The UVA Alternative

The University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce is renowned for its accounting program, but Rebecca Leonard, assistant dean for student services, says the school provides a well-rounded curriculum and is expanding its appeal to prospective business -- and even liberal arts -- students who are undecided about a concentration.

A new introductory general business course was offered to all incoming freshmen in 2006, and a non-profit module was included in the third year Integrated Core Curriculum (ICE) in 2005. These changes are in step with the school's upcoming addition of a 156,000-square-foot academic complex that will open either in late 2006 or early 2007.

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Rebecca Leonard

University of Virginia

A 1982 graduate of the school, Leonard has been the assistant dean for student services for 15 years. Before returning to UVA, she was a marketing sales representative at SC Johnson & Son for about two years and taught business courses at two small liberal arts colleges in Virginia and North Carolina for about five years.

Leonard recently spoke with BusinessWeek intern Helena Oh. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:

What should students consider before applying to the program?

My personal advice is to pursue your passion. At the undergraduate level, major in what you're most interested in studying. Any major can position you well for a career in business. The reality in today's environment though, is that you're going to stand a better chance of getting a good position in business with an undergraduate business degree.

MBA programs want you to have a couple of years of solid work experience, and an undergraduate business degree can help you get that.

What's the application process like?

Students normally apply at the end of their second year. UVA students submit a transcript, a list of activities, work experience, and an essay in which they write about what they've gained from work experience or extracurricular activities and what they would bring to the student body at the Commerce School. Another essay must deal with overcoming hardship.

How do you evaluate each application?

We look closely at the transcript -- obviously not just the GPA but also the level of difficulty of their courses, the number of hours they take, and trends in the applicant's academic performance. All of those things are equally important.

What's the application process like for transfer students?

Transfer students have a different application form because they have to fill out the university transfer application, but we're looking for many of the same things.

What's your acceptance rate?

We have a certain number that we're approved to admit from within UVA and another number for transfers. We try to bring in 325 to 330 third-year students, and 25 to 30 of those are typically transfers from other schools.

This year, the acceptance rate is going to be about 65%, and for the transfer students about 20%. On average, about 200 transfers and anywhere from 400 to 450 UVA students apply. This year, 466 students have applied, and the level of competitiveness continues to increase.

What other courses must students take before applying to McIntire at the end of their second year?

First, they take the intro to business course, and then financial and managerial accounting. It's a general business degree, so every student also takes marketing, organizational behavior, and finance.

Beyond that, they select an area of concentration. They typically declare a concentration when they come into the school, but they can change that, and they often do.

Which concentrations are the most popular?

Right now, finance tends to be our most popular, but often that's combined with a second concentration. Almost all of those who concentrate in management, international business, or marketing are using those areas as second concentrations.

Are there interviews?

No, but our admissions counselors are available for advising purposes before and during the application process.

Is the program conducive to double majoring?

We encourage students to take on a double major and look for ways to combine a business degree with a liberal arts major or minor. Last year, we had as many as 40 students, out of a class of 325, do that. A good 15% usually do it.

Is it harder or easier for students in the undergraduate business program to get into University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business?

There's no real correlation. Statistically, McIntire students fare well in the admissions process simply because they know the quality of our program and students.

What would you advise a student deciding between studying economics and applying to your program?

The courses are very similar, but they're not going to pick up communication and presentation skills, marketing and management studies, or work behavior as an economics major. We're more practical, but we pride ourselves on the fact that our students have a two-year liberal arts education before they come to us.

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