Mike Anello has been preparing for his job search since he stepped onto the University of Notre Dame campus four years ago. A December graduate of the Mendoza College of Business, he had been pursuing a career in financial services, and last month his hard work seemed about to pay off—three companies were showing interest. But after seeing many of his classmates' job offers rescinded, Anello started to wonder if he was making the right choice. Luckily, he had an alternative: football. A starter for the Fighting Irish with a year of eligibility left, Anello suspended his job search and asked the coach if coming back to play was an option. It was. Today, Anello is taking finance classes and working in Mendoza's investment office. "The way the job market is right now," he says, "it's not going to hurt to wait it out a little longer."
As graduation approaches for the Class of 2009, and the job market looks more dismal by the day, students who began their college careers with high hopes are now being forced to rewrite the script. For some, that means continuing education; for others, part-time college jobs have become full-time; many are coming to grips with the idea of moving back home. "Expectations are quickly changing," says Jackie Chaffin, director of Seton Hall University's Career Center.
The results of BusinessWeek's fourth annual ranking of undergraduate business programs reflect the job market's uncertainty. With 54% of responding seniors lacking an offer as of January (compared with 44% in 2008), the schools that excelled in our survey have put an intense focus on guiding students through the career search. Leading the way is No. 1-ranked McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, where nearly three of four seniors have job offers, thanks largely to the school's innovative efforts to build student-recruiter relationships. The same applies to second-ranked Notre Dame, where administrators tap the school's well-connected alumni network to scout jobs and offer advice to students. Both overtook the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, which fell to third place after three years at the top.
To rank these programs, BusinessWeek uses nine measures, including surveys of 85,000 senior business majors and nearly 600 corporate recruiters, median starting salaries for graduates, and the number of graduates each program sends to top MBA programs. We also calculate an academic quality rating for each program by combining SAT scores, student-faculty ratios, class size, the percentage of students with internships, and the number of hours students devote to class work.
In general, student satisfaction was down, with more than half of the 101 ranked schools taking a hit. Institutions that succeeded in helping students navigate the difficult job market improved their standings the most. Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business rose 17 spots, to No. 42, in large part because of a recruiting focus centered on regional banks and such large local companies as Procter & Gamble (PG) and Limited Brands (LTD). Others, including No. 29 University of San Diego School of Business Administration, saw their fortunes rise due to a strong focus on accounting, where jobs are still plentiful. New York University's Stern School of Business didn't fare as well, falling to No. 15 from No. 8 after some students returned from summer internships on Wall Street without the job offers they had expected. Some who did receive offers are seeing start dates delayed and are now wondering if the jobs will be there when they graduate—and if the $38,686 a year they spent was worth it. "Stern's steep price tag makes it difficult to realize the value in an education that doesn't lead to any job prospects," one finance student complained.
For many students, getting "the" job is no longer a priority. Any position will do.
Eight years ago when Meagan Crowder took a part-time position at AirAdvice, her father's environmental services company, it wasn't supposed to be a career move. But when she graduated from the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business last year, the worst job market in decades changed her mind. "I was sending out résumés and wouldn't get any response," she says. "Not even a 'Thank you for your submission.' " In early February a sales slot opened at AirAdvice, and Crowder took it. "Eight years ago I said I'm never working for my dad's company full-time," she says. "Now I'm grateful to have it as an option."
Many won't be so lucky. Both on-campus interviewing and job postings are down significantly. At Miami University Farmer School of Business, the number of companies participating in the annual spring career fair has dropped 30%. Farmer's dean, Roger L. Jenkins, is advising students to consider spending a year in China to hone their skills and learn about a new culture. At Emory University's Goizueta Business School, Undergraduate Director Andrea S. Hershatter says she will be happy if 85% to 90% of grads have job offers within three months of graduation, compared with 98% last year. "Companies who came to campus looking to hire 10 students are now looking for one or two," Hershatter says. "Many are coming to keep the pipeline warm, but they aren't actually hiring."
That wouldn't surprise Casey Lesier. For every 10 companies contacted by the senior marketing major at the University of Texas at Austin, she hears back from one. At graduation, Lesier hoped to move to New York or San Francisco, but she found few companies in those cities hiring, with most of the companies recruiting on campus headquartered in Texas. "It made my search harder," Lesier says. "I would love to go elsewhere, but I need to think about what's best for my career." She's staying put.
Gone are the days when business undergrads could choose between multiple job offers. This year, the challenge is finding one. "At this point, I know I can't be picky," explains Villanova senior Christin Rodriguez, who has been looking for a marketing position since last fall but has yet to get an offer. "Any job is experience. I'm not going to strike anything out."
For the complete ranking, plus slide shows, video, tables, and profiles of each of the 101 ranked undergraduate programs, go to businessweek.com/bschools/.