The Best Undergraduate Business Schools: Everything You Need to Know

Padya Paramita

The Best Undergraduate Business Schools: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re an aspiring leader passionate about getting a job in business immediately after college,  one of the best undergraduate business schools might be just the right choice for you. There are countless ways to apply a business degree to your daily life, which makes it no surprise that business is the most popular undergraduate major.

According to the Washington Post, one in five degrees is awarded to a student in a business-related field. Understandably, for reasons starting from exposure to hands-on business courses to near-guaranteed success in the workforce post graduation, students are becoming more and more interested in attending the best undergraduate business schools.

Choosing the right business school for you can be daunting. There are over 450 schools to choose from on the list of Accredited Universities and Business Schools in the United States.

But to ease your selection process, I’ve outlined:

  • The best undergraduate business schools in the country
  • What makes each of the programs unique
  • Alternative options at top schools without undergraduate business programs
  • Average score ranges at the top undergraduate business schools
  • Application tips for undergraduate business schools

What Are Some Of The Best Undergraduate Business Schools  In The Country?

The best undergraduate business schools equip students with the knowledge and skills to take on all areas of business. The core curriculum of most programs includes courses in accounting, finance, business law, management, ethics, technology, and economics. Usually students have to choose a focus area from these concentrations. They apply the course material through internships and theses, which count as course credit.

Below is a list of US News’ Top 10 Undergraduate Business Programs across the United States, along with their location and acceptance rates.

School Name Location US News Ranking Undergraduate Business School Acceptance Rate Overall Acceptance Rate
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1 6.49% 10.2%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) Cambridge, Massachusetts 2 7% 7%
University of California Berkeley (Haas) Berkeley, California 2 4.3% 16.9%
University of Michigan (Ross) Ann Arbor, Michigan 4 12% 26.3%
New York University (Stern) New York, New York 5 8% 32.1%
Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 6 12% 23.7%
University of Texas - Austin (McCombs) Austin, Texas 6 22.8% 39.2%
University of North Carolina - Chapel HIll (Kenan-Flagler) Chapel Hill, North Carolina 8 12.17% 30.5%
University of Virginia (McIntire) Charlottesville, Virginia 8 12.1% 29.8%
Cornell University (Dyson) Ithaca, New York 10 2.9% 15.1%
Indiana University (Kelley) Bloomington, Indiana 10 40.38% 78%
University of Notre-Dame (Mendoza) Notre Dame, Indiana 10 19% 19.8%
University of Southern California - Marshall Los Angeles, California 10 8.2% 17%

Looking at the table, you can see that the acceptance rates among the best undergraduate business schools vary. The selectiveness ranges from as low as Cornell’s 2.9% to as high as Indiana University’s 40.38%. You might notice that the rankings include schools you might not expect to see among top universities, such as Indiana University. Not only do almost all of Kelley’s students graduate in 4 years, but 93% of the class of 2018 reported that they were either employed or enrolled in graduate school within three months of graduation. If you are looking for at the best undergraduate business schools, look past preconceived notions of top schools because Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business is definitely one to consider.

Remember, your school list should always be balanced with reach, fit, and safety schools. One good way you can choose is by narrowing down the focus of the sector of business you want to study, whether it is finance, sales & marketing, management and administration, or international business. All of the top schools are ranked highly for a reason. Apply to undergraduate business schools where you feel that your style of learning and specific interests can thrive.   

Since undergraduate business programs are not offered at every school, they tend to be selective. You can also see that the acceptance rate at undergraduate business schools is typically lower than the overall acceptance rate of each school. This is because the program sizes are much smaller, with very high demand.

Graduates from undergraduate business schools are also more likely to get employed quicker than graduates from different departments at the same university. For example 98% of UMich Ross BBA graduates receive job offers upon 3 months of graduation, which is significantly higher than those at the other University of Michigan schools.

Undergraduate business school graduates also generally earn higher salaries immediately after graduation. The average salary for Wharton graduates in 2017 was approximately $80,000 compared to an average early career salary of $72,000 by non-business school graduates. Tepper School graduates’ early salaries started at $82,216, compared to Carnegie Mellon’s average starting salary of $75,500. Over at NYU, Stern graduates’ earnings began at $78,300 while the graduates from the rest of the school made a starting salary of around $53,500.

Top Schools Which Do Not Offer Undergraduate Business Programs

You might have noticed that a lot of universities which are highly ranked for their undergraduate and graduate programs, are not on the list of best undergraduate business schools. This is because some of the country’s top business schools, such as Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School, do not admit undergraduates. Similarly, a lot of the top liberal arts schools do not offer business programs.

An undergraduate business degree is by no means necessary to get into a top graduate business school. In fact, MBA programs like diversity in the background of their students and want a well-balanced class with a variety of interests. If you are a business-minded individual who wants to apply to a school without an undergraduate business program, have no fear. Your future is still a bright one. I have outlined some routes you can take at US News’ Top 10 National Universities that do not have business programs for undergraduates.  

School Name Business-Related Options For Undergraduates
Princeton University Economics major, Finance Certificate (https://bcf.princeton.edu/ucf/), entrepreneurship courses, business related student organizations such as Analytics Group, Business Today, Energy Association, Nonprofit Consulting, Small Business Consulting, Women in Business
Harvard University Economics Major, quantitative finance track in the Statistics department (https://statistics.fas.harvard.edu/degree-tracks), student organizations such as Crimson Consulting Group, Data Ventures, European Business Group, Real Estate Investment Group, Women in Business
Columbia University Business concentration to be declared in students’ sophomore or junior years, prerequisites include courses in statistics, economics and psychology. Students can also attend Columbia Business School’s faculty lecture series, informal mentoring/network activities with MBA students and alumni, and conduct research with business school faculty.
Stanford University Economics major, management & sciences major, There are opportunities for undergraduates to take business school classes (https://undergrad.stanford.edu/advising/student-guides/can-i-take-business-school-classes) at Stanford GSB.
University of Chicago Business economics track (https://socialsciences.uchicago.edu/announcement/business-economics-specialization-and-data-science-specialization-now-offered) that was launched in the 2018-19 academic year. Students are also able to take courses in the Booth School of Business. Dougan Scholars Certificate, which allows undergraduates to accompany their degree with 6 business courses. Students are granted opportunities to research with Booth faculty as well as assigned mentors.
Yale University Economics major, opportunities to take classes at Yale School of Management (https://som.yale.edu/programs), student organizations such as Yale Undergraduate Diversified Investments, Yale Net Impact, China Economic Forum, Yale Startup Consulting Group
Duke University Economics major, Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Student Organizations such as Duke Business Society, Black & Latino MBA Organization, and Duke Consulting Club
Johns Hopkins University Economics major, minors in entrepreneurship & management, financial economics, marketing & communication, accounting & financial management,
Northwestern University Certificate program for undergraduates at Kellogg School of Business, economics major, Harvey Kapnick Center for Business Institution minor program (http://www.wcas.northwestern.edu/bip/), Chicago Field studies which places the students at a business related internship program in the Chicago area, Medill Undergraduate Marketing Communications Certificate (http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/imc/certificate/index.html), Undergraduate Leadership Program (http://www.northwestern.edu/ulp/)

As you can see, even though these top universities do not have undergraduate business schools, you could still find opportunities to practice and hone business-related skills.

If you happen to be on the fence regarding whether you want to pursue an economics major or go to an undergraduate business school, pay extra attention to the section comparing undergraduate business schools business school versus choosing an economics major.

What Makes Each Of The Best Undergraduate Business Schools Different?

Now that you’ve seen the list of the best undergraduate business schools, you might be wondering how to decide which would best fit your goals. Being business programs, all of the best undergraduate business schools offer hands-on experience, just to different extents. They all allow students to participate in different types of entrepreneurial, leadership and global business programs.

However, they are of course not identical. Each school brings something of their own to the table, whether in mission, course offerings, or internship programs. I’ve outlined some of the unique opportunities at the best undergraduate business schools in the table below.

School Name Unique Opportunities
Wharton Flexible curriculum, which allows students to take humanities and STEM classes at UPenn alongside their business courses. Wharton functions on a “Knowledge for Action” platform, which encourages students to apply in-class concepts to the real world by helping them start their own business, or teaching them team building skills through its leadership courses.
Sloan Students can major or minor in management, business analytics and finance. Sloan operates under “Action Learning” philosophy, an example of which can be found in the lab offerings (http://mitsloan.mit.edu/actionlearning/media/documents/MIT-Sloan_Labs_at_a_Glance-0814_v5.2.pdf) which allow students to apply their skills by consulting for real organizations.
Haas They also offer a Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology (https://engineering.berkeley.edu/management-entrepreneurship-technology-program) program for students interested in both business and engineering. Furthermore, their Global Management Program (https://www.haas.berkeley.edu/Undergrad/gmp.html) is designed to help students learn about business from a global perspective.
Ross Students learn through real world applications and hands on approach to their business degree through business competitions such as the Michigan Business Challenge (http://zli.umich.edu/programs-funds/michigan-business-challenge), and its wide selection of global immersion programs.
Stern Students can pursue four kinds of degree programs depending on the type of industry they are interested in: B.S. in Business, B.S. in Business and Political Economy, B.S. in Business and an M.S. in Accounting, B.S. in Business and a B.F.A. in Film & Television.
Tepper Tepper School boasts one of the lowest faculty to student ratios of undergraduate business schools. In addition to core course requirements, students can choose from 10 concentrations: Accounting, Business Analytics, Business Technology, Economics, Markets & Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Global Economics and Business, International Business, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness, Marketing, Operations Management.
McCombs Students may select a general Finance track, or have the option to pick one of six specialized tracks - Finance: Corporate Finance and Investment Banking, Energy Finance, Financial Markets/Banking; Investment Management, Quantitative, or Real Estate.
Dyson Dyson School offers students a B.S. degree in Applied Economics and Management (https://dyson.cornell.edu/). Students can combine this with a focus or double major in environmental sciences, social sciences, or agricultural sciences, environmental and sustainability sciences, biometry and statistics, animal science, or food science at Cornell’s school of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

These schools aren’t the end of good schools for an interest in business by any means. A degree from a top liberal arts school also holds a lot of value. In fact, if you enjoy business but aren’t entirely sure of what career you want to pursue after college, a liberal arts school might be perfect for you. Due to the distribution requirements across all fields, liberal arts colleges help students gain more exposure to different tracks, and could help you discover what excites you. Liberal arts students are likely to succeed in graduate business schools due to the broader knowledge they bring. Jobs in business and consulting are common among graduates from Williams College and Amherst College, the two top ranked liberal arts colleges.

Is Attending Undergraduate Business Schools Better Than Pursuing An Economics Major?

If you want to apply your skills in business to real world consulting and internship opportunities during college instead of falling asleep over econ problem sets, undergraduate business schools are probably more suitable for you. If you are more interested in tackling problems such as development, inflation, unemployment, and poverty, an economics major would suit you better than attending undergraduate business school. The best undergraduate business schools are specialized to help you get a better understanding of the business world with expert professors and specialized courses.

Here are some other key differences between pursuing an undergraduate business degree versus choosing an economics major:

  • Theoretical vs. hands on - A significant portion of your time as an economics major will be spent analyzing and explaining data as you study various theories.  On the other hand, business students are prepared to take on practical challenges from the very first year, for example, USC Marshall’s experiential learning, travel, and mentorship programs. Your style of learning might suit either a business major or an economics major. Business courses usually involve more projects and chances for internships, whereas with an economics major, you would be looking more into data and taking courses like advanced calculus. For example, the United Nations Global Compact Internship offers NYU Stern students the opportunity to conduct research, write articles, and assist with outreach at their New York office.  Students therefore learn how to use their degree in a wide array of other sectors like ethics and technology.
  • Jobs - Typically, students from either program can go into any field and have similar industrial opportunities available to them, although the differences in core courses might lead them to focus on different aspects of business. Economics majors can pursue careers as economists obviously. They can also work different jobs in the public or private sector, whether in finance, or in firms as research assistants and market analystsSome of the most common jobs for economics majors include working as a market research analyst, an economic consultant, and an actuary. Common entry-level jobs for undergraduate business school graduates also include working as an accountant, management, consultant, and social media managers. Undergraduate business students who have not pursued further graduate degrees are more likely to rise to top positions such as vice president or financial director and earn mid-career salaries between $85,000-$100,000. On the other hand, economics majors are more likely to work as financial analysts and data analysts and earn an average mid-career salary of around $70,000.
  • Real world impact - Students might find the real world application of economic theory more difficult to implement. The people running policies in governments and implementing state laws are usually politicians and not economists. Students at the best undergraduate business schools thus learn the skills to take charge and start their own companies, instead of going through other policy makers. Undergraduate business alums can start their own companies using the entrepreneurial skills taught in college. There is also an increased need for business grads in the job market. A business degree is more flexible. There were 3.7 million job postings for business majors in the last year, compared to the 901,406 jobs posted for economics majors. Both majors can be useful for jobs in government, the nonprofit sector, healthcare, and education industries as well. This is reflected in some of the most common jobs for business graduates being in college admissions, business reporting, and healthcare administration.

What To Do with An Undergraduate Business Degree

  • Work right out of school - One of the biggest reasons students want to pursue an undergraduate business degree is to increase their chances of employment in a relevant field upon graduation. Studying business during your undergrad years can help you apply the practical skills you’ve learned in college right into your job, making the school-to-work transition much smoother.

  • An edge no matter which field you choose - Business degrees are not only limited to business opportunities. Studying business as an undergrad allows you to hone skills in finance, management, entrepreneurship and beyond. If you’re interested in both business and art, for example, you can use your business degree to manage art galleries or start an art-related consulting service. Ross graduates go on to work for companies such as Google, L’Oreal, CitiBank - which gives you an idea of the versatility that comes with a business degree. If you’re someone who wants to become an educator or help develop software, having a business degree can be beneficial in the real world. For example, Wharton students can intern with Teach for America or Microsoft, helping them network and gain opportunities in the broader fields of education or computer science upon graduation. If you’re interested in business and healthcare, your degree would be very useful because the healthcare industry involves public policy, accounting, management, taxation - all that you would learn studying business.

  • Pursue an MBA - While an undergraduate degree helps you get an edge in the workforce, having an MBA degree can provide more opportunities in leadership roles, a higher earning potential, and an even greater network. This is true whether your undergraduate degree is in business or not. Undergraduate business school alums made up only 18% of the top ten graduate business schools’ accepted class in 2018. But your knowledge and skills from undergrad, as well as work experience post-college can help increase your chances of getting into a top business school. The amount of time people take off after undergraduate before applying to business school varies. From 2012-2016, the number of applicants 25 or younger increased from 13% to 21%. MIT Sloan gives its graduates the opportunity to apply to their MBA during their final year of undergrad and secure a seat for themselves in the future class.  

Application Tips

  • Look at the School as a Whole, but Let Your Business Side Stand Out - Often, even if you wish to apply to the undergraduate business school you might have to apply to the college through the regular undergraduate application first. For example, at MIT all students enter undeclared. They can take classes at Sloan starting their first semester and declare a business major at the end of the first year. At NYU Stern, students apply through the undergraduate office, but in their application, specify BS in Business or in Business and Political Economy.

However, all students are required to write about academic interests in their essays. For 2018-19, MIT asked students to answer all of the following 5 questions:

  1. We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (100 words or fewer) - This prompt gives you a chance to reflect on your interests outside of academics, and what makes you unique. This could certainly be related to entrepreneurism or other business activities.
  2. Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? (100 words or fewer) - For prompt 2, if you know you want to apply to Sloan, show how you are geared for future success in business.
  3. At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words) - Similarly prompt 3 urges you to show the leader in you. As I mentioned earlier, college admissions officers look at leadership initiatives.
  4. Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words) - Topic 4 gives you a great platform to reflect on your specific interest in business. Environmental awareness in your family could inspire you to take an environmental approach in your business-related interests, for example.
  5. Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words) - As for this final prompt, show the admissions office how you tackled a difficult situation, a skill very applicable and relevant in the world of business.

  • Be Specific in Your Essays - You will likely apply to multiple schools for business. However, make sure that your supplemental essays are as specific as possible to each program. Thoroughly research what makes each school unique - whether it is the sunny Los Angeles setting of Marshall or the chance to work with a particular professor at Wharton. It can be tempting to want to take a lazier route and make one or two tweaks to each essay before sending to different schools. Do not fall for this. Each of these schools have distinguishing features.

Let’s take a look at another prompt. For Babson College, a private business school located in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the prompt asks:

Life is a collection of moments, some random, some significant. Right now, you are applying to Babson College. What moment led you here?

You can respond to this prompt with a 500-word-essay or a one-minute video. The admissions office states that there is no preference for either format, so you can really play to your strengths here. If you are a filmmaker or a strong public speaker, you can choose the video route. If you prefer to reflect on your background and interests through writing, you may choose the essay.

Whichever you choose, make sure your supplement brings out the leader in you. Since Babson is business specific, the admissions officers are asking you what appeals to you about Babson, not only as a business school, but in the unique opportunities it offers. You have to be as detailed as possible in talking about what led you to the decision to apply to Babson. You could talk about the first time you heard about a specific course, or how your campus visit affected your decision. Whatever the answer, make sure your individuality shines through in your application so that admissions officers can understand just how suited you would be for their institution.

  • Start Your Own Initiative - Undergraduate business schools like to see that you are a visionary young leader with business-minded goals. One of the best ways to demonstrate your inner leader is to develop your own business, LLC, or non-profit. This can sound overwhelming. The easiest place to start is by looking at your own community. What are some facilities that need developing in your neighborhood? Is there a technology that your school lacks? What is something you’ve always been passionate about but don’t have access to in your area? Ask yourself questions to narrow down your interests and solicit information from the members in your community to find out what initiative you can start to stand out as a resourceful leader.
  • High School Business and Entrepreneurship Competitions - Most of the top undergraduate business schools use the Common Application, and an important part of the Common App is the activities list. If you know as early as sophomore or junior year that you want to study business for undergrad, consider business or entrepreneurship competitions, which let your creative and entrepreneurial side shine. Blue Ocean and the Diamond Challenge are two of the biggest competitions. If you’re interested in the environment as well as business, consider the GENIUS Olympiad, which might be a good fit.
  • Study Hard and Make Sure You Have Strong Letters of Recommendation - All of the top schools value strong GPAs and standardized test scores. The table below outlines standardized test scores at the top undergraduate business schools:
School Avg. SAT Score Avg. ACT Score
Wharton 1510 34
Sloan 1530 34
Haas 1500 32
Ross 1480 33
Stern 1470 33
Tepper 1473 33
McCombs 1384 31
Kenan-Flagler 1360 30
McIntire 1420 31
Dyson 1490 32
Kelley 1447 31
Mendoza 1510 33

As you can see, the competition is tough. Another way to make sure you stand out in the applicant pool is through the letters of recommendation from your high school teachers and guidance counselor. Start visiting your guidance counselor as early as possible, and talk to them about undergraduate business schools. Your performance and enthusiasm in and out of class can help build better relationships with your teachers. Although undergraduate business schools do not have any different requirements than usual letters, make sure your recommender is aware of your interest. If they see your hard work and dedication, they will write letters of recommendation that reflect your character and promise of success in your future as a business leader.

Choosing the right undergraduate business school for you can seem daunting, especially when you’re still in high school. Getting in is no walk in the park - as you’ve learned, these schools are very selective. But if you know your focus in business, you can narrow down your choices to a balanced list of schools which offer courses catered to that focus. Early planning never hurts. If an undergraduate business school is for you, sit down with your counselor and start formulating a plan. A whole world of possibilities await in business.

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