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10 Business Schools To Watch In 2018

Students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

University of Michigan (Ross)

“The total package.”

That’s a moniker that only few MBA programs can claim. And Ross is one of those few.  Look no further than U.S. News’ specialization ranking, a survey of MBA deans and directors who evaluate the quality of competing programs. Turns out, Ross ranks in the Top 10 in all but one concentration – information systems (where it still finished 15th). Such reputational capital places Ross in the same category as Stanford and Wharton. Even more, it reflects an across-the-board excellence. It is an advantage that stems from operating in one of the world’s top research universities – one with a large undergraduate business major population. It is also a strength grounded in its general management approach: one imbued with a cross-curricular philosophy that’s delivered through experiential learning.

It’s a formula that integrates the traditional with the contemporary, one that seamlessly blends the need to master fundamentals and reinforce them with practice. Even more, it provides a platform for business leaders’ need to partner together to face down real world challenges. That is the impetus behind ground-breaking programs like the Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP), a seven week international consulting project. The philosophy is also crystalized through the Leadership Crisis Challenge, which places students in pressure-packed, time-sensitive situations where they must find solutions while navigating the pressures brought on by legal counsel, board members, shareholders, customers, activists and even the press.

“Companies are looking for people who are not only functional experts, but can work across those functions to create business value,” notes Dean Scott DeRue in a 2017 Q&A with P&Q. “Across our undergraduate and graduate programs, that’s not only our aspiration, but it’s also our commitment.”

It’s a commitment that will only intensify in the coming year. Next fall, Ross will be rolling out a four-pronged program where students can advise, start, invest in, or lead a real business according to Soojin Kwon, the managing director of full-time MBA admissions at the school. In addition, adds DeRue, the school has recently launched its “Living Businesses” program, which takes a project beyond its summer or semester confines so students gain the experience of running a portion of the company. “This is ongoing,” DeRue explains. “There will be multiple functions in play, from marketing and branding to supply chain and operations to the finance and administrative functions of the business. Our students are going to have to do all aspects of that business. And the stakes are real. We fundamentally believe the best way to learn business is to actually do business. And we wrap all this with the coaching, mentorship and the faculty, who can help reinforce the core fundamentals.”

Such initiative and innovation will ultimately determine if Ross consistently breaks into the top 10 full-time MBA rankings. Currently, it stands on the outside looking in, ranking 11th with both Poets&Quants and U.S. News (and 12th with both Bloomberg Businessweek and The Economist).Applications were up 4% and average GMAT increased by eight points over the past year. The school recruited a 2019 Class that included 43% women, behind only Wharton and Tuck. And median compensation achieved a respectable $147,485 with the 2017 Class – pay that tops higher-ranked programs like Chicago Booth, Northwestern Kellogg, and Columbia Business School.

Is Ross ready take that important next step in 2018? We’re not sure yet…and that’s why they are an MBA program to watch.

Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business

Ohio State (Fisher)

How is this for a juxtaposition? Ohio State is one of America’s largest public universities with nearly 60,000 students on its sprawling Columbus campus. And the Fisher College of Business is one of the smallest MBA programs with just 91 students in its incoming class.

By the numbers, the 2016-2017 cycle wasn’t particularly kind to Fisher. Applications and average GMATs slipped a little. In addition, the school remained pretty stagnant in the rankings. So why keep an eye out for what happens there?

Two words: curriculum revamp

That’s right, Fisher is undertaking the most daunting, political, and thankless of academic blood sports. Based on the early sketches, this program would fuse its trademark close-knit ethos with an intense coaching and mentoring culture that runs across the full two years. In the core, students would take courses from Monday-Thursday focused on baseline skills, with Fridays set aside for team-taught sessions that prep students for a semester-long experiential project during the spring. The curriculum would also integrate a robust set of immersions with corporate partners.

Coupled with the program’s strengths – a top five career center and an expansive experiential learning portfolio – and you have the makings of a special curriculum that gives Fisher an identity that truly differentiates it from all comers. ““The dean said to blow it up, design a new MBA from scratch, and that is what we have been doing,” explains Walter Zinn, associate dean of graduate programs.

What can make this work? For one, the school can draw from plenty of expertise from the sheer size and research prowess of the larger university. Even more, Fisher is within a four hour driven of nearly 70 Fortune 1000 companies in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Indianapolis. In other words, Fisher comes to the table with a wealth of resources. Come fall, we’ll see if the faculty can mold them into something truly unique.