Starting college in the midst of the recession had a big impact on Caitlin Silver’s education and career. She entered the Pennsylvania State University Smeal College of Business hoping that a major in accounting might guarantee her a job.
Even though Penn State is Silver’s family school, it wasn’t initially her top choice. “The culture at Penn State is very ‘football, football.’ My parents went here. My grandparents went here. I just fell into it; I didn’t come here with that enthusiasm,” she says.
But when she got into the honors program, she decided to go. And as it turned out, Smeal’s accounting major and career services were everything Silver wanted. And as an added bonus, the college ran with the mentality of a small liberal arts school within the big university.
“I had classes with 500 plus kids, and I could still go to office hours. I had a professor who taught me and 700 other students, and we’re still in touch,” she says. “And the Business School would check in with me to make sure I passed the CPA and things like that.”
PENN STATE’S 19 CAMPUSES PROVIDE UNIQUE OPTIONS FOR STUDENTS
When students arrive at Smeal, they begin the Entrance to Major requirements, which they’ll complete within the first two years. One of the classes is a freshman seminar dedicated to exploring the different business majors. The rest are courses in math, writing, and economics, and introductory courses in accounting, management, finance, and statistics.
And because Penn State is a multi-campus institution, students don’t have to complete the Entrance to Major requirements from the University Park campus. There are 19 other Penn State campuses, which traditionally have allowed students to spend the first two college years closer to home. Business students can spend all four years on the Smeal campus at University Park, or just the last two after they declare a major.
Once students pick a major, the coursework is still fairly flexible. Each major has a core set of required classes, but students are usually given two choices within that field of study. For example, students can study accounting with a focus on finance, or accounting with a focus on something else. On top of major courses, Smeal also has the ‘two-piece requirement,’ where they choose two classes from a business focus outside their major.
INTRODUCING COURSES IN ETHICS, SUSTAINABILITY, AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Jeff Sharp, associate dean for undergraduate education at Smeal, says the business students are highly motivated to accomplish and study matters within and outside the classroom, and to make sure the school is providing what students want, they’re constantly looking for new opportunities to help students grow and explore.
In recent years Smeal has responded to student demand by introducing new majors within the business school and integrating ethics, sustainability, and social responsibility into upper-level core classes for all students. And they have a good number of applied learning options including study abroad, leadership opportunities, and an investment fund. In fact, Sharp says they’re getting close to 90% of their graduates having some applied learning or leadership experience.
Concerning study abroad, Sharp says approximately one third of Smeal students participate, and they hope to see a 10% increase soon. “We’ve been very selective in terms of our study abroad opportunities,” he says. “I know there are many suppliers of study abroad programs out there in the private sector. We’ve been very careful to make sure we’re partnering with selective universities.”
And each year a cohort of about 50 students, out of the 200 in the class, are admitted to the Sapphire Leadership Program. Sharp says they go through enhanced leadership training during their time at Smeal, taking some classes that are dedicated for Sapphire students, and an applied leadership program where corporations submit real-time problems and the Sapphire students can help to solve them.
FINANCE MAJORS HAVE ACCESS TO $7 MILLION STUDENT-MANAGED INVESTMENT FUND
For finance majors, Smeal has the Nittany Lion Fund, which is a $7 million student-managed investment fund. With private investors and student managers, it’s one of only a few student-managed funds that uses actual investor money.
And all students follow the Smeal Honor Code. Sharp says the code was written by students in the Smeal MBA program in 2006, and was adopted by the undergraduate program in 2007.
“We have found a great deal of enthusiasm in students wanting to know what’s going on beyond the university, concerning ethical issues in the world, in business, and in the government,” Sharp says. “This is a real distinguishing part of the Smeal College experience, and we’ve received a great deal of support and enthusiasm from alums who represent some of the finest leadership in business.”
Specifically, the Honor Code states that those in the Smeal community will aspire to the highest ethical standards, and hold each other accountable to them in their academic lives and future careers.
“I think students realize that we live in a world in which – often times – some send the signal that it’s purely a bottom line business,” Sharp says. “And I think that the students are very wise, that they know it’s about more than just who makes the most profit, it’s about how you conduct yourself and your business and about building long term quality relationships of honor and integrity. And in the end that’s what’s best for business.”
FROM UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA TO SAN FRANCISCO
And many alumni report that Smeal’s career services are very helpful. Lyssa Hurvitz, from the Class of 2014, says she thinks the resume building and interview skills she learned at the school helped her greatly. “When you’re out in the real world, you realize how many people have absolutely no idea what they’re doing in an interview,” she says. “I feel extremely confidant in interview situations.”
And Sliver, who had chosen the business school for its career services, says the fact that Smeal has it’s own job center – specifically for business students – helped her a lot. On top of the center, the school also offered a one-credit course on writing resumes and interviewing, and would host career fairs just for business jobs.
Silver got a job in San Francisco right out of school. But eventually, she wanted to return home, and started looking for a finance job in Central Pennsylvania. But, she says, there aren’t a lot of finance jobs in that area, and she didn’t think it would be a very easy search.
“So I called Smeal, and they found me a job within a week. I was the only person interviewed – it turned out the company had contacted Smeal before they even listed the job,” she says. “I didn’t expect them to go out of their way to help me like that. I don’t think there are too many schools that would have the head of the program making calls.”
Overall alumni award the school above average scores in nearly every category on P&Q’s survey. Notably, Smeal had the highest score concerning business themed extracurricular activities, and the highest score on the program’s efforts to connect students with practicing business professionals.
The school reports that 84.45% of the Class of 2017 had an internship before graduating, and that 70.33% had a job within 90 days after graduating. The average starting salary was $59,377, and top employers include Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and KPMG.
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
“The capstone class required us to play an eight-week business simulation game in which we had to make all of the necessary decisions to keep our business going. We competed with each other to have the best products and financial ratios and to outperform the market. This was a great chance to test my knowledge of everything I had learned in prior courses.” – Class of 2014 Smeal alum
“We did a simulation game to learn about running an entire business. This was during one of my last semesters at school. We had to collaborate with a team and make business decisions in areas such as capacity planning, finance, and marketing.” – Class of 2014 Smeal alum
“The Keystone course significantly helped me with interviewing and obtaining full time work post graduation.” – Class of 2014 Smeal alum
Where the Class of 2016 went to work:
JPMorgan Chase & Co.: 12
Bank of America Corporation: 11
PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.: 10
Grant Thornton LLP: 9