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The best undergrad b-schools

Since our inaugural ranking of undergraduate business programs last year, a lot has changed. There are nine new schools that cracked the Top 50, and salaries for grads are up across the board.
/ Source: Business Week

Since our inaugural ranking of undergraduate business programs last year, a lot has changed. There are nine new schools that cracked the Top 50, and salaries for grads are up across the board.

Some things have stayed the same. Wharton School is once again No. 1, solidifying its hold on the title of best undergraduate B-school in America. Outstanding faculty and high-caliber students make Wharton a premier program. But Wharton isn't standing still. In 2006-07 it introduced more opportunities to study abroad, more student involvement in faculty research, and a cohort system for undergrads that allows incoming students to take classes as a group, much the way MBAs do.

The University of Virginia, meanwhile, made a repeat appearance at No. 2, underscoring how different programs can excel on their own terms. A tiny two-year program at a public university, with in-state annual tuition of just $7,845, Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce could not be more different from Wharton, an elite four-year private-school program with enrollment and tuition about four times as high.

Yet Virginia rates higher on student satisfaction, sends a larger percentage on to top MBA programs, and is roughly on par with Wharton on key measures of academic quality. A dedicated faculty with a teaching style that demands active participation and teamwork, plus innovations such as a new multidisciplinary leadership program, don't hurt either.

We've profiled four business programs that stood out from the pack. You'll learn how the University of California at Berkeley leaped to No. 3; why No. 5-ranked University of Michigan is phasing out its two-year program; and how Cornell University provides opportunities for academic exploration at every turn. Finally, you'll get a peek behind Villanova University's surprising jump to No. 12.

Berkeley (No. 3)
Don't be fooled by students lounging outdoors in the Haas Courtyard at University of California at Berkeley's gloriously sunny campus. At the Haas School of Business, the two-year undergraduate experience is packaged much like an MBA program, complete with advanced courses and a summer cohort system that allows students to progress as a group. But recruiter satisfaction, not the program's MBA-like structure, explains why Haas rocketed up nine spots to No. 3. In 2006 recruiters ranked Berkeley 41st. This year: No. 1.

What changed their minds? Haas cranked up its recruiting efforts, staffing Berkeley's undergraduate career center with an accounts manager who reaches out to potential employers and helps place students. This fall alone, 584 companies attended career fairs at Berkeley, up from 501 last fall, including a new early-bird event in November that helped employers get a head start on intern recruiting. The fair was one of a dozen held on campus throughout the year, where the likes of Intuit, Cisco Systems, and Google sought out students more vigorously alongside such newcomers as Bloomberg.

Berkeley also lavishes white-glove treatment on recruiters, who get fresh fruit and other perks, including student guides. "When our employers step out of their cars, they are taken by the hand by students," says Tom Devlin, director of the center. To confer VIP status on such leading recruiters as McKinsey, Microsoft, and Goldman Sachs, the school put them in a group of their own called the Berkeley Circle. Members get prominent placement on the career center Web site and are encouraged to provide advice on what their companies are looking for in undergrad business majors.

Of course, companies wouldn't be descending on Berkeley if they weren't happy with the product. JPMorgan Chase & Co. recruiter Sasha Price says Berkeley students have a rare combination of business knowhow and communication skills that belies their youth. "We have had some interviewers say to us: My God, these Haas students know more than some of the MBAs we've just hired,'" Price says.

Although students at times feel shortchanged when MBAs get preferential treatment in everything from faculty to facilities, as they do at many other schools, there are no complaints from undergrads when it comes to the job search. Stephen Wan, a senior who will be working in Apple Inc.'s finance department this fall, says he has yet to see an unhappy employer on the Berkeley campus. It's not just the weather.

Michigan (No. 5)
With more undergraduate business programs moving to a four-year format, No. 5-ranked Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan faced a conundrum. A top-ranked two-year program, it nevertheless was losing high-caliber applicants to four-year programs. The solution: split the difference at three years, and allow high school students to apply directly to the program so that they have a guaranteed spot once they're sophomores. Freshmen are also allowed to apply.

Interest in the program is already strong, and competition for spots keen. For this fall, 900 high schoolers tossed their hats in the ring. Only 65 got in, and their average high school GPA was a staggering 3.9. Those who make the grade find a college experience that is remarkably similar to an MBA program, with small classes and an emphasis on both teamwork and competition. "We're all a bunch of overachievers," says sophomore Michelle Berta.

And what about that extra year? It gives students the chance to take courses outside their majors, study abroad, and explore various business specialties before settling on one. By allowing them to take business courses earlier, it also builds competitive internship candidates and increases the chances to intern at more than one company. More than 90% of Ross students surveyed by BusinessWeek reported having internships already; the average at the Top 50 schools was 74%.

Some things haven't changed. The e-mail responses from diligent professors still come at 2 a.m., and competition for the top of the grading curve is stiff. White-glove treatment from the B-school's own career service office is a given. And although Michigan's undergraduates number about 25,000, Ross students feel part of a tight-knit community while still getting that Big 10 experience. Says senior Jason Tanker: "You have the best of both worlds."

Many b-schools produce well-rounded grads — encouraging students to forage well beyond their majors. Cornell, set amid the bucolic splendor of 4,000 wooded acres in Ithaca, N.Y., takes academic exploration a big leap further. In addition to the variety they encounter outside the business program, students get a second dose inside, where they're required, strangely enough, to take a full year of biology—thanks to the program's affiliation with Cornell's agriculture school—as well as five electives ranging from consumer behavior to emerging markets. They're also encouraged to look beyond the program for business-related courses, studying human relations in the School of Industrial & Labor Relations, or leadership in the Johnson Graduate School of Management, home of Cornell's MBA.

That's one reason Cornell, graduating a little over 200 business students annually, jumped four spots this year. "If you are a quant person who never wants to do marketing, this isn't the school for you," says Cindy van Es, a statistics professor.
At schools with both an undergrad and MBA program, the younger students sometimes get the short end of the resources stick. Not at Cornell, where the two programs have separate faculties and facilities. There is one drawback, though. While upper-level courses may have as few as a dozen students, packed lecture halls of as many as 600 are common for introductory courses, which are shared with many nonbusiness students. Still, Program Director Ed W. McLaughlin says professors are recruited with the understanding that teaching undergraduates is a top priority. Chrissie Eckhart, a senior starting at HSBC in the fall, says one finance professor in a lecture class with 300 students knew everyone by name: "Professors really care about students."

Attracted by top-quality candidates, recruiters are more than willing to make the trek to Ithaca. The top 10 recruiters for business majors include eight big New York investment banks, among them Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch.

\But for Cornell students with a hankering for power suits and city living, the upstate location takes some getting used to. Senior Jerald Chau, a Hawaii native and soon-to-be business analyst at Fannie Mae, calls Cornell's location "the boondocks," but says he has adapted. "Instead of surfing," he says, "I snowboard."

Villanova (No. 12)
In the sunlit atrium of Bartley Hall, home to Villanova's business school, students are bound to bump into at least one professor who knows their name. Downstairs in the "Exchange," servers decked out in dollar-bill ties dish out sandwiches with names like "the Naz Stack," while a stock ticker runs overhead. There, undergrads work on group projects, check e-mail on school-provided laptops, or plot investment strategies for use around the corner on the Applied Finance Lab's mock trading floor.

It's this personal attention, up-to-date technology, and emphasis on real-world learning that earned Villanova the No. 12 spot this year. That the school managed to leap seven spots in one year is a testament to a major improvement in student satisfaction. "People are happy," says Denis Connell, a senior accounting major. "You can't escape it."

When James M. Danko arrived as dean in 2005, he wanted the business school to join the ranks of nationally recognized programs. He spent his first 100 days as dean meeting individually with faculty to sort out their needs. One of his first big moves was to lose the dowdy "College of Commerce & Finance" name, and in its place came the sleeker-sounding Villanova School of Business. "I'm concerned about Villanova's long-term brand," Danko says.

Among Danko's ideas for keeping Villanova on the cutting edge are plans for a new innovation center, which will be largely funded by alumni. He also commissioned a new undergraduate center in Bartley Hall, where B-schoolers will be able to get help for everything from a death in the family to advice on where to get the best haircut. The new facility opens in September.

The changes go well beyond the cosmetic. A revised curriculum this fall will include more advanced calculus to meet the growing needs of high-caliber students, and, next year, freshmen will begin taking new introductory courses, including business communication. Faculty are learning how to use financial technology tools in the classroom and have been visiting such companies as Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and Johnson & Johnson to pick the brains of executives generally.

And under Danko's leadership, previously overlooked fields such as marketing are finally getting their share of attention. Says Michael Radice, a senior marketing major: "They are bringing in people who are hiring all across the board."

Prospective students are taking notice of the improvements. Last year applications were up 35%, with a similar increase likely for this year. "The basketball team is hot," says Danko. "Well, so is the business school."