Elite business schools are always hard to get into. Elite Ivy League business schools are, for the most part, even harder. And elite Ivy League undergraduate schools, of which there are only two? They’re the hardest of all.
The Dyson Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania are the only two undergrad business programs of all seven Ivy League schools. And they are the most selective schools in the United States, with only 7.1% of applicants gaining admission to Wharton and an astoundingly low 2.93% getting the nod from the gatekeepers at Cornell.
Lynn Wooten, dean of the Dyson School, has a simple explanation for why her school went from a still very low 7.0% acceptance rate in 2016 to its sub-3% mark this fall, when only 128 were admitted out of 4,366 applicants: the Dyson School’s profile rose considerably after merging last year with Cornell’s Hotel School and Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management
— and it rise even higher with the subsequent gift, seven months later
, of $150 million from the Johnson family.
“Once we actually became part of the College of Business, more students were able to actually find us and start to understand what the Dyson undergraduate business experience was like,” Wooten tells Poets&Quants. “And so last year we had a peak in applications. If you realize there are only two Ivy League schools that have undergraduate business programs, and ours is so small, that’s why you see the heightened application activity and the smaller acceptance rate number.”
‘ANY PERSON … ANY STUDY’
Wooten thinks a lot about what it means to be one of Dyson’s approximately 800 students. Since coming to Cornell from the University of Michigan Ross School in July, Wooten, a professor for 19 years, says she wakes up every day thinking about living up to — and helping students live up to — university founder Ezra Cornell’s motto: “Any person … any study.” To Wooten, that means diversity — diversity in students, diversity in studies, diversity in opportunities.
“We are a very diverse school when you look at the backgrounds, but Cornell is also a remarkable campus because you can come to Dyson and major in undergraduate business but you can do so many other things because of the diversity of this place,” she says. “You can come here and do pre-med, you might take classes in industrial labor relations, you can take classes in hospitality management. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about.
“I’m very passionate about how we think of each year in the Dyson experience and develop leaders. I’ve been enjoying meeting the students, the faculty, and staff, and really spending this first semester thinking about the Dyson distinction, and how we’re going to advance our signature learning experiences. So we’ll be rolling out a very intense, engaged leadership curriculum that will be tied to action-based learning experiences and career development activities.”
ONE MAJOR, MANY CONCENTRATIONS
What does that curriculum entail? “We are heavily quantitative applied economics- and science-driven because of our heritage,” Wooten says. “So throughout the four-year experience, much of the curriculum is similar to what you would see in other business schools, but our distinction is smaller classes, the high-touch, and our students have to take a lot of science classes and math classes to go with the general business classes.”
The Dyson School has one major, Applied Economics and Management, with concentrations offered in Accounting, Business Analytics, Finance, Marketing, Strategy, Agribusiness Management, Applied Economics, Entrepreneurship, Environmental/Energy and Resource Economics, Food Industry Management, and International Trade and Development. All majors are required to take Business Management, Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Marketing, Finance, Business Law, Micro and Macro Economics, Managerial Economics I & II, two Applied Economics elective classes, Introductory Statistics, Calculus, Spreadsheet Modeling, and an upper-level quantitative methods course.
The classes are small and “high-touch,” Wooten says, with signature experiences and capstones imbedded in each concentration.
“Students in Dyson are benefiting from being in that tight, close-knit community, but also in having access to experiences not only in the College of Agriculture and Life Science where it grew up, but now with the College of Business as well,” says Amanda Shaw, assistant dean of student services. “I think the students are getting the best of both worlds in terms of high-touch community, where they spend most of their days, but also in an ability to explore things. We had a student last week, a senior, who could be taking it easy and instead he’s taking Python programming in the Computer Science Department, which is one of the top computer science departments in the world.”
THE DYSON SCHOOL BY THE NUMBERS
With such a low acceptance rate, it’s clear the Dyson School has the pick of the litter, and the data bears this out. Students in the fall 2017 intake averaged 1449 on the SAT and 33 on the ACT, among the highest of any school ranked by Poets&Quants. They didn’t get any less impressive after four years: 87.2% of Dyson grads got jobs within 90 days, slightly down (89.7%) from 2016, with three-quarters (74.8%) going to work in the Northeast. Top employers include JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte, Citigroup, and Barclays, each with six 2017 grads employed, as well as Goldman Sachs (five) and Bank of America (five). The Class of 2017 made an average salary of $70,487 (up from $69,622 in 2016) and an average signing bonus of $9,164 (down from $10,809).
It’s good they made so much money because Cornell is a costly venture. New York residents pay $127,549 in tuition; non-residents pay $192,713. The university estimates additional expenses at $66,924. No wonder 84.6% get scholarship support, while 34.3% graduate with debt, with an average debt burden of $19,513.
Cornell, Wooten says, awards financial aid on the basis of demonstrated need
, and never based on academics, athletic ability, or any other talent. “Cornell has a generous financial aid package, and all of our financial aid is need-based,” Wooten says.
GLOBAL OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND
Cornell’s Dyson School prides itself on diversity — 31% of the student body is comprised of under-represented minorities — yet only 9% of its students are international. What it lacks in foreign influence the school makes up for by sending a quarter (25%) of its students abroad in some capacity during their four years. The university as a whole offers 443 semester-abroad opportunities, and the Dyson School has 10 courses with a significant global component and four completely devoted to global business issues. There are seven approved exchange programs.
“Those global classes tend to really relate to our mission and our motto that ‘Our Business Is a Better World,’” Wooten says. “One class might have students working in India on an agriculture project, we take students to Africa to help small entrepreneurs … so many of our signature experiences are at the intersection of using business skills to solve world problems.”
R. Andrew Salamida, currently a grad student and project manager for Cornell, graduated from the Dyson School in 2017. A member of the campus Food Fellows, he traveled to Chile to study the food and wine industry with a select group of students. “It was here that I fell in love with wine and began pursuing that industry,” he tells Poets&Quants. “Because of Cornell, I was able to take core business classes within Dyson, but also diversify my experience with other classes within the College of Business.”
Another former student, now a Goldman Sachs investment banker, says he traveled locally and to Chile to study the food industry, an experience that “gave me a global perspective of the food industry and how businesses operate in other countries, along with the specific challenges they face.”
APPLIED ECONOMICS INFORMS
Tenure or tenure-track faculty teach 49% of courses in the Dyson School, which Wooten says doesn’t capture the reality that “we have a lot of coaching and mentoring here.” Dyson students have a career counseling support team, a professional academic adviser, and a faculty adviser. It’s all part of the “Cornell ethos,” she says, a high-touch, engaged learning experience. “I work with a wonderful team of faculty and staff and student TAs who every day get up and think about how they make that excellent experience.”
Moreover, the faculty is unique compared to those at many peer schools because half come from the applied economics side. “And so we have finance faculty who do finance research and marketing professors in the discipline of management, but on the applied economics side our students will get some of the best economics professors in the world who are just doing really great research projects — anything from thinking about economic policies in China to the economics behind food insecurity,” Wooten says. “The difference really is that strong foundation in economics and the view of economics as a way to solve world problems.”
As in every other aspect of Cornell life, the faculty’s strength is its diversity, Shaw says — and the students benefit.
“I’m biased — I’m a double Cornellian. I have an undergrad and grad degree from here,” she laughs. “But the diversity of people that you meet and interact with — from someone learning how to run their family farm to someone who’s going to return to another country and work for its government — there’s a huge range of people in the Cornell public-private mix that really creates students that have a broader perspective.”