This School Is The Latest To Create An Undergrad-To-MBA Pipeline

SMU Cox photo

It is an “unprecedented time of uncertainty” for everyone. Even as the economy begins its long climb out of the deep trench into which it tumbled during the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing shutdown, MBA jobs still are being delayed and rescinded, as are internships. Candidates for graduate business education are wary, particularly women. Business schools themselves, unsure to what degree they will be able to welcome students in person to campus this fall, are hedging their bets with plans to blend remote and in-person learning in the fall — and MBA candidates are responding with deferral requests or by changing their plans altogether.

Disruption — as far as the eye, and expert forecasts, can see. Which is why B-schools are innovating new approaches to keep their MBA programs humming. One of those approaches: bolstering the pipeline from a school’s undergraduate ranks to its Master of Business Administration.

The latest school to inaugurate such a pipeline is the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. SMU Cox’s new path to an MBA, called the Cox MBA Direct program, is for recent college graduates with fewer than two years of post-degree work experience, including Class of 2020 graduates completing their undergraduate degrees this month. The new program will allow recent college graduates who are working full-time to begin MBA studies online upon completion of their undergraduate degree, which the school avers will prepare them to secure MBA-level employment by obtaining needed work experience as they complete their MBA.

Motivated students, Cox says in an announcement of the new program, can achieve MBA-level salaries within three years of finishing their undergrad degrees. SMU Cox also will waive the GMAT/GRE for applicants of all fall 2020 Cox graduate programs, including MBA Direct. The deadline to apply under this temporary waiver policy is August 2.

“During this unprecedented time of uncertainty, we at Cox recognize the need to exercise bold, agile leadership,” says Shane Goodwin, associate dean of graduate programs and executive education at SMU Cox School of Business. “It’s time to throw out yesterday’s playbook —encourage experimentation, embrace action and adapt quickly to get ahead of the changing circumstances. We leveraged our existing Online MBA infrastructure to create the Cox MBA Direct program, which allows recent college graduates to work full-time while pursuing our highly ranked and educationally rigorous MBA program. This enables students to begin their MBA studies when they complete their undergraduate degree and prepares them to secure a ‘true MBA-level’ role by attaining the required work experience.”


Shane Goodwin, associate dean at SMU Cox

Other schools have recently established new undergrad-to-MBA pipelines, among them UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business. The former’s program, called NC Business Next, is designed for a small group of graduates of the UNC system, which includes 16 campuses besides Chapel Hill, as well as state residents from other universities; it allows the recent grads to earn their MBAs now, “when the job market suddenly turned from hot to cold” — in other words, a recession, which is traditionally when many turn their thoughts to academia as a way to ride out the economic storm. UNC, like SMU Cox, allowed waiver of the GMAT/GRE this year.

In May, UC-Berkeley Haas launched the Cal Advantage program for admission to the fall cohort of the Haas Evening & Weekend or Full-Time MBA programs. “The intention,” says Pete Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions, “was really to capture people in that two- to eight-year range of work experience and offer them an opportunity. Many of those students are facing a different professional environment than they expected. And it is an opportunity to both help those Berkeley alumni but also to certainly tap into a network of talented alums that might have been thinking about business school at some point in the future. And to give them the opportunity to still apply for this cycle in the fall.”

Several other top schools have similar programs. Emory’s Goizueta School of Business added one in February. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business did so in March. Harvard Business School and others have been doing it for years. However, those programs all require around two years of work after graduation before enrolling; UC-Berkeley also launched a similar deferred admissions program for college seniors in January called the Accelerated Access program. UC-Berkeley seniors accepted to that program have two to five years to gain professional experience before returning to Haas for their MBA.

In 2017, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management launched a pipeline program from its own undergraduate ranks to its MBA program. The Johnson Admissions Bridge helps undergrads already enrolled at the school to “understand the potential pathways and benefits of earning the MBA, introduce them to Johnson, and help them with test preparation,” Judi Byers, executive director of admissions and financial aid, told P&Q.

And of course, there are different ways to funnel undergrads to an MBA program. The University of Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business, ranked No. 41 this year by U.S. News (tied with SMU Cox), has had a pipeline program since 2011. The school recruits incoming freshmen who hold at least a 28 ACT (the school’s average is 32.1) and 3.5 high school GPA (average: 4.17), who are intending to major in a STEM discipline, which includes engineering, computer science, math, life sciences, physical sciences, and all of the healthcare professions. Beginning in the fall of their freshman year, students take a 1.5-credit-hour STEM Business Honors course each semester they are undergrads, where they are introduced to various business disciplines and do lots of small-group innovation projects and presentations. They typically formally apply to the MBA in the fall of their junior year, take their first MBA courses during the summer between their junior and senior years, then do the bulk of their MBA studies during the 12 months after graduating undergrad.


The SMU Cox MBA Direct program is a 53-credit MBA that will be taught online over eight consecutive terms (33 months), a pace designed to enable students to maintain high performance in their full-time professional roles, according to the school. Its blended learning classroom format allows students to complete their electives on-campus.

“We designed this program from the ground up not only to meet the needs of recent college graduates eager to immediately begin working toward an MBA degree but also to meet the needs of our recruiting partners who seek applicants that possess the requisite professional experience to qualify for MBA-level positions,” says Jason Rife, executive director of Cox’s Career Management Center.

Applicants to MBA Direct are required to have accepted a full-time job offer that will start shortly before or about the same time as the beginning of their first academic term in the new program. Candidates may apply during their senior year and up to two years post-graduation. SMU undergrads may apply as early as their junior year, pending final academic performance and post-undergraduate job acceptance.


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