Campus Life: A User's Guide

For each of the past four years, BusinessWeek has ranked the nation's best undergraduate business programs, asking business students their opinions on everything from professors and facilities to career services and work load. With this information, prospective students interested in studying business have a roadmap to where they might want to start their college search and what to look for in a business program.

But let's be honest, only a small amount of a business student's time in college is actually going to be spent within the walls of the B-school. It's important to understand what the universities that house the top business programs are really like. Are the dorms inhabitable? Is the campus safe? How's the social scene?

To find some answers, applicants can go to the school's Web site, look through brochures, maybe even visit the university, but there's only so much you can garner from a campus tour and a guidebook. The best way to get answers is to talk to the students who actually attend the schools.

To do that, BusinessWeek has teamed up with College Prowler, a company that specializes in grading universities on various aspects of campus life based on the opinions of the students themselves. The goal: to help prospective business students choose a school that not only offers a strong business program but is also a good fit for their needs. Explains Luke Skurman, CEO of College Prowler, "You can get a good education at a lot of places, but where are you going to fit in and where are you going to be happy? If you're really into safety, or you're really into dining, or you're really into computers, are you going to a school that meets those needs? Some schools are stronger in certain categories and some are stronger in others."

grading the college experience Based on student opinions from nearly 300 universities, Skurman and his team assign letter grades—from A+ to F-—to schools in 20 different areas from housing to safety and covering nearly every aspect of the college experience. Using this information, BusinessWeek has created report cards for each of the universities which house the top 50 undergraduate business programs.

Of those schools, the University of Southern California (USC Marshall Undergraduate Business Profile), ranked 21st by BusinessWeek, boasts the most satisfied student body overall. This comes as no surprise unless you happen to be allergic to beautiful weather, good food, strong athletics, and top-notch facilities. The alumni network, or "Trojan Family," is very supportive when it comes to undergrads searching for jobs or internships—a valuable commodity, especially in light of the current job market. The only complaints that USC students had were about parking and safety, with those areas earning grades of C+ and B-, respectively.

Following close behind in terms of overall student satisfaction is the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin McCombs Undergraduate Business Profile), home of BusinessWeek's tenth-ranked business program. Students at UT love the local atmosphere, the nightlife, and the warm weather, though parking is an issue. Students who are able to get into the business school are the envy of campus, but admission comes with a word of warning from one student contacted by College Prowler: "Don't take above 15 hours unless you are into inflicting pain on yourself." The University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce (UVA McIntire Undergraduate Business Profile) is BusinessWeek's top undergraduate business school, but what's the university like as a whole? According to College Prowler's data, parking is a pain and the school needs some work when it comes to diversity, but the campus is safe and academics are top-notch—don't expect classes to be easy. "Our teachers are all some of the top experts in their fields, and the workload, no matter what your major is, is incredibly heavy," says one UVA student contacted by College Prowler. "Don't expect to continue earning the same grades you got in high school."

a look at diversity Students at the University of Notre Dame, home of the No. 2 Mendoza College of Business (Mendoza Undergraduate Business Profile), aren't as satisfied overall, but their main complaints shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the school. For instance, Notre Dame gets low grades in the weather category, presumably for the cold, snowy winters, but when you go to school in northern Indiana, what do you expect? The school earned a C- in campus strictness, meaning resident advisers and administrators are serious about students following the rules and are not afraid to enforce them. On the plus side, students at Notre Dame give campus dining an A+ and rave about athletics. Explains one student contacted by College Prowler: "Varsity sports at Notre Dame are a pretty big deal. Students, parents, and alumni live and die for football weekends and all that comes with it (dressing up, touring campus, tailgating, etc.)."

In terms of diversity, Carnegie Mellon Carnegie Mellon Tepper Undergraduate Business Profile), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Sloan Undergraduate Business Profile), and University of California-Berkeley (UC-Berkeley Haas Undergraduate Business Profile) all earn high marks for having noticeable percentages of ethnic minorities and international students, as well as students from various economic backgrounds and religious beliefs, as described by College Prowler.

For parents, safety and security are two of the most important factors in choosing a school for their child. Of the top 50 business programs, students at James Madison University (James Madison Undergraduate Business Profile) feel the safest and most secure, giving their school an A+ in the category. Boston College (Boston Undergraduate Business Profile), Brigham Young (BYU Marriott Undergraduate Business Profile), and Ohio University (Ohio Undergraduate Business Profile) also earn high marks for safety. MIT and the University of Washington (Washington Foster Undergraduate Business Profile) earn the lowest marks in the category with C-pluses.

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best university—and business program—for your needs. A school may be highly-ranked, but if it isn't up to the standards you're looking for, it could be a long four years.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE