Top Undergrad Business Programs in the U.S.

FACT: In the recently-released annual BusinessWeek ranking of top undergraduate business programs, Wharton (the feeder program for UPenn’s better known Wharton MBA program) once again leads the field, and the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce again comes in second.  The Top 10 this year are:

1. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
2. University of Virginia (McIntire)
3. Notre Dame (Mendoza)
4. Cornell University
5. Emory University (Goizueta)
6. University of Michigan (Ross)
7. Brigham Young University (Marriott)
8. New York University (Stern)
9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
10. University of Texas-Austin (McCombs)

ANALYSIS: My alma-mater bias compels me to mention that “The big news this year is the University of Virginia,” as noted by Louis Lavelle, Business School editor for BusinessWeek, during an online chat outlining the results. “It really gained on Wharton. The ranking is based on an ‘index’ number, and the No. 1 school is always an index number of 100. Last year Virginia was way behind — it had an index number of 92.7. This year it was 99 — a virtual dead heat” for the top spot.

Oddly, my grad-school alma mater Stanford, which ranks high perennially on MBA program lists, has no undergraduate business school or program, so it’s missing from this list entirely. 

The big question is, what explains movement in the ranks?  What are some schools doing right, and some wrong?

There’s much more information available in BusinessWeek’s rich site on the rankings, including the criteria which determine the scoring and a lot of school-specific observations and findings.

There’s a great deal at stake beyond school pride, obviously: faculty and staff hiring and retention, university investment/budget priorities, recruitment efforts by leading employers, and so on. So you can imagine that colleges are highlighting their positions when they’re moving up, and “explaining” the result when they’re dropping down the list.

Cornell University’s undergraduate business program rose from its No. 10 spot last year to displace Emory University’s Goizueta from fourth place. So, Goizueta feels it has some explaining to do, and Dean of Goizueta Business School Lawrence Benveniste has compared the rankings to jumpy stock prices. “Small movements in a given year do not mean anything,” he argues. “Trends and long term strengths reflect organizational fundamentals. That is why it is so gratifying that Goizueta has been in the top five all three years” that BusinessWeek has ranked undergrad programs.

Some surprises: while Stanford doesn’t rate at all, its rival UC Berkeley’s Haas School comes in at 11th. Virginia’s basketball rival UNC trails along only in the second-ten (okay, so UVA does much better academically than on the b’ball court, what else is new).

Depending on previous low scores (or even non-inclusion), some universities are happy to be on the list at all.  Ohio State was very proud of its 59th place listing.  And some schools which dropped are taking a pragmatic arpproach to fix identified shortcomings; Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, which dropped eight spaces, has announced it is taking “steps to address relatively low student satisfaction rates,” which are a key factor at 30 percent of the ranking score (see “MSB Pursues Reform After Drop in Ranking.”)  A ray of hope for Georgetown is that student-satisfaction is expected to rise with the opening of an entirely new business-school building in 2009.

Why did UVA rise sharply this year?  Its McIntire School of Commerce is certainly enjoying its move this year into an all-new complex, the completely renovated Rouss Hall on Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn (nice live webcam of the Lawn here; Rouss Hall would be to your right).

UVA’s new Rouss Hall

The refurbished Rouss Hall and an adjoining all-new 132,000-square-foot Robertson Hall are world-class facilities for the Comm School, making a total of 156,000 sf of classrooms, conferences settings, faculty and student facilities, and cutting-edge technologies throughout. (The nice posted photos are by Brian Weston.)

[Note: one well-placed UVA reader writes to correct me gently, pointing out that McIntire “received the top rating in student satisfaction while still in the old building (Monroe Hall); i.e., without the benefit of being in our new facility, which bodes well for next year’s survey!”]

One thing I find interesting is the naming of Robertson Hall: the bulk of the money, and the naming rights, was donated by McIntire grad and successful hedge-fund manager John Griffin. He chose, though, to have not his name on the new building, but that of his mentor, legendary Tiger Fund manager Julian Robertson.  Classy move.


Yet more reasons McIntire is essentially tied with Wharton for the top spot are its innovative faculty/research programs like the Center for Growth Enterprises, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Center for Innovation in Professional Services, and the McIntire Center for Financial Innovation. One in particular I admire is the Center for the Management of Information Technology (CMIT) — more on CMIT in a future post.

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2 Responses

  1. You said that Wharton (undergrad) was “the feeder program for UPenn’s better known Wharton MBA program”

    Wharton undergrad is not a ‘feeder school’ to the MBA program. MBA programs do not require (and actually don’t want) undergraduate business majors. The MBA programs stand on their own and do not require an undergraduate business background — GCS, Wharton Grad, USC undergrad


  2. Good point, I was using shorthand a little too loosely; it’s a distinction that is easier to make at universities where the two levels (undergrad business school, grad business school) are more separated than at UPenn, as at UVA. But technically you’re quite right, not literally a feeder school.


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