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In the 2017 Poets&Quants undergraduate business program rankings, Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business stands out as a study in contrasts.
On one hand, Tepper is unquestionably a premier school by most measures, including in inputs — with an average SAT/ACT of 2431/33 and exclusive 17.5% acceptance rate helping land the school at No. 16 among the 82 ranked schools — and outcomes, where it was a lofty No. 9, with 91% of graduates finding work within three months, and those grads earning an average salary of $76,971. Additionally, 98% of students from the class of 2017 had internships before their senior year, up from 93% in 2015.
That’s the good news. But in Poets&Quants’ survey of Tepper alumni, the school ranked 64th, dropping its overall rank to No. 28.
Why the disconnect? A couple factors may be at play, and both have to do with growth: the undergraduate school’s population has ballooned, with incoming numbers nearly doubling over the past four years; and the school has endured physical growing pains, the result of its constricted urban setting in central Pittsburgh.
According to Burton Hollifield, head of undergraduate business administration, Tepper went from 80 to 90 incoming undergraduate business majors in 2012 to 148 in 2016. The growth in numbers, he says, corresponds to the growth in space, and 140 to 150 will be Tepper’s new normal.
Meanwhile, space is at a premium in bustling Pittsburgh, and Tepper’s amenities aren’t considered cutting-edge anymore — but the problem is about to be addressed by the opening of a new campus building in 2018 that will double Tepper’s size to about 300,000 square feet.
The new building will feature all kinds of frills, Hollifield says, including a food court and a fitness center, and will serve as home to the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a resource center for students from all corners of CMU.
“The center of gravity on campus is shifting, and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is going to draw more people into our building,” Hollifield says.
FLEXIBILITY AND BREADTH
Meanwhile, as its student numbers have grown, Tepper has undergone a wide-ranging curriculum review in recent years that resulted in numerous changes. It’s still quant-heavy, Hollifield says, and probably always will be — but there is a new emphasis on behavioral skills, like networking and presentation, to benefit undergrads.
“We made some changes to our curriculum and that started with last year’s freshman class,” Hollifield tells Poets&Quants. “What we did is, we increased some of the flexibility in the degree — we made it so people are able to do more concentrations, people have a little bit more choice, and so coming with the increased size there has been similar flexibility for the students.” While Tepper offers only one business major — business administration — the flexibility comes into play with the freedom to choose any non-business minor from a full complement of disciplines.
“When we look at our curriculum, we have liberal arts and sciences ‘breadth requirements,’ which is what other people call general education requirements: seven courses that students have to take in seven different categories that expose them to other disciplines, where they can learn about how other disciplines approach problems in their field,” says Hollifield, who points out that business administration is also the most popular minor for students from other CMU departments. “And like most good business programs around the country, we have our share of liberal arts components to our curriculum. We feel that intellectually it’s important for our students have exposure to people in different areas, because when you graduate you may be doing some kind of business thing but you’re going to have to be in teams with people with all kinds of different backgrounds.”
HIGH COST, HIGH REWARD
Tepper clearly is a much-desired destination for would-be undergraduate business majors, with 3,164 applications for fall 2016 admittance, of whom only 538 were accepted (of those, 148 were business majors). The school’s exclusivity is reflected in its cost: $190,958 for four years of tuition, and an estimated $58,240 on top of that for living expenses. To help pay for it, more than half of Tepper undergrads (54.7%) borrowed a yearly average of $15,908.
Tepper grads looking to pay back their debt earned a whopping total compensation average of $86,196, second only to Wharton ($88,059) among the 50 schools in the Poets&Quants ranking, hired by such top firms as IBM, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Accenture; in the summer before graduating an overwhelming 98% completed an internship — good for third place behind Missouri and Northeastern.
Students at Tepper don’t just get an education in analytical business, Hollifield says. They get “professionalization” — and the evidence is in the high and sustained interest from top firms.
“There’s a certain benefit in terms of the people you meet, like your classmates, and also in terms of the size of the university as a whole,” Hollifield says. “This is a place where if you’re interested in doing some kind of thing in math or business, go for it. And you’ll find lots of other opportunities in depth and breadth in other fields, too.”
NO ‘UNSPOKEN SHINE’
Yet on four key questions in the Poets&Quants survey — “Would you recommend the business program to a close friend?”; “Evaluate how well the business program prepared you for the world of work”; “Do you believe your business degree was worth its cost in time and tuition?”; and “How would you rate the quality of teaching in business courses?” — Tepper scored poorly, at or near the bottom among participating schools.
“I do feel there could have been more to it,” says Andrea Weigand, who earned both her undergrad and MBA degrees from Tepper as part of a 3/2 program — three years undergrad, two years MBA. “From the outside you see prestigious schools like Wharton, and you sort of think the hallways are paved with brand-new marble every year, and the people must be particularly intelligent and interesting (I’m sure they’re not). So there is this level of grandiosity you might hope for when going to B-school that you just don’t get from Tepper.
“The teachers are absolute gems, and mostly very approachable and kind and giving, but they’re researchers, and at that they don’t come off as ‘powerhouses’ in their fields, despite how deeply I respect (almost) all of them. They are very intelligent, they are accomplished, but they don’t have this unspoken shine you might get at other schools.”
Corroborating Weigand’s view, respondents to Poets&Quants’ survey rated the teaching at Tepper second-lowest among participating schools.
Weigand, a Pittsburgh native who now works as a lead financial analyst for Mylan Inc. south of the city, adds that Tepper suffers from a dilemma when it comes to female faculty members: While the soft-skill classes are taught more by women, few women teach hard skills at the school. “It was very noticeable how much of a fight the students would give the female teachers,” she says. “Students going to a quant-heavy school are partially blinded to the value of softer skills in navigating the real world, so they have less patience for the classes, and less respect for the professors, who they think they can push around and rattle more easily. THAT I did not like.”
‘EXTREMELY SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT’
Tepper, Weigand says, does not “sparkle and shine. It’s not the L.A. or New York of business schools, and it doesn’t have the prettiest people or the most famous staff. While it’s considered the snooty elite of the tech-school that is Carnegie Mellon, it is nerdier and softer than most other schools.” Still, she adds, after serving as a teacher assistant to three professors she learned how warm and approachable the faculty can be.
Tepper is “an extremely supportive environment where colleagues and faculty go out of their way to help each other. The school, she says, is “more of a family. People going for the same job help each other with interviews. No one will ever steal your notes; if anything they may give your their own for absolutely nothing in return. People study in large groups, and many bring their spouses and kids to events. Sometimes all the families get together at each others’ houses while the single or child-free people will go to Bacon Night at Harris Grill and grab drinks and party every weekend. It’s a fun and friendly environment.”
New Jersey native and fellow 2014 graduate Colin Lang agrees. “I had an excellent experience at Tepper,” says Lang, now an analyst with Scotiabank. “The faculty, staff, and students were great to work with and provided a fantastic undergraduate education. Tepper’s distinguished undergraduate business program is what drew me to Carnegie Mellon. Tepper is known as an analytical program, and I knew that the education would prepare me for a career in banking and financial services. … In fact, I am currently persuading my brother to apply to Tepper.”
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
“Through global immersion, I studied abroad in two programs over one summer in host countries Germany and Italy. I traveled outside the U.S. for the first time, learned what it means to have a global mindset to problem solving, and explored my passions for both business and the cultural arts.” — Class of 2014 grad
“The seniors in the business school all participated in a set number of community service hours and wrote a summary thesis. I was able to positively impact the community and network with fellow colleagues while reflecting on my time at CMU.” — Class of 2014 grad
“I was a part of an organization called ‘SIFE’ which allowed me to be a presenter at national competitions and travel. We went to Baltimore and Kansas City to compete in regional and national competitions. This was a great experience in public speaking and business presentations, and also in networking.” — Class of 2014 grad
Where the Class of 2016 went to work:
JP Morgan Chase: 7
Ernst & Young: 4
Credit Suisse: 2
Goldman Sachs: 2