I have not posted on this blog since undergrad (~2013), but I feel like a published online review is long overdue. I know it will be lengthy, but comprehensive. If you were looking for a review in the first place, you will benefit by reading to the end. I hope it shows up in searches.
Why now? I believe that given my IBCE experience and what I learned throughout the process, I may have chosen a different undergraduate experience. So, this review is for transparency and for all those out there seeking to select the best fit for undergrad.
Choosing IBCE… and by default… The University of South Carolina
There were three main factors that led me to choose the International Business and Chinese Enterprise (IBCE) program at The University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business. 1) #1 International Business Ranking, 2) the promise of internships/practical experience, and 3) a passion for culture, language, and travel. However, as you will read, these criteria that underpinned my decision to attend IBCE were evaluated naively. I hope this provides the insight required for you to make the right decision. In my opinion, the IBCE experience was interesting, but, interesting does not deserve four years of tuition.
1) [International] Business Ranking (What’s an International Business major?)
Let me start this section by keeping it 100. International Business is not a real/practical/rigorous undergraduate major and is not how multi-national companies hire or promote talent. A company will NEVER ask “Our ideal candidate has completed an International Business curriculum. Have you?” It is a study of how businesses cannot cookie cut products and services and sell them across the globe. International business studies belong in the behavioral sciences department and not in the business school.
Think about it using this over-simplified example. Would a multinational corporation (MNC) hire a 21/22 year old with no practical experience to address cross-cultural product penetration issues? Probably not. Will a MNC hire a 21/22 year old to maintain a spreadsheet? Yes.
(An aside: Even if you secure a Strategy Consulting job out of undergrad, believe me, you still won’t be solving high level issues. You will be getting coffee, cleaning up slides, mining Excel, scheduling team dinners, etc. Don’t have delusions of grandeur about your first work experience out of undergrad.)
In conclusion, don’t make the same mistake I made. The University of South Carolina Moore School of Business’s #1 in International Business ranking should not weigh heavily or even be included in your school/program evaluation criteria. To my knowledge, no other schools even offer International Business as a major. So, of course any school that does is going to be #1. Instead, the better metric is the overall business school’s rank which is, as of 2019, #74 out of 131.
2) Internships and Practical Experience (This section holds the secret to undergraduate business school recruiting and landing a great job out of undergrad)
I was hungry for any experience that I could get. So, I discussed internship opportunities with the head of the program, who assured me that the program would coordinate internship opportunities. This, as you will read later, was not the case and that is unfortunate. Keep reading!
There were only a few companies that recruited from The Moore School of Business when I attended. Most people had to find opportunities through networking. As I recall, there were only a few good-for-SC companies that recruited–GE Capital (Risk), Bank of America (Risk and Treasury), Nestle (Leadership Development Program), Deloitte (Audit), Seimens (Leadership Development Program). As I discuss below, there were only a couple of positions available. Competition was tough and candidates with more internship experience and better networks prevailed.
IBCE did organize one language internship through the Yale-China Chinese Language Center where we spent a couple of weeks studying Chinese in Xi’an. This was just more school and nothing more. Outside of that “internship,” there were no other opportunities offered and, of course, no time for internships because we were in intensive Chinese language classes most of our summers. Also, none of the opportunities mentioned above were IBCE exclusive and there were no opportunities in Hong Kong. CUHK does not participate in IBCE career services.
IBCE did try to leverage a Citi Bank alum connection and sent us on a tour of Citi with her. But it was exploratory, as recruiters say, and no position was on the table and certainly no offers were extended. It was honestly quite depressing and the first humbling sign that I was not at UVA, NYU, Ross, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, etc.
***Secret to Undergraduate Business Recruiting***
You need internships. If your school is a target school, companies will offer internship opportunities. Converting an internship into a full time offer is now the status quo. It is much rarer to receive an outright offer sans internship than in days past.
What is a target school? Companies now hire only/mostly from target schools. It is essential that you understand if and which companies recruit and hire from the school you are considering. The reason target schools emerged and are now the most important campus recruiting vehicle is because corporate recruiters are tasked to be as effective as possible without spending all the company’s cash on recruiting undergrads. Therefore, most companies focus efforts by choosing a list of target schools. This allows them to reduce the amount of time they would otherwise spend sifting through mountains of resumes and focus on recruiting the right candidate for the job from a dependable university.
Companies will carve out ~2-5 internship openings each year for a target school depending on the size and performance of the company and the quality of the school. As you can surmise from the small number of opportunities offered by each company, competition is intense. Therefore, you should give yourself the best shot at a great job by attending a university that gets the most opportunities. Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success. Even though there are some parents and families that seem over-zealous about name brand universities and would only have their children attend a top 25 school, they are not wrong. Those schools are, more likely than not, target schools.
Do not despair if you find yourself mid-undergrad at a non-target school. You can always transfer and I would recommend it. Why? The answer is two fold. First, if you are taking on debt for undergrad, you need to make it worth it. Even if you are lucky enough not to take debt out for undergrad, you still want to make the most of your time. The runway to 30 after undergrad goes fast. Don’t dawdle. Second, you don’t want to have to go to grad school to recruit because it is also costly. The other options are not ideal.
3) Culture, Language, and Travel
I was passionate about learning more about different cultures, languages, and travel. These passions developed through my academic pursuits in middle and high school.
As a high school sophomore, I was selected to attend Tennessee’s Governor’s School for International Studies. This is a summer program that the State curates to allow high-performing high school students to study at the next level, university level. There are several iterations of this program (e.g., Performing Arts), but I attended the International Studies curriculum. During the program, I met several fascinating people and studied Political Science, Portuguese, and more at the university level. This experience highlighted that I did not want to take political science in my actual undergrad and that there is so much of the world I haven’t seen or studied. The drive to see and explore was cemented in my mind after that summer.
Throughout middle and high school, I was fascinated by languages. I started with Spanish, but eventually branched out with Latin and French. Learning different languages seemed to imbue the learner with a new perspective and world view. It also provided a window into a different world than Nashville, TN that I had known all my life. Through language study, school offered study abroad / exchange programs for corresponding countries. I capitalized on these programs and visited France and Spain for language immersion before graduating. I caught the travel bug and wanderlust became real.
The IBCE Experience…
The overall experience was fairly disjointed and the program was not as managed as it should be. Moving schools every other year is not an effective way to learn and is also disadvantageous for recruiting. You cannot recruit or intern in the US from Hong Kong studying. It is also difficult to develop friendships with your South Carolina peers if you are practically never there. You can end up in an IBCE bubble, which could be toxic. There are however a significant number of international students who study abroad at CUHK and they are good to get to know.
The summers were by far the most expensive component of my undergraduate bill. Each summer is $10k+. Though, if you enrolled in the Yale-China Chinese Language Center courses on your own rather than through IBCE, it would cost you only $5,201 in tuition and ~$1,500 in room and board. So, there was about $3k+ missing from the equation for each summer. We inquired about the discrepancy, but were admonished feverishly for asking. It seemed like educational profiteering to me and mine. FYI–Those are 2019 prices and not 2011 prices. I’m sure in 2011, it didn’t cost as much.
The first year, I met my cohort and begin Chinese language courses at The University of South Carolina.
The second year, I traveled to Hong Kong in the summer for the first time to begin intensive Chinese language classes. I met my CUHK cohort at the tail end of the summer as the British university system is 3 instead of 4 years long. After the academic year ended, I stayed in Hong Kong to complete the second summer of intensive Chinese language study.
The third year, I was back in South Carolina studying alongside the CUHK cohort. This is the year that you complete all required courses for graduation, save a few because the study abroad credits come back as pass/fail and can only be a portion of your academic track. After the academic year ended, I secured a great-for-SC internship in NYC. I, however, chose not to pursue the full time position in NYC after graduation for several reasons.
I graduated in Hong Kong without full time employment not knowing how difficult it would be to recruit with virtually no experience and while no longer a student on campus.