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.


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