Mendoza Students Really, Really Love Their School: Notre Dame Is the Best Undergrad Business School for a Fifth Year

Illustration by Braulio Amado

For the fifth straight year, the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business is No. 1 in Bloomberg Businessweek’s undergraduate business school rankings released today. The University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce ranked second, also for the fifth consecutive year, and Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management ranked third. Boston College’s Carroll School of Management and Olin Business School at Washington University, St. Louis rounded out the top five.

For prospective students, the top five make one thing clear: A top-notch undergraduate program may not go hand-in-hand with a best-in-class graduate school, and vice-versa. Notre Dame ranked 20th in our most recent MBA rankings; Carroll and Olin ranked 48th and 31st, respectively. Cornell and Virginia have top 10 MBA programs, but they’re run separately. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is the only school to make the top 10 in both Bloomberg Businessweek’s most recent MBA rankings and this year’s undergraduate list.

Christopher Barrett, director at Cornell’s Dyson, says that the separation between undergrads and MBAs is “an important part of the experience.” Dyson students can take courses at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, but they benefit from having a separate physical space. “Our undergrads aren’t living in the shadow of the MBA program,” he says.

One hundred fifty-two schools participated in our ranking process this year. Twenty  schools were eliminated, either because they didn’t give us enough data, didn’t reach a baseline score on our employer-opinion survey, or too few of their students responded to our survey. This left 132 programs to be ranked along five categories. (For a detailed explanation of how we compile our rankings, click here.)

Notre Dame held onto the top spot by ranking in the top five for academic quality and employer sentiment and for scoring highest on the student assessment; B-school undergrads raved about the Catholic university’s attention to business ethics and social purpose.

“People here challenge themselves to figure out how we can use business for a source of good,” says Tim Brazelton, a senior majoring in accounting and economics who says he has been moved by Pope Francis’s criticism of capitalist excess. As an example of a typical Mendoza student’s values, Brazelton cites his roommate, Peter Woo, who was offered a job in investment banking but deferred it for a year to work at a student-founded microlending organization. “Profits are great, but they’re not the only thing,” Brazelton says.

Nine of the top 10 schools are the same as last year’s. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business made its debut at No. 8, while University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business fell to No. 12.

Stability reigned at the top of individual ranking categories. Kelley scored highest on a survey of employers that hire large numbers of undergraduate business majors, repeating its first-place rank from 2013.Wake Forest University’s School of Business was again first in the academic quality category, which takes into account average SAT score, student-faculty ratio, and other components. Olin retained its top spot for its success placing undergrads in top MBA programs.

Prospective students who want their business degree to translate into a high-paying job should look to Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business (No. 17), McIntire, and Wharton (No. 7), which reported the highest starting pay, with median salaries of $70,000 at each school. The average starting salary for undergraduate business majors was $55,144 in 2013, according to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

While the system for ranking schools has remained mostly unchanged since 2006, a shift in the way the rankings incorporated student surveys caused a small number of schools to move up or down (more detail here). Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business was the biggest beneficiary, moving up 25 spots, to No. 58, on the strength of improved student-survey scores, along with a much higher score for academic quality.

Not all shifts in the rankings were rooted in the student survey. Providence College tallied the biggest rise among all schools, jumping 34 spots, to No. 75, on an improved employer-survey score. Rutgers Business School’s New Brunswick, N.J., campus fell farthest, dropping 37 spots, to 118. (Rutgers also has a separate business program on its Newark, N.J., campus, which ranked 128.) New Brunswick dropped 26 places in the employer survey; it also dropped 11 or more places in three other categories.

Enrollment in Rutgers’ New Brunswick program has grown 73 percent over the last five years, says Michael L. Barnett, vice dean for academic programs, and the school is still developing resources to serve its larger student body. “It will take some time for the benefits of these investments to be reflected in the rankings,” he says.

One reason why there’s little overlap between undergraduate and MBA top 10s is that such schools as the University of Chicago, Harvard University, and other institutions with top-flight MBA programs don’t offer undergraduate business programs.

That may be changing, said Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the Ross School of Business, on a recent visit to Bloomberg Businessweek’s offices. Schools that include Stanford University have taken first steps by offering certificate programs, and Davis-Blake thinks most private colleges with well-regarded MBA programs will extend course offerings to younger students. “Undergrad business education is exploding, in terms of demand,” she says.

As universities with top MBA programs start catering to undergrads, the schools atop the rankings might be challenged. Until then, the spotlight belongs to the undergrads.

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