Dean’s Q&A: Carl Zeithaml Of University of Virginia

Does a degree in undergraduate business really pay off for the students? What kind of an edge does it give them in the job market today? 

By our traditional summer deadline, we place routinely between 97 and 98 percent of students. Typically the students have a choice of a couple of different offers. We have an outstanding career services office that works with students, and the faculty are engaged in trying to help them. The vast majority of our students have internships between their third and fourth year and a least one third of our students come out of internships with jobs. A number of other ones have offers but decide to look around during their fourth years. To be honest, it looks a lot like a top MBA program, and the whole process is very involved. We really try to work with our recruiters and try to make sure that our students are very engaged in the process and understand what the opportunities are. When they enter into the recruiting process, they are really prepared in terms of their coursework and what career options they might have.

How deeply involved are parents in both the application process and the actual education of the kids? Do you see any parents push the boundaries?

We don’t have too much of that. The number of stereotypical helicopter parent incidents we have are very small. The average GPA of students who get in is 3.6 and they know it is competitive. Occasionally if a student applies to the school and doesn’t get in, we might hear from a parent. Ultimately though we want the students to be responsible for themselves. If a student comes in and has a question or concern, I will very honestly take it a lot more seriously than if a parents calls me. I’ll probably respond more quickly as well because I really believe that that is what we are trying to emphasize with the students. In the world today too many people don’t seem to take responsibility for themselves. So we are proud of the fact that we seem to attract students that feel that way, and we try to do everything we can to reinforce it.

How are undergraduate business programs today doing education differently?

I think there are aspects of what we do that are similar to top MBA programs, and a lot of what we do here frankly is beyond most MBA programs. Business schools in general and undergraduate business programs in particular are trying to understand the needs of all those constituents and develop programs that really anticipate those needs and prepare students for success. I think we tend to be more market- driven and as a result we tend to think really hard about not only what courses we are teaching, but how the entire curriculum is constructed, as well as all the activities and services provided to students outside of the classroom. I think the level of innovation and the level of responsiveness tends to be high.

What advice would you offer to would-be-students and parents in choosing a quality undergraduate business program?

I believe the entire choice about a college or a particular discipline is a matter of fit. There are some students who fit very well in the McIntire School and there are some who probably don’t. My advice to parents and students is don’t just think about the obvious things like will I get a job out of this or is this what everybody in the fraternity house is doing. Instead, take the time to consider what are your intellectual interests, where do you want to wind up after graduation and what really is your fundamental learning style.

I’m a parent, too, and I’ve got five kids. Honestly, for a couple of them the last thing I wanted them to do was to go to business school because that wasn’t the way they are wired. But then a couple of other ones have been very successful not only in school but in their now business career. I think it doesn’t matter whether it is your choice of university or major, you really have to think about what it is that you are committed to that gets you excited. What fits your learning style and what are your strengths and weaknesses? Then find the best options.

What are some of the advantages to having a business program that is two-years long, as opposed to the more common four-year-model seen at many other undergraduate business schools?

One of the questions I get all the time is aren’t you afraid because you are not a four year-school that you are losing students who don’t want to take a chance they won’t get into the commerce school when they apply during their second year. My response to that is I’d rather have students make a more mature choice about what they want to do as second-year students. But also I want students to have their own confidence in their ability to say I’m going to go to the University of Virginia and be good enough during my second year that I’ll get into the McIntire School for the third year. I like that attitude. I want that attitude. Someone who wants to play it safe and be risk averse can go to an undergraduate four-year program. I think two years on a whole variety of dimensions is important for students, and I think that has unfortunately been lost on many parents and kids, particularly since 2008.


Lori Rosenkopf of Wharton

Carl Zeithaml Of University of Virginia

Dale Nees of Notre Dame University

Edward McLaughlin Of Cornell

Steven Malter of Washington University

Lawrence Murray of the University of North Carolina  David Platt of University of Texas

Andrea Hershatter of Emory

Lynn Wooten of Michigan

Idalene Kesner of Indiana University


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