10 Undergraduate Business Schools To Watch In 2021

Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business

On the surface, you might say the 2020 P&Q business school ranking was a disappointment to the Cox School of Business. After all, it tumbled eight spots to 26th – on its 100th anniversary, no less. However, rankings rarely tell the full story. In Cox’s case, acceptance rates rose and SAT scores fell. Where it really matters – student satisfaction – Cox excelled.

Just ask alumni, who couldn’t say enough positive things about their alma mater. “What I enjoyed the most about the SMU Cox School of Business is the endless opportunities it offers to students,” writes Layal Zalkout, a 2020 graduate and P&Q Best & Brightest Business Major. “Cox truly has it all, including networking events, interview workshops, career coaching, and company connections. It feels amazing to know how recognizable Cox is and how this school makes sure that its students have jobs lined up for post-graduation.”

As a whole, Cox ranked among the top performers in P&Q’s alumni survey with the Class of 2018. When it comes to positioning students for their dream careers, Cox notched the 2nd-highest score. The program also ranked 2nd for improving students’ socioeconomic status. The program scored particularly high in alumni measures. Cox finished 2nd for connecting students with practicing professionals and alumni and 4th for the quality of the alumni network. True to its outcomes orientation, Cox placed 5th for preparing graduates for work and 4th for career advising. When it comes to recommending their alma mater, Cox alumni scored their alma mater just .17 of a point lower than the category’s top performer.

One differentiator? Cox prides itself on intimacy, with classes deliberately kept small – 30-40 students – so they can receive the personal attention needed to thrive. The school also doesn’t hold classes on Fridays, freeing upperclassmen to participate in internships. At the same time, Cox leans heavily on hands-on programming, such as giving finance majors the chance to manage millions of dollars in the school endowment.

“Being involved in the Alternative Asset Program was the most fun thing I did in college,” writes Dillon Baxter, a 2020 grad and P&Q Best & Brightest. “The opportunity to be surrounded by the smartest and most driven students at SMU was an invaluable experience, and I learned more in one semester than I did the rest of my college experience combined.”

That’s not by accident. “Our goal is that when SMU Cox students graduate, they’ve got more experience than the competition from other schools,” explains Jim Bryan, the school’s associate dean of BBA programs, in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “We couldn’t do all these things if we didn’t take advantage of our location.”

Indeed, Dallas is home to 42 Fortune 1000 companies. However, Bryan points to something more fundamental to the success of Cox’s high placement rates and alumni’s early career success.

“Every year when I look at our most successful graduates, I see a combination of a few key things: hard workers (obviously), a lack of entitlement, and involvement on campus… It’s this combo that makes them attractive to future employers. But it’s impossible to say enough about the lack of entitlement. Being humble and eager are two of the things we love to instill in our graduates.”

What are some of Cox’s secrets for connecting students with alumni and leveraging career services to boost opportunities for Cox students? Here are some additional thoughts from Jim Bryan and Brandy Dalton, director of BBA and MS career programs at Cox.


Jim Bryan

P&Q: Cox generated some of its highest scores in the alumni survey for connecting students with alumni members and for alumni members connecting them to employers. What does Cox do to facilitate these student-alumni connections?

Bryan and Dalton: “We believe strongly that successful alumni relations start long before alumni status is earned. It starts the first day students get to Cox.  All our staff, and particularly our Assistant Dean of Alumni Relations Kevin Knox, get to know our students while they are here. If you form those relationships early on, you’re creating future informed, involved, and invested alums who want to give back to the school that gave them so much. We tell all our alumni that there are many ways to give back to Cox that are not in fundraising. Hire a Mustang. Speak at a class. Join the BBA Mentor Alliance. Attend one of the many alumni events we organize all across the globe when those events are in their areas.

Our goal is that our students have such a positive experience that they want to make an impact as alumni on future students’ experiences and that they want to stay engaged with the Mustang family. Our alums are never shy about wanting to give back to current students through mentorship, career coaching, recruitment advice, and providing internship and externship opportunities. By cultivating these relationships early, it continues to pay dividends later on. It is because of these relationships that we are able to consistently engage alumni in on-campus and off-campus programming, both academic and professional. One of the most important things we can do to invigorate our alumni base is to ask them for help in ways that are not necessarily directly financial. They know when we call, we’re not always asking for money. We want them to help us shape the next generation of Mustangs. And they never let us down.”

P&Q: Career Services is another strength of the Cox School of Business according to alumni. Your school ranked 4th for career advising and 2nd for positioning students to achieve their dream careers.

Bryan and Dalton: “We have a dedicated career coaching team working with students from day one. Our mission is to work alongside students to help make the leap from the academic world to a career they’ll love. Combined with one-on-one coaching, Cox Career Management services and programs are designed so that students can focus their interests, build their experience and broaden their exposure to the career opportunities that are right for them. We help equip students with the skills, awareness and visibility necessary to succeed in today’s competitive job search.

We couldn’t achieve such amazing outcomes without the partnerships we’ve built with our alumni, employer partners, and community.  Building lasting relationships is at the core of our career programming and these relationships continue far beyond graduation, which is why it is so easy to keep alums engaging with current students through mentorship, recruiting activities, and professional development programming.”

P&Q: Cox also ranked 2nd among alumni for helping students reach a new socioeconomic status and 5th for creating a life-changing experience. What types of support and experiences does Cox provide to students to achieve these ends?

Bryan and Dalton: “One thing we’ve seen over the past several years, is that if students take advantage of all our programs, and perform well in the classroom, they can go just about anywhere with their Cox degree. We are fortunate to be a school that places students from all disciplines at some of the biggest and most well respected firms across the globe. And no matter where they start, their Cox degree is their ticket to changing their lives.

Our faculty are some of our most outstanding mentors, but we also make reaching out to groups that have been historically underrepresented a priority. From our Women in Business group to many affinity clubs and organizations, there is a place for everyone at Cox to learn from our community how to take the next step.  As always, it starts with our alums. The BBA Mentor Alliance connects our current students with mentors, many of them alums, who help students navigate the transition to the “real world” post-graduation. Also, internships are an expectation. Some of our programs require them. For other programs, they are de facto requirements to landing that top job. But the vast majority of Cox students graduate with more than one internship, and many land that first job through their internship experience. And, of course, we can’t overstate the life-changing impact that scholarships can have on students who are struggling to pay for school.  Without our (often alumni-funded) scholarship programs, we would not be close to where we are today.”

Brandy Dalton

P&Q: What are your undergraduate business program’s two biggest strengths and how do make students better prepared for business once they graduate?

Bryan and Dalton:

1. In the last decade particularly, we’ve developed quite a reputation for our top finance majors who graduate from our Alternative Asset Management program. The students who graduate from this program are some of the most well-trained and day-one ready finance majors on the planet. The coursework is rigorous, and the admission process is more than extensive, but after going through all of it, students emerge prepared for anything on the other side.

2. The thing we’re always most proud of though, is the constant theme we hear from employers: They tell us Cox BBAs are just as smart as the students from any other school, but it is their other skills that make them stand out. They consistently are the first there in the morning, the last to leave, and executives are eager to put them in front of clients early on. Starting freshman-year, students are required to take a Business Discovery course that includes an introduction to career management. Our goal is to expose them to employers’ expectations and teach them how to stand out in the recruitment process for their target industries, providing them the opportunity to build the skills to succeed.  Students learn very early on skills in professionalism, communication, networking, and service. We pride ourselves on building graduates who have a strong work ethic, a solid moral compass, and are client-focused. That’s really the best compliment employers can give to the BBA staff.”

P&Q: What are some new and upcoming developments in your program that will enhance the business program for future business majors?

Bryan and Dalton: “We are very excited about our new major in Business Analytics and Supply Chain Management. Never has the need for graduates in this area been more obvious. The entire country watched the nation’s supply chain in certain areas crumble at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Cox faculty members in this department have developed a curriculum that will get some incredibly talented students amazing opportunities very soon.  We have also recently changed our admission policies to a more first-year admit program. Almost all Cox students are now starting with us on day one of their first year in school. This allows us to shape the culture of the undergraduate program and meet students’ needs better than we were already. It also helps us better meet the needs of our employers, who constantly want to be in front of first and second year students. We’re just in our first year of this new program and already we’re seeing how it is making the Cox experience better for students, faculty, and staff.

In addition to the new Business Discovery course in which students learn about different majors and career paths, we have launched a freshman-exclusive program, the Cox Career Accelerator Program (CAP), designed to provide advanced professional development and networking opportunities specific to freshmen. Students are assigned a senior mentor in their first year and gain exposure to employers and alums through various programming events and workshops.  Our CAP students also have the opportunity to participate in a summer externship project with one of our employer partners, allowing them to learn about different career paths and industries, while building their first year resume.”

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