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Starting out young

Can undergraduate courses rival MBAs?

By Peter Walker for CNN

Fast lane to success for undergraduate business students?


FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006



Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.


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(CNN) -- While an MBA might be seen as the standard passport to big business success, increasing numbers of young students are now looking at a more direct route to the top: undergraduate business degrees.

Once seen as a distinct poor second choice for the less able, undergraduate business programs are fast increasing in prestige, a trend emphasized by a major new survey of US schools conducted by Business Week.

The magazine polled nearly 100,000 business majors at 84 of the best US universities and colleges, as well as separately surveying college recruiters and business programs themselves.

One key finding was that top-quality undergraduate business courses generally flourish alongside similarly prestigious MBA schools -- nine of the top 10 undergraduate programs have highly ranked MBA programs as well.

In top place was the famous Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, while other famous MBA names -- MIT, Michigan, Virginia -- are scattered around the top spots.

Undergraduate business degrees are now seen as a serious proposition for those looking to get ahead in business, especially the eager types unwilling to take a first degree and then put in the requisite years of real world experience demanded by MBA programs.

While average salaries for those finishing undergraduate courses are rising all round, business majors have fared better than anyone, with an increase of 49% from 1996, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. This is against a 29% increase for liberal arts students and 39% for engineering graduates.

For business undergraduates at the top schools, average starting salaries can now easily exceed $50,000.

New methods

This rise in prestige has been mirrored by a revamp of undergraduate business programs, with the top ones increasingly resembling MBAs thanks to an emphasis on the rigorous study of economics, statistics and accounting and MBA-like teaching methods using case studies and team exercises.

In contrast, Business Week said, the lower-ranked undergraduate courses tended to still follow the older methods of having less business theory and more practical application.

"What you're seeing is a polarization," Barbara E. Kahn, director of Wharton's undergraduate business division, told Business Week. "This is different from what it was 25 years ago. It wasn't the academic experience it is today."

In another echo of MBAs, some schools are offering distinctly specialist business tuition: the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business offers a program for would-be music industry executives, while Lehigh University runs a popular course combining business and computer science.

Reflecting, and at the same time powering the rapid improvements in the top undergraduate courses is the caliber of the students trying to sign up. At Wharton, just 16% of the 4,200 high school seniors applying for the course won admittance, while at fourth-placed MIT, the figure was just 14%.

One of the practical changes has been the increasing prevalence of undergraduate courses in which students major in business throughout their course, rather than just for two years.

However, some schools are sticking to the shorter course, believing undergraduates should have a more rounded education.

"It's a little frightening to think that a 17- or 18-year-old should be committed to a career path and somehow forgo that two-year exploration," Andrea Hershatter, director of the undergraduate program at Emory University's Goizueta Business School, told Business Week.

"What about reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment or figuring out the meaning of an expanding universe?" adds Edward A. Snyder, who ran University of Michigan's undergraduate business program for nearly 10 years before becoming dean of the business school at the University of Chicago.

Business Week's top 10 undergraduate business schools:

1/ Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

2/ McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia

3/ Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame

4/ MIT Sloan School of Management

5/ Goizueta Business School, Emory University

6/ Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

7/ Stern School of Business, New York University

8/ Marriott School of Business, Brigham Young University

9/ McCombs School of Business, University of Texas

10/ Kelley School of Business, Indiana University

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