Business Specialties: Finding the Best Fit

BusinessWeek asked undergrads to rate their school's business specialties. The results were surprising

A suit that doesn't fit you will never look good no matter how well-made it is, and an undergraduate business program that doesn't have top-notch courses that fit your interests isn't much better, no matter how highly ranked the overall program is. As a companion to BusinessWeek's 2007 ranking of undergrad business programs, staffers drilled down into the data to determine how students rated the top programs in 11 different business specialties. The results, detailed in the accompanying table may be surprising.

Even though the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School was the top-rated program overall, in the specialty ranks, the overall winners are Emory University's Goizueta Business School and the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, both ranking in the top 10 in 8 of the 11 categories. But MIT Sloan School of Management takes the cake when it comes to the most No. 1 specialty ranks. The small private program—No. 6 in our overall ranking—was No. 1 in calculus, microeconomics, quantitative methods, and operations management. (If you are interested in business law, you may want to look elsewhere. The program came in second-to-last in this specialty.) Says one undergraduate: "Sloan's quantitative and analytical aspect is the differentiating factor between itself and other undergrad business programs."

While MIT is historically known for its quantitative emphasis, a number of less widely known programs fared well in our specialty ranking. Georgia Tech, the University of Miami, and Florida International University's Landon Undergraduate School of Business all came in alongside MIT among the top 10 schools for operations management.

Strategy, Marketing, and Banking

And while Virginia was No. 1 in corporate strategy, a less obvious choice—No. 40-ranked Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lally School of Management and Technology—is ranked just below it at No. 2. Even before they enroll, Rensselaer students are given a taste of the program's strong emphasis on corporate strategy at RPI Discovery Day, where prospective undergraduates and their parents participate in a simulated executive briefing. At this fall's event students and their parents were given the challenge of developing innovative solutions to problems Sony (SNE) executives might face. "The technological infrastructure is cutting edge," says one undergraduate of the program.

For marketing mavens unsure of which programs to pursue, the lineup looks quite different. At the No. 1-ranked marketing school, Cornell University, marketing students can choose from a range of specialized courses including International Technology Marketing of Biotechnology, Consumer Behavior, or Food Marketing. At No. 2 is Virginia's program, followed by the University of Miami, where undergraduates can focus on any of several specialties, including sales management, advertising, retailing, and marketing research. The University of California at Berkeley Haas School of Business, the University of Richmond Robins School of Business, the University of San Diego, and Washington University's Olin School of Business also have strong marketing programs.

Interested in banking? New York University's Stern School of Business ranks No. 1 in financial management, offering a range of finance courses that students can couple with part-time jobs or internships during the academic year. "NYU Stern is great because of its proximity to Wall Street," says one undergraduate. Other strong finance programs—including the University of Virginia, Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management, and the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business—have one thing in common: They all fall into the top 25 of our overall ranking.

Weak Spots

But sometimes programs in the top 25 are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to particular specialties—even No. 1-ranked Wharton. While Wharton is highly regarded in most respects, calculus isn't one of them and neither is ethics; Wharton ranked No. 83 and No. 72, respectively. While Wharton survey respondents lauded the program's finance training, they made no mention—unlike surveyed students from Brigham Young, No. 1 in the category—of ethical training in their courses.

Still Wharton didn't fare as poorly as Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, whose No. 1 ranking in marketing management is offset by its No. 92 spot in the ethics category—one away from dead-last. As one Georgetown undergraduate bluntly puts it: "We have a blind focus on investment banking that is appalling and dangerous to the future health of the business school." A closer look at the specialty ranking reveals such shortcomings are scattered throughout programs, no matter where they fall in our overall ranking. Still, if you look hard enough, you'll find a top program that fits you well—just like a good suit.

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