.
“What we try to do is think about the entire experience from end to end for our students, starting with the prerequisites and then moving into the fall and spring in ICE and constantly refreshing it and constantly thinking about what we’re hearing from the recruiters and what they need. We’re thinking about what our students report back after their internships. We want to know the things that worked well or things they need more of in the third year,” Zeithaml says.
At the end of the year, student teams present their solutions to executives from corporate partners, including Anheuser-Busch InBev, CarMax, Hilton Worldwide, and Rolls-Royce.
“At the end of the semester, my team and I presented our case findings with a final recommendation,” one Class of 2016 grad told us. “Our audience was the executives of the company, who flew down to Charlottesville to hear our proposal. The opportunity to engage with these senior leaders, share our ideas for them, and discuss their challenges was perhaps the most transformational moment of my education. We were no longer studying hypothetical business theory in textbooks, but were rather bringing the principles to life as true creators of value.”
AVERAGE STARTING SALARIES ON A FOUR-YEAR UPSWING
Besides a stellar curriculum and structure, McIntire is this year’s P&Q for Undergrads program of the year because of its continued success in employment outcomes. This year, the school placed third out of the 88 ranked schools in employment outcomes, trailing only the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and New York University’s Stern School of Business, both of which reported average starting salaries of more than $80,000 for the graduating Class of 2018.
McIntire’s high ranking in the category comes down to two main things: some 98% of the Class of 2018 seeking employment had secured jobs within three months of graduation. Of those with full-time employment, the average starting salary was over $75,000, and 62% reported an average signing bonus of $9,313. Both figures are record highs for the school and represent a trend of increasing compensation immediately after graduation.
What’s more, with a total four-year cost of $133,598 for in-state students and average starting salary of more than $75,000, McIntire boasts the best five-year ROI of all 88 schools to be ranked this year.