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Undergrads' 25 Most Wanted Employers

Organizations that do good and companies that are doing well both rank high with students, according to Universum's latest findings

Public service or stock price: These were the two features undergraduates overwhelmingly gravitated toward in naming their ideal entry-level employer, according to newly released results of Universum's 2007 Most Desirable Undergraduate Employer ranking. The top five include two government agencies, the U.S. State Dept. (No. 4) and the Peace Corps (No. 5); two profit- and buzz-generating innovators, Google (GOOG) at No. 1 and Apple (AAPL) at No. 3; and a media conglomerate, Walt Disney (DIS) at No. 2.

Universum has given the first look at its complete findings, which include the overall top 200 employers and breakdowns of the top 50 employers for liberal arts, science, IT, engineering, and business majors. The firm also provides data for the student popularity component of BusinessWeek's "Best Places to Launch a Career" ranking, based on employers' reputation with career services directors (25%) and detailed statistical analysis of the employers (50%).

Savvy Students

The two major trends in this year's results—opting to serve the greater good or to rake in the big bucks—might initially appear to be at odds with each other. But, says Universum USA's CEO, Claudia Tattanelli, they often stem from very same impulse—the desire to make a savvy move that will pave the way for future successes. Prestigious public service outfits like the Peace Corps and Teach for America, for instance, weren't even ranked in 2006 and skyrocketed into the top 10 this year.

"These are nonprofits that have a reputation that will look good on a résumé," says Tattanelli. Both organizations offer finite commitments that have traditionally been viewed favorably by many graduate program admissions officers and employers. In fact, Teach for America partners with a number of companies that let employees defer employment for two years to work for the nonprofit.

Tattanelli isn't surprised by how discerning today's students are. She points out that this is a generation raised by parents who witnessed or were affected by a shift in the relationship between employers and employees, with job security now no longer a sure thing and corporate loyalty a thing of the past. Today's students are skeptical, knowledgeable consumers. "They do their homework," Tattanelli says.

Following the Money

Not surprisingly, a handful of top Wall Street firms, coming off record-breaking earnings and bonuses in 2006, have fared well in the survey, with Goldman Sachs (GS) rising from No. 23 to No. 11 and Lehman Bros. (LEH) from No. 85 to No. 48. The financial firms, not willing to rely on Wall Street momentum for their popularity, are taking extra steps to hold the attention of today's savvy students. JPMorgan Chase's (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, regularly visits campuses.

Mary Raymond, Vassar's career services director, says the students she encounters are highly career-minded and proactive, with a work ethic that defies nagging generational stereotypes. "People think students at a school like Vassar will be privileged and entitled. I'm not seeing students saying, 'We went to Vassar and think the world is our oyster,'" says Raymond. "They're saying, 'Gee, I've had this great experience and how can I parlay that into the working world?"

Click here to see a slide show of undergraduates' top 25 most wanted employers.

Gerdes is a staff editor for BusinessWeek in New York.

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