Everyone loves potential. From sports teams to startups, we marvel at their raw tools and picture all the possibilities. Someday, this group will re-define the status quo and re-write the record books, we think. They are the future, the ones who’ll set the pace and lift the bar.
The same could be said for business schools. In an era marked by unprecedented access and disruption, education has been riven by rising demands, shifting models, and dynamic technologies — ones that simultaneously open new doors while creating unprecedented pressures. That means business schools are doing more than ever. They are continuously revamping their curriculum, enhancing their offerings, and forging new partnerships. All the while, they strive to fulfill their mission: providing the guidance, inspiration, and preparation to students for what lies ahead.
Every business school adopts a different formula to make this happen — and some achieve these ends better than others. At the University of Virginia, the McIntire School of Commerce takes a ‘never satisfied’ approach, always soliciting feedback and integrating new ideas to avoid deadly complacency. In contrast, Seton Hall’s Stillman School places student experience at the forefront, understanding that culture is the foundation of successful learning. Then there’s Villanova University, which treats their freshman like adults, doling out heavy responsibilities early to accelerate their growth and prepare them to shoulder even more as they grow.
Think of these as three distinct philosophies … that each yield wildly successful outcomes. That’s what makes these schools worth watching. Each year, P&Q examines 10 undergraduate business schools that are on the rise. Some are innovators that are testing new ideas and pushing previous limits. Others are stalwarts that consistently leverage their strengths to produce a transformative journey. Their excellence is measured both in the talent they attract and the individual growth they produce. They are the engines of commerce — and the guardians of the values that shape the very best in leaders.
Here are 10 business programs that are poised to become role models in the coming years.
Villanova University School of Business
Welcome to Villanova, the business school that treats students like adults from the get-go. That means, freshmen, get ready to take the plunge. For business majors, it starts with “Backpack to Briefcase,” a professional development curriculum that covers basics ranging from spreadsheet mastery to networking etiquette to business writing. This is part of a larger Business Dynamics course in their first fall, a tour de force on the push-pull between business and elements like global connectivity, politics, ethics, and technological innovation. As freshmen, Villanova business majors can even study abroad as part of the Global Citizens program, which includes internships with firms like KPMG.
Such programming sets a fast education pace early on — one that only accelerates as the curriculum continues. As sophomores, students gain resume-ready experience in the required Competitive Effectiveness course, where students spend a semester working on a live case study that culminates with a plan delivered to sponsoring companies like IKEA or Comcast. By their junior and senior years, they are tackling graduate-level endeavors like examining organizations’ long-term growth outlooks or the political and economic underpinnings of a nation’s economic performance (and its impact on the rest of the world). At the same time, “Backpack to Briefcase” is just warming up, as students develop career development and job hunting strategies as sophomores before moving into personal branding and required case competitions to sharpen their research and presentation skills.
“More likely than not, the students will be doing all of these for the rest of their lives, and these courses help simulate real world experience beyond entry level,” says Brenda Stover, who heads the school’s O’Donnell Center for Professional Development. “Our courses often combine both theory and application to give students the experience they need before going to work.”
“The Backpack to Briefcase program is embedded…to grow as the student grows,” Melinda German, associate dean of undergraduate business programs, adds. “What we hear from employers is that our students are the whole package, that they graduate not only with well-defined academic abilities, but also the soft skills they need to succeed such as emotional intelligence, poise, and savvy.”
This isn’t the only programming where students shoulder responsibilities much earlier than most. Villanova also hosts a FiRST program, where students conduct academic research alongside their professors. Available as early as freshman year, such programming enables students to better understand concepts at a deeper level and be better prepared for bigger responsibilities when they go to work.
“For my first internship after sophomore year, I’d been researching for a year-and-a-half,” says Melissa Kostecki, a 2018 graduate. “My superiors were kind of surprised by how not nervous I was with a lot of work. Also, the attention to detail helped me as well as soft skills like knowing how to ask for re-explaining if I don’t understand something and knowing how to handle mistakes. This has really helped me in my internships and put me ahead of others in a lot of ways.”
Despite doling out big responsibilities early, Villanova is hardly a sink-or-swim environment. The program maintains a robust mentoring network, one that boasts over 1,000 alumni volunteers, with over 250 sophomores joining the program in 2018 alone. It even includes a “Flash Mentoring” track, where students can set up one-time meetings with alumni to discuss issues like employers or career choices.
“I think students are landing in the right job sooner or staying away from the wrong jobs because of their mentoring relationships,” says Michele Gianforcaro, assistant director of O’Donnell Center for Professional Development. “Students love that they have a personal confidant, a mentor that they can go to on faith and say, ‘I’m not really sure what I want to do.’ Our alumni are excited to get involved too. They tell us all the time, ‘I wish I had a program like this when I was in college.’”
This intensive preparation hasn’t gone unnoticed by employers either. In 2018, 96% of the class had landed jobs within three months of graduation. Another 97% had completed internships before graduating as well. “What we hear from employers is they hit the ground running and they are the roll-up-the sleeves-and-get-the-job-done types,” says Melinda German, the dean of the undergraduate program, in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “They’re dedicated and motivated and they’re hard workers with great work ethics.”
It is these types of students, more than anything, that makes Villanova well worth watching in the coming year.
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