Dean’s Q&A: Edward McLaughlin Of Cornell

What are you seeing at your school in terms of application numbers and general interest in an undergraduate business degree?

Our applications were up seven percent this year, and we accepted less than seven percent of the applications, so it is a particularly competitive major. That means that for every 100 applications—which are already very high quality in most cases —  we couldn’t even accept seven of those 100. It is a competitive process. The last few years it has been up more than that; from 2010 to 2012 they were up double digits every one of those three years.

We’ve had increases in applications every year for at least six years and at least three of those six were double digits year after years. It’s a very considerable increase, and that is in an era where applications are not increasing across other disciplines in the university.

Our admit rate has been a little less than seven percent for a couple of years. It is one of the more competitive areas at Cornell and if you’re talking to other schools it is one of the more competitive admit rates that you will find.

How has the school responded to the increased demand for business courses?

In the last 30 years or so, students from the Dyson School made up the largest major in any one college at Cornell. Over 90 percent of our 700 majors are in management disciplines like finance, marketing, and accounting.

One of the things we’ve done recently that I think is working nicely is as demand for business courses has grown dramatically at Cornell, we have chosen to offer the courses for majors in exclusive sections of majors only. So if you’re a sociology major and you’d like to take a business class as an elective, we of course encourage that possibility. But a lot of students have a minor in business and do it in separate classes from majors for whom the courses are often four credit hours instead of three, and offer it in a little more depth and with a little more rigor than non-business majors.

How popular are concentrations like agribusiness management and food industry management?

Agribusiness is one of ten concentrations. If you put all of our management concentrations together, it is about 90 percent of students. The food industry is part of management. The other ten percent of students study things like environmental economics or international trade and development.

The agribusisness management concentration is definitely not one of our larger areas, but it is available for students participating in agricultural production sector or food processing. It is one of our smaller concentrations. If you work for a large agribusiness firm like seed feed or a fertilizer and tractor company, you may find yourself working for an agricultural credit institution or a bank that specializes in agricultural food lending. Or you could come from a large family and use economic training to go back and manage an agricultural production enterprise.

How does a degree in undergraduate business pay off for your students? What is the value proposition for them? 

Well over 90 percent of our students have an internship during the summer while they are here and when they graduate, the placement rate is very strong. They’re recruited by some of the largest corporations and investment and accounting firms in the country. It’s all the brand name companies that you know and have heard of are here recruiting. Students often have several offers after their internship into their junor year. Their average starting salary last year was a little over $61,000, and that’s not including bonus.

How deeply involved are parents in both the application process and the actual education of the kids? 

I really don’t know the extent to which parents become involved in the application process. I will say that once students arrive at Cornell, the parents can be quite active, and I think parents are more interested and involved in students’ education, particularly if parents have some association with the business sector themselves. They often volunteer their services to serve as mentors to students and avail themselves to be guest speaks in classes where it is appropriate. Sometimes they’ll volunteer to do things like critique resumes for students if the parents are involved in the business sector themselves.

What advice do you have for both parents and would-be students in choosing a quality undergraduate business program?

I think the most important, or one of the most important criteria to keep in mind, is that this is an undergraduate degree that should prepare students for the rest of their lives. It should prepare them to be responsible citizens and parents and contributors to society. I think the university has a great deal to offer outside the business major, so I would encourage students to think about the direction and quality of the business program at their university of choice, but not at the expense of the whole university itself. I think the business program is an important component, but only one component of the overall undergraduate student experience. I think the student has to feel comfortable at the university and try to optimize the experience of the business program in the context of the larger university.


Lori Rosenkopf of Wharton

Carl Zeithaml Of University of Virginia

Dale Nees of Notre Dame University

Edward McLaughlin Of Cornell

Steven Malter of Washington University

Lawrence Murray of the University of North Carolina  David Platt of University of Texas

Andrea Hershatter of Emory

Lynn Wooten of Michigan

Idalene Kesner of Indiana University


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