Everyone loves the underdog, the up-and-comers and go-getters. These upstarts are young, energetic, and fun. They re-define norms and test the heavyweights. And who doesn’t enjoy watching that?
The incumbents? Familiarity breeds contempt, as the cliché goes. In the spotlight, their failings are long cataloged. A few years ago, the world was toasting Jeff Bezos and Travis Kalanick — until their excesses caught up to them. Now, the world clamors for Elon Musk and Boyan Slat. It’s the natural order: the world is conditioned to view the old guard as stale and satisfied, slow to adapt and desperate to hold on.
Yeah, tell that Google with their self-driving cars and modular phones in the pipeline — or Netflix with their recent investments in gaming and book clubs. In reality, most companies are pursuing innovation rather than holing up in their bunkers. That’s because innovation — anticipating customer expectations and make their services faster, easier and richer — isn’t an end unto itself. Innovation is the path to what organizations crave most: custom satisfaction. These days, satisfying customers isn’t enough. You want to evangelize them.
BUSINESS SCHOOLS STEPPING UP
In business school, students are the customers. Of course, tuition doesn’t pay all the bills. For schools, the long-term play is positive word of mouth and long-term engagement. To achieve those ends, the best schools are anticipating market needs and delivering on promises. That’s what sets this year’s 10 Business Schools to Watch apart. They may extol innovation, but they practice service. They listen, invest, and revamp — always placing the student at the center. This year, many of these schools are the establishment: Wharton, Georgetown, USC, and Washington University. That’s because they share one value in common: an uncompromising commitment to student satisfaction and growth in every imaginable dimension.
Every school has the same mission: Mold their students into ethical business leaders with the skillset to pursue rewarding career paths. Every school applies a different formula to realize this. Indiana University’s Kelley School has built a top notch career center and deep client partnerships to provide students with deep networks and experience before heading to the job market. At the University of Illinois’ Gies College, administration has expanded its online resources to make business more accessible to prospective learners. Along with instilling Jesuit values, Georgetown University’s McDonough School invests heavily in international activities to reinforce a global perspective. Coaching is a priority at Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School, which is why the school assigns coaches and advisors beginning freshman year to provide support at every stage. When it comes to Wharton and USC’s Marshall School, you won’t find communities more committed to leveraging alumni to open doors and provide guidance to their students.
Different formulas — same result: Highly prepared graduates who bring value to their employers and look out for the students following in their footsteps.
It’s easy to see what these 10 Schools to Watch are doing. The real question is how. Here is a look at where these schools excel and the strategies and investments that drive their success.
Talk about making a strong entrance!
In January, USC Marshall made its debut in the undergraduate business school ranking. And the school didn’t just make an appearance. It ranked #3 overall.
Technically, USC Marshall could always be counted among the elite undergraduate business programs. This year, the school qualified for the ranking after hitting a 10% minimum alumni survey response rate. Notably, USC Marshall notched the 8th-highest composite score for Alumni Experience, a series of 17 alumni satisfaction survey questions covering everything from advising to networking to extracurricular activities.
The ELC (Experiential Learning Center) is one program cited by Marshall alumni. Here, students learn teamwork and public speaking principles by analyzing footage of themselves in various activities. This enables them to see themselves as others do in key areas like conflict management and effective communication. The GLP (Global Leadership Program) is another popular destination according to graduates. Starting as Freshmen, Marshall Business majors explore various cultures through activities, speakers, and overseas travel and internships.
“I learned so much that I could never fit it in such a tiny box,” one anonymous grad told Poets&Quants. “It helped me even from just learning to negotiate – it’s one of the main reasons I was able to negotiate $350k+ job offers only 2 years after graduating. I learned many valuable lessons in the program.”
At USC, the bar to entry is set high. The school accepts just 9.94% of applicants. That includes an average 1,479 SAT and 3.89 high school GPA. What’s more, nearly 83% of students graduated in the top 10% of their class, with another 30% being National Merit Scholars. Overall, that makes the Marshall School second only to the Wharton School in overall admissions quality. At the same time, the school has made headlines for its diversity. For one, 17% of Marshall students hail from overseas. This fall, Marshall announced that 51.4% of its incoming freshman class were women, the first time the school had achieved gender parity.
“Women are essential to fulfilling the unlimited potential and unprecedented responsibility that businesses face in the future,” wrote Dean Geoffrey Garrett in a news release. “Gender parity in the undergraduate program represents a real milestone on our path to giving women access to the skills, network and opportunities they need to realize their highest aspirations as business leaders.”
When it comes to USC’s business program, you’re bound to hear something about the Trojan Network or the Marshall Family. Basically, alumni look out for students. Not only do they return to campus to coach and mentor, but also keep an eye out for internship and job opportunities for Marshall students. This translates to high satisfaction numbers. In P&Q’s new alumni survey, which covers the Class of 2019, respondents ranked Marshall among the ten-best for the accessibility of alumni (3rd), quality of alumni network and connections (5th), and the ability of Marshall to help students access practicing professionals and alumni (10th). Sure enough, Marshall alumni also rated their alma mater high for helping them improve their socio-economic status (9th) and achieve their dream career (10th).
What else stands out about the Marshall School? In February, P&Q reached out to Ramandeep Randhawa, Vice Dean for Undergraduate Programs. Here are his thoughts on the Marshall difference.
5 QUESTIONS WITH RAMANDEEP RANDHAWA
P&Q: What are your undergraduate business program’s two biggest strengths and how do make students better prepared for business once they graduate?
Randhawa: “I have to give you three strengths: a drive for Innovation, abundance of global opportunities, and our vast Trojan Network.
Driven by faculty thought leaders, our program thrives on innovation. We were one of the first undergraduate business programs to incorporate a travel-based course into our curriculum. During the pandemic, in the absence of travel, we focused the course on developing a global mindset, leveraging access to global businesses in a virtual fashion.
Our innovation has persisted during the pandemic, with creation of contemporary expert classes. Just this semester, we are offering two new courses: “AI: Seed for Change or Existential Threat” and “The Marshall Difference: Human-Centric Problem Solving”. These courses are designed especially with the current needs of businesses and students in mind.
Our Trojan Network has been instrumental in our changes. It helped us refocus our general Business major to add specializations in multiple focused areas, such as finance, business analytics, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovation. In consort with our 45 student clubs, the Trojan Network has been the conduit for career focused co-curricular activities, including Investment Banking treks.
Our three strengths come together in the crispest manner in our global leadership program. This program taps into our Trojan Network of successful leaders from across the world, incorporates a global travel experience, and has significant out-of-the-classroom education, including a “ropes course.”
P&Q: What are some new and upcoming developments in your program that will enhance the business program for future business majors?
Randhawa: “We are developing exciting and unique ventures with exceptional campus partner schools.
We are working with our campus partner, School of Cinematic Arts, to offer a joint degree Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Cinematic Arts. Comprising significant coursework in both schools, this program is designed to be a joint degree, providing formal recognition from both schools for the students, all within a 4-year program. We are also working closely with our partner, Viterbi School of Engineering, on another joint degree leveraging our joint strengths in analytics and data science. Both these programs are being designed to develop business leaders in the fields of entertainment and technology, respectively.
Within Marshall, we are working to add more depth to our core curriculum, adding advanced core options for several of our courses. We recently added such an option for our Introductory Statistics for Business course. This advanced option has been hugely popular, and this Fall we will be launching an advanced finance core course. The goal behind these courses is to ensure that students who want to specialize in fields like analytics and finance have the advanced skills from the get-go.
Two of our recently launched business emphases are STEM-eligible, which will allow newly graduating international students in these programs to have the option of a longer work experience in the United States.”
P&Q: This fall, USC Marshall enrolled 51.4% women. What has Marshall been doing to increase its appeal to female undergraduates? What types of support does Marshall provide women and other diverse populations to these students to ensure their success?
Randhawa: “What works best for us is student focused programming that is in tune with needs of all elements of our student body and to do so in an inclusive manner.
Achieving gender parity was an important milestone for us. We have been observing that our women students perform very well at Marshall on various dimensions, in terms of their 4-year graduation rate and in career placements. Thus, our work was focused on making these successes of our program more visible. This past year, our admissions team leveraged these successes to build intentional messaging to encourage outstanding women students to choose Marshall.
We have an increasingly diverse group of students. We also have a large body of first-generation college students. Overall, we believe Marshall has tremendous support for all our students. Our academic and career advising teams are on the front lines in providing individual attention and also broader focused programming. The programming is inclusive and sensitive to needs of our diverse student body.
From a career standpoint, our students are interested in diverse fields, covering the gamut of finance, consulting, tech. to creative media. We are focused on building pathways to enable success for our students in these fields.
We lean on our faculty, our Trojan Network, and mentors from our current student body to achieve success in these endeavors.”
P&Q: In P&Q’s alumni survey, Marshall produced top five averages for both alumni being accessible and the overall quality of the alumni network. Marshall is known for its Trojan Network – alumni who go out of their way to help business students. How does Marshall facilitate these student-alumni connections to help students open doors and land opportunities?
Randhawa: “The Trojan Network is a pillar of strength for us and creates a pay-it-forward culture for our students.
The Trojan Network is a core part of Marshall. Our alumni are frequent guest speakers to our classes, work with our faculty and staff in conducting workshops, bringing in projects for our students, host our student career treks across the country, and also actively recruit our students.
The educational value our alumni provide is perhaps best exemplified by our Career Advantage Mentor Program that focuses on mentorship and pairs groups of 2-3 students with Marshall alumni (and friends of the university). The mentors assist mentees in developing professional and interpersonal skills in a relationship that lasts an entire academic year. We typically have around 350 students and 125 mentors each year in this program.”
P&Q: How does majoring in business in Los Angeles enrich a student’s overall experience?
Randhawa: “LA is where Entertainment and Technology come together to form the creative capital of the world; our students experience USC as the creative university of the world.
LA is a major hub for a variety of industries: As the home to the Hollywood film industry, it is a leader for Media and Entertainment; it has a strong finance and accounting footprint with the presence of the “Big Four” accounting firms; Silicon Beach is a technology and entrepreneurial magnate; and LA has always h
ad a very strong real estate sector. This diversity of industries provides students an unmatched exposure to a variety of different careers, and allows them opportunities to pursue both the typical careers sought after by business majors but also lesser travelled paths.
The richness of LA provides an environment amenable to unique educational experiences. As one example, leveraging LA’s food truck culture, one of our entrepreneurship professors incorporated running an actual food truck operation into a course project that required students to participate in end-to-end processes from menu building and tastings, creative marketing strategy to financial analysis.”
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