It’s a remarkably consistent finding — business remains the most popular major among college students.
But not all programs are created equal. Online publication Poets&Quants for Undergrads is out with its 2017 ranking of the country’s top undergrad business schools. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania took the top spot. (This also happens to be President Donald Trump’s alma mater). The average starting salary for a 2017 graduate was $80,566. With an average bonus of $12,703, total average compensation was $90,601.
Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame and McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University round out the top five programs.
The site used admissions standards, academic experience and employment outcomes to determine the quality of 82 institutions. Poets&Quants surveyed 6,288 recent graduates and used school-reported data.
In lieu of an MBA
Often, these elite undergrad programs offer a perfect medley of hard skills in finance and soft skills in leadership.
“Undergrad business programs have become so solid and sophisticated, many employers find these graduates more preferable to MBAs,” John Byrne, founder and editor-in-chief of Poets&Quants, told Yahoo Finance. “They put a focus on writing a report with great clarity and intelligence. There’s an emphasis on being articulate, persuasive, and effective with people.”
Beyond the classroom, schools like Wharton offer global immersions and opportunities for non-profit work that cultivate well-rounded students, according to Byrne.
Perhaps getting a business degree from a top program is a better path because it’s cheaper than grad school. The cost of a Harvard MBA starts at $106,800. The price of entry at other top schools like Stanford and UChicago is $112,797 and $103,759, respectively.
Students may also be continuing to choose business majors, in part, because they’re worried about their career prospects, having seen their parents or relatives losing their jobs and having trouble landing a job during the 2008 recession. Those who might have majored in philosophy or dance are choosing to minor in it, veering toward more practical choices, according to Byrne.
There isn’t always a direct relationship between your college major and what you end up doing for a living, though. English majors become consultants and not all business grads find lucrative careers. But schools like Wharton — if you can manage to get in — give you a bit more certainty that you’ll get some return on your collegiate investment.
Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.