Dean’s Q&A: Jim Bryan, SMU Cox

SMU Cox. Courtesy photo

P&Q: How do you think students have changed or not changed during your time in business education?

Bryan: I really don’t think the students have changed all that much. It’s the parents that have changed. They are more involved in their students’ lives than ever before. They’re not a daily presence, they’re an hourly presence. SMU’s academic profile has risen a lot in the past two decades, so obviously I’ve seen the ability of our students get better as well. But for the most part, I don’t think students change all that much.

P&Q: What advice would you give to high school students (and their parents) that are interested in applying to study business at Cox?

Bryan: First, students should take the most challenging high school curriculum they can. Business classes will be almost entirely new to them. Most college students have never had a business class before, so the most successful students are the ones that have the study skills to learn new concepts that might be out of their comfort zones.

Keep an open mind about all the different majors. I can’t overstate the number of students who told me as first-years that they would never be accountants … and then four years later they’re telling me about the great job in public accounting that they will start in the fall. Because most students have not taken business classes in high school, their preconceived notions about different majors and industries are largely based on reputation, stereotypes, and sometimes even myths.

My best advice to high school students: Don’t get senioritis! Students can shut the brain down for a couple days during summer vacation, but parents and students need to know that how students finish high school can really affect how they begin their first year in college. Plain and simple, finish strong.

Students who do that will be ready to start strong in their first year and maintain the momentum of doing good work. Read business books. Research different industries that might be interesting. Students should talk to their parents and the parents of friends who went to business school. Ask them what they would do differently. What were some of the best things they did in school to get ahead?  If students soak it up like a sponge, they’ll be ready to go when they get to campus.

P&Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you think applicants make?

Bryan: The biggest mistake I see high school students make is choosing an easier senior year curriculum. The best way for students to prepare for college is to take calculus and foreign language (those are the two subjects I see students skate on in senior year, but certainly there are others).

It might seem odd that this would be considered a mistake, but when students get to SMU they need to take calculus and foreign language. If they didn’t start these in high school, they will be starting from behind when they arrive.

P&Q: What are some factors that might make an applicant stand out when applying to Cox?

Bryan: Every year when I look at our most successful graduates, I see a combination of a few key things: hard workers (obviously), a lack of entitlement, and involvement on campus.

There is something to be said about the most successful people also being the busiest. You may think that you can spend more time on your studies if you don’t get into leadership positions on campus, but some of our best students are also the busiest.

It’s this combo that makes them attractive to future employers. But it’s impossible to say enough about the lack of entitlement. Being humble and eager are two of the things we love to instill in our graduates.

P&Q: What is the best piece of advice you have for an applicant applying to college?

Bryan: My best advice is that, like any good business major would, students should diversify! Look at small schools, big schools, state schools, private schools, close to home schools, far from home schools.

If students and their parents don’t look at a number of different places, they won’t know for sure that they found the perfect place for them. There are lots of publications that rank universities and business programs. But as far as I’m concerned, the place that gives a student the best opportunity to grow and fits them the best, that’s the number one school in the country.


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