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Washington University’s Olin Business School is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017, having been founded as the School of Commerce and Finance in 1917. But the school hasn’t allowed its rich history to hold it back from offering a four-year undergraduate business program that is among the very best and most innovative in the world.
In the fall of 2016, the school rolled out a new program, with greater emphasis on experiential learning and teamwork, a new major in Leadership and Strategic Management, two new minors in the Business of Sports and the Business of Entertainment, and a portfolio of new topical course offerings. The overhaul was the result three years of review and planning by the faculty guided by feedback from both graduates and employers.
It may very well make Olin even more popular and selective than it already is. The acceptance rate for the school’s undergraduate business program is just 10.3%. That makes Olin the fourth most selective undergraduate business program in the country, behind only Cornell’s Dyson School (7.0%), UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business (8.2%) and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (10.0%). The average SAT scores at Olin are in nosebleed territory. Only two schools have higher SATs than Olin’s 1480: Wharton (1510) and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business (1500).
Some 91% of the students ranked in the top 10% of their high school graduating classes, while 47% were semifinalists or finalists in the National Merit Scholars. The entering freshmen class is roughly 160 students, recently drawn from 30 states and ten countries.
The school selectivity befits its reputation for academic rigor. “When I was applying, I wanted a place where I was going to be pushed academically by my peers,” says Adam Parker, 23, who completed his undergraduate studies at Olin in 2014. “At WashU, I met some of the smartest people I was ever around. Yet, everyone will tell you their favorite part of WashU is the people. They are good people who are super friendly and easy to get along with.” And the university makes sure that new students bond quickly. First-year students and sophomores live on what’s called “South Forty,” some 40 acres of residential living on the south side of the Danforth campus that is home to about 3,200 residents in 23 dorms. “It just facilitates seeing people over and over again and that makes for great friendships,” says Parker. “There are so many clubs and organizations on campus, even a rock climbing club.”
‘BY THE TIME THE FIRST SEMESTER IS OVER, STUDENTS UNDERSTAND HOW BUSINESSES INTERSECT EVERYWHERE’
At Olin, first-year students dive right into business, with two courses in the first semester delivered in cohort style: Foundations of Business and Management 100. The first course, team taught by as many as seven senior professors, assigns students into teams to create and develop a hypothetical consumer products and includes an end-of-course presentation. The second course requires students to tackle a business challenge and come up with solutions. Recent examples: What mega retailer Target did to regain customer trust after a data breach and the strategic options open to Nintendo to regain marketshare against faster growing video game rivals.
“By the time the first semester is over, students understand how businesses intersect everywhere,” says Steven Malter, associate dean and director of undergraduate programs at Olin. “They produce business plans and product pitches that are judged by the faculty at the end of each semester, and they have been exposed to all the eight business majors at Olin. The goal is to have students understand which business options appeal to them and to narrow down their choices.”
In the second semester, Olin gets serious. First-year students take a course in Quantitative Business Analysis and Managerial Economics.“There is a substantial team assignment in the second semester,” says Malter. A recent example was a project from Deloitte Consulting. The consulting firm assigned a coach to the assignment and student teams ultimately present before Deloitte consultants and gain real-time feedback.
“By the time students complete the first year, they have had three experiential learning projects,” adds Malter. “It really allows students to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it to solutions that all organizations face. By doing this early on, they get a great experience so they can keep building on what they are learning. Through their sophomore year, they will have had four significant applied learning projects and that makes them pretty competitive for internships.”
DOUBLE MAJORS ENCOURAGED
Malter says that the school has added a dozen or so new courses in the past 18 months, from Modeling for Business Decision Making to Defining Moments: Lessons in Leadership. But as a business undergrad at Olin, there is also plenty of room to take advantage of the larger university. All told, business undergrads will take about 60% of their courses in the business school, with the remainder of courses taken throughout WashU.
The school, in fact, encourages double majors. “Washington University makes it very easy to double major or minor across several schools,” says Parker who minored in French. “The school is very flexible that way.”
Poets&Quants monitored one required class on presentation skills and found the students were so well prepared and polished that they easily rivaled, if not bested, the poise and presence of MBAs who are years older. The faculty member teaching the class, moreover, was among the most engaged and student-connected professors we have ever witnessed in a classroom.
MORE THAN HALF OF OLIN STUDENTS PARTAKE IN A ‘SIGNATURE EXPERIENCE’
P&Q’s survey of Olin alumni found that 53% have taken a “signature experience.” These experiences range from a unique course on the luxury retail apparel industry that culminated in a trip to Paris, London, and Milan to a thesis on the profitability of the Olympics to a business plan competition judged by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in St. Louis.
For Parker, his most memorable experience was being on the traveling case competition team. He discovered he had a knack for it during the introductory Management 100 class in which a case competition occurs. “I found out I like analyzing things and presenting,” he says. After his summer internship at Procter & Gamble, Parker joined the traveling team and competed in four to five different competitions.
Some 47% of alumni said they took advantage of one of the many global immersions in the program. Some attend an Israel Summer Business Academy for a deep dive in entrepreneurship in a country that boasts more startups per capita than any other. Other students signed up for the week-long immersion in Budapest to learn about venture capital.
The Midwestern values of integrity, a strong work ethic, honesty, and compassion also have a lot to do with the business school’s success, according to Dean Mark P. Taylor, a native of the U.K. who joined Olin at the end of 2016. “At Olin, we are dedicated to preparing tomorrow’s leaders to embrace and manage change with creativity and empathy. Olin students think on a global scale, regardless of the size and location of their organization.”
HIGH ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE SCORES FROM CLASS OF 2014
Overall, alumni award Olin some of the highest scores in our survey. On our 12 core questions to the Class of 2014, Olin was among the top ten scorers in nine categories. No one beat Olin when it came to the effectiveness of its academic advising, the accessibility of faculty for informal discussion and mentoring outside of class, or the amount of extracurricular activities that helped to nurture and improve student business skills. When we asked business school alumni if their undergraduate experience had prepared them for the world of work, alums gave Olin the highest scores in our survey.
Parker agrees with those survey findings. “Going into college, I was concerned about the ability to interact with professors. I was never once taught by a graduate student or a teaching assistant. Every single class was taught by a professor and I became friends with a lot of my professors. Pretty much every thing in class was case based. We rarely read out of textbooks.”
Those highly favorable reviews confirm what Olin administrators say are some of the strengths of its undergraduate experience. They emphasize student partnerships with academic and career advisors throughout the program, along with the dedication of the faculty to the students, something that all schools claim but few truly deliver. Bottom line: Olin is among the top three undergrad business programs that alumni would recommend to close friends.
All of these attributes lead to strong outcomes for Olin students, no doubt assisted by the required career-prep course taught by the staff of its Weston Career Center. Unlike most undergraduate programs we reviewed, Olin ‘s career center is dedicated to business students. Many other business schools send their students to university-run career centers. Nine in ten students report having internships before senior year. Some 97% of the Class of 2016 landed jobs within three months after graduation, better than Wharton’s 91.7%, and among the highest employment rates for any business school. In fact, only four other schools had higher employment rates in 2016. The average salary for an Olin grad was $66,681, with 65% of the graduates reporting average bonuses of $7,428. Put it all together and the typical Olin undergrad this year walked into a job paying total compensation of $71,509 in the first year. That’s a great return for a school without an East or West Coast advantage.
What Alumni Say:
“Olin’s teaching style is very project-focused. Each class usually has a huge project given to us at the beginning of the semester, and due at the end. The students would then work together in teams throughout the semester to figure out how to complete the project. In management classes, these projects would be self-explanatory and we could be asked to come up with solutions to fix a crisis. Other projects in more technical classes such as statistics could be focused on what we learn throughout the year. We learned to build up the projects as we learned more in each class.” — Class of 2014 alum
“I studied abroad in London, during which I took intensive courses from Oxford professors about the economy of the U.K. and the European Union. I travelled to Iceland, where I interviewed economists and government officials about their views on the EU and Eurozone, then met up with my classmates in Brussels where we participated in a mock EU Parliament, where we represented the countries we had just visited. For the rest of the semester, I had a full-time internship at Proximity Worldwide, an advertising agency. At the same time, I was conducting my own research on corporate social responsibility, which culminated in an 80-page paper and poster presentation. It was an amazing experience that allowed me to explore many facets of the business world and gain real experience working in a different country.” — Class of 2014 alum
“I participated in a business plan writing competition judged by St. Louis venture capitalists and entrepreneurs and completed a consulting practicum with a St. Louis based start up. I also participated in two elevator pitch competitions along with other undergraduates, graduate students, and local entrepreneurs.” — Class of 2014 alum
Most popular employers for the Class of 2016:
Bain & Company
Capital One Financial Group