Specialty Rankings: Reshuffling the Deck

BusinessWeek.com asked undergrads to rate their schools' business specialties. Here are the results

Is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute the best undergrad business school in the country? Perhaps, at least if you're interested in studying corporate strategy, according to BusinessWeek.com's newest ranking of undergraduate business programs by specialty (BusinessWeek.com, 2008).

While RPI's Lally School of Management & Technology ranked No. 26 in BusinessWeek's overall rankings (BusinessWeek, 2/28/08), it took the top spot in corporate strategy, one of 11 academic categories in the specialty rankings subset. Another surprise: Babson College, ranked No. 28 overall, appeared in the top 10 in six categories.

The specialty rankings can serve as a kind of career guide for business programs. Let's say you're a data-head looking for calculus expertise to land an accounting position. The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School—the top-ranked school in BusinessWeek's overall rankings — might not be your best choice. Wharton received mediocre ratings in calculus and accounting, while programs like Washington University's Olin School of Business notched top-10 slots in both. As an Olin student said, "The program offers a multitude of niche business courses that allows for specialization in certain topics, especially in finance and accounting."

Winners and Losers

Some excellent overall programs also snatched specialty honors. Emory University's Goizueta Business School finished in the top 10 in eight separate categories, more than any other B-school. Two other standouts emerged with three first-place finishes: MIT's Sloan School of Management (first in calculus, operations management, and quantitative methods) and Cornell University (tops in microeconomics, marketing, and financial management).

The underdog winner of the specialty rankings was Babson. Ranked at No. 28 overall, Babson notched six top-10 finishes—more than all but three schools—and got high marks in marketing and microeconomics. On the other hand, the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, tenth overall, did not finish in the top ten in any category. Its highest ranking, at No. 21, came in business law.

In several categories, some schools at the bottom of the overall rankings were the cream of the crop. RPI was the lowest ranked school overall (No. 26) to receive a top ranking—in corporate strategy. North Carolina State School of Management finished in the bottom ten overall, but for an applicant looking to specialize in operations management, NC State is the seventh best choice in the country.

Math and Ethics

In hard math and morals, the top schools took a tumble. The calculus ranking shook a couple of big names from their perches. Wharton and the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, the top two programs overall, came in at 58th and 44th in calculus, respectively. Math programs launched other schools far above their general ranking. The Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business, RPI, and the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University finished in the top 10 in both calculus and quantitative skills, despite their mid-20s overall ranking.

In ethics, lower-ranked schools crashed the top-10 list. Five of the best ethics programs came from schools ranked below 60 overall. Brigham Young University's Marriott School, the only school to finish in the top 10 in both ethics (No. 1) and corporate strategy (No. 9), benefited from its blend of business acumen and values. As one BYU student put it, "Every school wants their students to be good businessmen, but this school also expects us to be good citizens."

At MIT's Sloan, which finished in the bottom five in ethics, many students said the school instilled in them the work ethic, but didn't mention any other kind. MIT was not the only big name to take a dive in ethics. The 10 best overall programs' average ethics rank was a mediocre 42 out of 96.

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