For a long time, Emily Schmidt wanted to be a meteorologist. The Allen, Texas native considered Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas, Texas Christian University, and Baylor University to pursue her dream, but her top choice was always Texas A&M University, based on the school’s culture, reputation, and some guidance from alumni.
After she was accepted to A&M, though, Schmidt found herself changing her mind about her future, deciding she wanted to pursue a career not in weather forecasting but in business. So she switched her major to finance. Now a senior financial analyst with Dallas-based VMG Health, a valuation and transaction advisory firm in the healthcare industry, the Class of 2014 grad has only the highest praise for the education she received at the Mays Business School.
“After discussions with peers, school guidance counselors, and former students of both programs, I felt finance and Mays was a better option due to post-graduation employment opportunities and options,” Schmidt tells Poets&Quants. “What I currently do now has similar forecasting/analysis themes as meteorology, just in a business setting rather than weather, so I am very happy.”
It helped that Mays allowed Schmidt to transfer AP and dual credits from high school; most, she says, would not have transferred for a science degree. And because the courses were easy to schedule, Schmidt was able to graduate in three years instead of four — a very big deal for someone relying on student loans. A&M’s yearly in-state tuition is about $10,000, and 36% of graduates carry an average debt burden of $22,858 with them into the real world.
“As someone who depended on student loans and financial aid, employment prospects and less time to graduate were very important factors for me,” Schmidt says.
INCREASING CULTURAL AWARENESS
Schmidt is unusual for one reason among her colleagues: She got international experience while at Mays, something only about 29% of the B-school’s grads do according to the latest statistics (fall 2017). Hearing her tell about about it, it’s a wonder Mays students don’t line up en masse.
Schmidt participated in the marketing study-abroad trip led annually by Professor Stephen McDaniel, a nearly month-long romp through seven European countries that includes a brimming slate of professional and cultural visits designed to increase understanding of international business and marketing practices, and to heighten cultural awareness. About 80 students go on the annual trip, which Schmidt calls “amazing” and which she credits for not only helping to develop her knowledge of practices outside the U.S., but for instilling in her a life-long love of travel, too.
“The cultural experience, the professional meetings, the faculty leaders, and the friendships formed were wonderful,” Schmidt says of her 28 days visiting the capitals of Europe. “While the actual curriculum of the coursework is pretty easy, I feel this experience helped me with ‘small talk’ and banter during interviews, and it helped me have something neutral and exciting to talk about. It also gave me a love of traveling.”
The marketing study-abroad program is one of 24 courses with significant global components offered by Mays. Texas A&M offers 43 total semester-abroad opportunities, 22 of which are business-specific, the latter mostly to Europe but also to Brazil, Argentina, and China.
Such experiences are what Martha Loudder, associate dean of undergraduate programs and professor of accounting at Mays, calls “high-impact learning experiences” — the kind that lead to higher retention year to year and greater satisfaction with one’s education. And that’s precisely the kind of experience Mays has pushed more and more in recent years, Loudder says.
“There’s a lot of good research literature that shows that students who are engaged in certain types of what they call ‘high-impact experiences’ tend to persist,” Loudder says, “that is, be retained from year to year, and be much more satisfied with their education and much more successful out in the real world. And that is true not only for all students that have been studied, but it’s especially true for under-represented minority students and first-generation college students.
“We’ve defined these experiences as things that force the student to engage beyond a lecture in a classroom, doing homework, and taking tests,” she tells Poets&Quants. “So, for example, experiential courses, service learning courses, courses where the students are doing research, courses taken abroad — in fact any kind of international experience is high-impact. And an internship is especially high-impact.”
MENTORING, COMMUNITY, AND VESTIGES OF A MILITARY PAST
Another high-impact experience: freshman learning communities. Loudder credits Mays’ embrace of these residential living-learning programs for helping the B-school improve its first-year retention rates. With the help of sophomore, junior, and senior students, the school can ensure the kind of mentoring that gets freshmen off to a strong start in their college career.
“Students in learning communities have been shown for years to have higher first-year retention than learners who don’t,” Loudder says. “So we’ve worked really hard to develop that, and part of our role, too, is what we call high-impact advising. A lot of time students in business colleges that are as big as ours feel like they’re a number, and our philosophy is that we want to make a big business school inside a big university feel like a small, private school experience.”
Mays saw 1,091 business majors enter in the fall of 2017 — up about 100 from last year — 29% of whom are under-represented minorities, to make a total student population of 4,850. Texas A&M as a whole has more than 60,000 students.
“And so we try to inculcate in the very early part of students’ experience a feeling of community and belonging,” Loudder says. “And that involves mentoring. We don’t have enough faculty to do it. So we train students, and we call them peer leaders, and we have hundreds of them in our programs.
“It’s kind of a tradition at Texas A&M, because we started out as a military school, and it wan’t open admission until the ’60s, so that military school thing had a system where the freshmen were brought in, and they were assigned to sophomores and sophomores took care of them and taught them the ropes and so on, and we kind of continued that with our sophomores helping our freshmen, our juniors helping our sophomores. It’s a big part of the culture.”
OUTLOOK ON OUTCOMES: ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Some 76.81% of 2017 graduates secured jobs within 90 days — a slight decrease from last year’s 77.14%. Lockheed Martin and PepsiCo are leading hires for the Class of 2017 Mays grads, which averaged an average salary of $55,202 — again, down from last year’s $57,177. Average signing bonuses also decreased from $6,086 last year to $5,379 this year.
However, 51% of the Class of 2017 received signing bonuses, up from 45% in 2016. Internships before senior year also increased in 2017 to 74% from 60% for 2016’s graduating class.
‘CHALLENGING, BUT COMPLETELY WORTH THE TIME & EFFORT’
The picture is relatively rosier on the input side, where Mays placed 35th after the school winnowed its 5,884 applicants down to 1,994 admits. The average SAT score of the new admits: 1,300.
Mays’ alumni rating climbed from 37th in last year’s inaugural ranking, which only included 50 schools to 20th this year, despite there being 82 schools.
“I had a great, fulfilling experience at Mays,” says Carter, now an operations financial analyst with Tavistock Freebirds LLC, an Austin-based restaurant chain. “It was challenging, but it was completely worth the time and effort put in toward my finance degree. I didn’t really have any expectations that didn’t get met.”
Carter says she appreciated the school’s larger class sizes in the basic courses because she always knew someone in class, while she liked the smaller classes in the degree-specific courses because she benefited from a higher level of professor-student interaction. “I have already recommended the school to others, and I would do so again,” she says. “It’s definitely difficult, but it’s worth pushing through till the end. Most of the professors are incredibly knowledgeable and are a great resource, and a majority of the class material itself ends up being information you use in the corporate world.”
RESPECT FOR AN A&M DEGREE
In her role at VMG, Emily Schmidt assists with recruiting efforts, so she often shares her insights into the training Mays Business School graduates receive. “Everyone,” she says, “respects the A&M resumes that come through.” Based on her experience both as a student and post-graduation, she adds, she would — and does — recommend it to anyone who asks.
“Overall, I think people should know that Mays certainly prepares you for the real world and post-graduation professional exams — CFA, CVA, CPA, etc.,” Schmidt says. “I have been promoted ahead of peers based on my ability to understand complex issues and financial modeling skills, and have passed the first of three CFA exams (I’m working on the others). These were all things I learned during my time at Mays. Additionally, hiring managers and recruiters respect an A&M degree.”
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
“Through an exchange with a business school in Austria, I was able to better understand foreign business policy as well as foreign cultures.” — Class of 2014 Grad
“I was a member of Global Business Brigades my first summer. It was a wonderful experience being able to help a small Panamanian community become more self-sufficient and to better their community. One of my most memorable experiences through Mays.” — Class of 2014 Grad
“I presented in front of Halliburton executives about an expatriate business opportunity. It was a very challenging, yet enlightening opportunity that prepared me for real-world business presentations.” — Class of 2014 Grad