10 Undergraduate Business Schools To Watch In 2021

Carlson School, Building Exterior

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

You don’t come to business just to master a field and land a job. In between, you want to experience something – something unforgettable, something that inspires and transforms you. In academia, “signature experience” is the term for this. It may be a capstone project that pulls together four years of hard-won lessons. Sometimes, it is a partnership where students interact with company leadership and watch their ideas come to live. Of course, there is the global immersion, where students are barraged with new ways of working, living and viewing the world.

When it comes to immersions, the Carlson School sets the standard. In a pre-COVID world, every UM business major was required to complete an international experience. And that was for good reason explains one 2018 Carlson grad.

“The study abroad/global immersion program at The University of Minnesota was imperative to my business education. Requiring that students have a global immersion experience is the much-needed push students need to grow. Experiencing other cultures, business practices, and ways of life is vital to one’s education. In my case, studying at Hitotsubashi University, Japan was the single most defining moment of my business education. Studying at Hitotsubashi University was what gave me the soft skills that are vital to succeed in the workplace and in life.”

Indeed, Carlson ranked 2nd for providing signature and international experiences according to a survey of 2018 business school graduates conducted by P&Q last year. Not surprisingly, the school also climbed from 23rd to 14th in the latest P&Q Undergraduate Business School ranking. Among alumni, you’ll find one anonymous grad who took a corporate sustainability trip to Costa Rica, learning what it took to take coffee beans from farm to Starbucks. Another grad bonded with classmates in London, adding “I haven’t met a student who said they wish they hadn’t gone.” The Global Immersions was also a defining experience for Stephanie Avalos, a 2020 grad and P&Q Best & Brightest Business Major.

As a student from a low-income background, I never would have imagined myself traveling outside the U.S. and visiting multiple different countries. By giving students the opportunity to travel abroad and immerse themselves in a culture different than their own, Carlson is providing students like myself with essential global skills and knowledge.”

Immersions weren’t the only reason for Carlson’s rise in this year’s ranking. The school also pulled off a 98% placement for its graduates – no easy feat in a pandemic, even in the Twin Cities with 16 Fortune 500 companies. These resources enable Carlson to deliver an ‘In Action’ curriculum defined by projects and partnerships with area employers like Target, 3M, and General Mills. One example is the Enterprise program, where undergrads can choose coursework and projects in branding, consulting, finance, and entrepreneurship.

“I participated in the Carlson Funds Enterprise where we managed, alongside a faculty director and fellow students, a small and mid-cap growth equity portfolio of ~$20 million,” one anonymous 2018 alum shared.

The Consulting Enterprise was equally popular according to another grad surveyed by P&Q. “The Consulting Enterprise introduced me to actual Fortune 500 clients and provided me with the opportunity to advise them on key strategy cases (go-to-market strategy, pricing strategy, etc.).”

Last week, P&Q posted several questions to Carlson leadership on the hands-on programming, international experiences, and high placement rates for new grads. Here are some secrets behind the program’s success from Raj Singh, Associate Dean – Undergraduate Program and Arthur R Upgren Professor of Finance.


Raj Singh, Finance Professor and Associate Dean of the Undergraduate program for the 2019 Spring Alumni Magazine

P&Q: Tell us what you mean by Carlson’s “In Action” philosophy? Give us a few examples of how this is weaved into the business programming.

Singh: “The Carlson School’s signature “In-Action” courses prepare students to succeed in the real world. These hands-on courses challenge students to get comfortable with ambiguity and apply what they learn to launch their own business, pinpoint solutions to business problems, or devise approaches to new opportunities. Taught by world-class faculty members, the courses also integrate concepts from various business disciplines while working on projects sponsored by real corporations and nonprofits.

As an example, consider the Entrepreneurship In-Action class. This is a two-semester sequence in which students work with professional mentors to conceive, test, launch, and operate real companies. Meanwhile, students in Management Information Systems In-Action class work with established companies who pose a current problem to the class. Teams of students work to precisely define the problem, establish criterion, research and analyze potential solutions, and finally, present the recommended solution to the company’s executive team.”

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

Singh: “First, we foster a close relationship with our corporate partners, which we have been able to build given that we are the only elite business school in this metropolitan location that hosts 16 Fortune 500 company headquarters. Second is our community. In particular, our faculty and staff invest heavily in our students, allowing them to become the best version of themselves when they graduate.

We offer unique experiential experiences through our Enterprise Programs. For example, the Consulting Enterprise pairs MBA and undergraduate students in teams to work as consultants on a real issue and deliver strategic recommendations. Companies tell us this service is incredibly valuable, and students say the same.

Our location in a thriving metropolitan area means many alums are able to engage with students as potential mentors, class speakers, interview coaches, case competition judges, and more. In the last year, we’ve been able to expand access to our alumni base around the world as virtual appearances became commonplace. We strongly believe these interactions help students not only internalize the academic concepts, but also develop a better understanding of practical issues in business.

The strength of our faculty and the support of our staff is exemplary. They work with our corporate partners to develop our students consistent with our Guiding Principles of ‘We Before I,’ ‘Why Before How,’ and ‘Work Before Reward.’ Hence, our students are – on average – more resilient, curious, and prepared for teamwork in their chosen career. Another place where our investment in staff shows up is the preparedness that our students exhibit in their interview skills. We believe that is largely due to the emphasis we have put in to develop a career center that is completely focused on undergraduate students.”

P&Q: In the alumni survey, Carlson’s composite score ranked 2nd in the area of signature and international experience. What types of programming do you offer that provides both memorable experiences and international exposure?

Singh: “As part of their business curriculum, 100 percent of Carlson School undergraduates must complete an International Experience. This helps foster the global mindset and cultural understanding they’ll need to thrive in today’s world of business. Through the Carlson Global Institute, students can choose from a variety of education abroad offerings that align with the curriculum, fulfill additional requirements, and are located across the globe, including at 39 international partner business schools. It is not uncommon for students to say that their time abroad was a highlight of their time at Carlson. In fact, 90% of our graduating seniors agree that their international experience enhanced their overall academic experience, and feel more confident in their ability to navigate cultural dimensions of business as a result.

Another key experience for Carlson School students is the Immersion Core (I-Core). A set of four courses, typically taken in a block schedule in the sophomore year with the same group of students, provides an opportunity for immersion into foundation business courses early. Students begin to learn how business works cross-functionally as the professors work together to design lessons that highlight the important relationships among finance, marketing, operations, and strategy. Teamwork and leadership skills are also an important part of the learning process. Students often speak of how formative their I-Core semester is in helping them build community, identify their passions, and choose a major or discover new interests.”

P&Q: You climbed from 23rd to 14th in our newest undergraduate business ranking. What are some new and upcoming developments in your program that will enhance the business program for future business majors?

Singh: “The Carlson School promises our students rigorous and transformative learning experiences to prepare them for fulfilling lives and careers. Consistent with this promise, we are in the process of undergoing a holistic Undergraduate Curriculum Review, ensuring that all Carlson graduates are equipped to successfully adapt to the challenges of a rapidly-changing future of work. Some exciting curricular changes are under development. For example, this includes an increased emphasis on data-driven decision making and complex problem solving. This change, and others, will enhance student knowledge and preparedness in important ways.

We are in the early stages of developing a Leadership Academy as well. This three-part initiative integrates research-guided curriculum, short-term immersive experiences, and active-learning opportunities in which students can put their learning into practice. Students can enroll in a new course entitled Everyday Moments of Leadership, where they will apply learning in a lab addressing a real-life leadership challenge while supported by individual guidance from their own personal leadership coach.

With a robust business community located right outside its doors, the Carlson School has the unique opportunity to guarantee small group mentorship to all our first-semester, first-year students. The First-Year Mentorship Program’s purpose is to provide new students with support and insight from an alum or local business professional mentor who has navigated the college experience, and can provide students with an introduction to networking and the world of business.

This fall, we evolved our popular first-year experience program and expanded it into a 1-credit course. The Design Your Carlson course helps students customize their college experience to get the most out of it. Students build community with classmates, upper-class mentors, and the Carlson School of Management as a whole. Using a process rooted in Design Thinking, the course equips students with tools to design and prototype a college experience that best aligns with who they are and what they hope to get from college. They are challenged to be curious and try things, to reflect on personal interests, talents, and values. As one student reflected from this semester’s course, “Design thinking challenges you to reframe your mindset when it comes to making decisions and solving problems. It seems like a complicated thing, but in reality, the format allows you to apply these concepts to your daily life moving forward.”

P&Q: Last year, you produced a 98.1% placement rate. What types of programming, through your career services, classroom programming, and extracurricular activities, give your students an advantage in the marketplace?

Singh: “We support students in three main ways: through our required Career Skills course, through career-focused programs and events, and through coaching for tailored support. We are beginning to prepare students for the job market early by shifting the Career Skills class to their first year, which helps prepare them for the two annual career fairs we host. We are fortunate to have more than 200+ employers come to our fairs to recruit students for internships and employment opportunities. The best part is the diversity of opportunities available to our students. The industry representation is broad enough that none of the industries recruit more than 20% of our graduating class. This allows our students to match their passions and interests. We believe our students show up as the best versions of themselves because of the individual attention provided by our staff coaching team. In the 2019-2020 academic year, the career coaching team conducted 1,300+ 1-on-1 coaching appointments with students.

Our emphasis on experiential learning helps our students tell their stories better. We also equip them to reflect on their skills, values, and interests to guide them in identifying their career goals. The experiences they have gained by working with companies on real-world problems and their ability to articulate how they’ve grown through those experiences increases their ability to contribute on day one. And it shows.”

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