Prepare students to lead
Graduate business schools often treat admissions and career management as separate siled units. That was the case at SMU Cox until Jason Rife (senior assistant dean of the SMU Cox Graduate Admissions and Career Management Center) combined the two in 2021. This collaboration of graduate school admissions and career management is key to prepare graduate business students for successful careers. once graduated.
“The ultimate goal is to have a holistic experience for our students,” says Rife. “The vast majority of students who go back to school for postgraduate business education do so for professional purposes. They want to advance their existing field and take on greater responsibilities, move into a new functional area, or jump into a new industry altogether. Regardless, his motives are career-driven. The same can be said for our business college students. They come to Cox with their sights set on some type of business role, whether it be consulting, investment banking or marketing, and our faculty and staff are aligned to support those goals.”
career driven education
The Cox School has implemented a model where business education is influenced by career aspirations.
“Career is an integral part of the overall processes at Cox,” says Rife. “By combining graduate and professional admissions, we are recognizing and aligning with our students’ priorities. From the time someone considers a Cox title to the time they cross that stage and use their new title to move forward, career management has been a factor.”
For starters, that process now includes combined multi-viewpoint undergraduate and graduate admissions teams that assess graduate candidates at the interview stage. From an internal perspective, that means the career team now understands more about the admissions process and the graduate admissions team now understands more about evaluating talent and career options.
“It helps us assess students holistically, not just on their educational background, but also going deeper into their work experience goals,” says Rife. “How well thought out are your goals? Have you thought about how you’re going to connect the dots between where you are now and where you want to be, and what it takes to get there? And do they have the necessary skill set to be successful in their target field?
Building this relationship with the student is something Cox Career Management Center has long prided itself on. Cox School’s dedicated career counselors get to know their students well so they can help them make more meaningful and achievable plans for their futures. It is a detailed chart of personal consultants who offer support and guidance based on their own competitive professional backgrounds.
Rife says that most of the coaches at the Cox Career Management Center also have experience in the private sector. “They themselves were professionals in fields like finance or marketing, working in human resources as recruiters or evaluating talent as part of the graduate intake team. Regardless, they all have experience on the other side of the table in some way shape or form, it’s not theoretical to them. Our coaches know how a candidate can be found on paper, in person, or on video, and can use that experience to effectively guide the student in telling her story. Not all other schools have such a team, and very few involve such teams in the graduate admissions and strategic planning processes. This is something that I feel is groundbreaking about Cox.”
Students on the Path to Professional Success
The feedback the Cox School has received on the novel combination of graduate admissions and career management has been nothing but positive.
“We’ve had several students,” says Rife, “that have already accepted for the next class and say, ‘You’re the only school that had me talk to the careers office as part of the process, and I really appreciate how thoughtful that is. It shows me that you take our careers seriously, and that’s the show I want to be a part of.’”
If prospects recognize the value of this holistic approach, Rife says that’s a sign the program is on the right track. But Rife and his colleagues are also measuring success from several other points of view.
“Our mission is to recruit talented students and help them achieve positive career outcomes,” says Rife. “Numerous metrics go into that: on the graduate admissions side, work experience, diversity, test scores, GPA and EQ; on the career side, students’ ability to secure enhanced roles after graduation, diversity of companies and roles, and starting salaries. But really, the last question we ask about any candidate is: Can we help this person get to where he wants to be?
It’s too early to assess those results at this point, but Shane Goodwin (associate dean for executive education and graduate programs at the Cox School) is excited about some of the changes already taking shape. “We know anecdotally, since we’re doing this with our students and talking to them,” says Goodwin, “that we’re getting better students, so to speak. It is not so much that they are simply “better”. They’re just better for our school because the expectations are better aligned with what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Making sure everyone – the student, the graduate admissions team, the career management team – is on the same page from the start should be a no-brainer. As Goodwin says, it’s a “natural synergistic fit” and is typical in the corporate world. But within the halls of higher education, it’s not the default mode.
“It’s very challenging sometimes, particularly in academia,” says Goodwin. “It has been very slow to evolve. But I do give credit to bringing people with different ideas and allowing us to try this out. And the reality is that testing it has been fantastic.”
A vision realized
Goodwin commends Matthew B. Myers (the Cox School’s ninth dean) for bringing together forward thinkers who foster helpful, meaningful, and student-centered solutions. It is Myers’ vision that has enabled entrepreneurial-minded initiatives to flourish in recent years, tailoring a curriculum for the next generation of leaders, as well as merging graduate admissions and career management.
An example of this cooperative effort is the MBA Direct program that launched in the summer of 2020.
“That was the brainchild of the graduate admissions team and the careers team working together, understanding that we have a lot of talented potential students who have applied but don’t necessarily have the work experience that we require for our other MBAs,” says Rife. . The MBA Direct program is a personalized program (a minimum three-year slower pace during which students can perform well in their jobs while studying) that provides MBA students with the work experience necessary to qualify them for MBA-level positions. . “That benefits them academically,” she says, “and it benefits them professionally.”
This attitude toward collaborative improvement has set the Cox School apart from other academic institutions. And when the pandemic hit in 2020, SMU Cox was in a position to react quickly and effectively as a team.
The pandemic has undoubtedly forced change in academia, and those at the Cox School are transparent about the transformation currently taking place. “I don’t think so [career management] it will go back to where it was, 100%,” says Rife. “COVID has permanently changed the way people recruit and think about education.”
What other disruptions are on the horizon? Where is the market going? And when will the next opportunity arise? The Cox Career Management Center is here to help students answer those same questions and pave the way for their career using its connections with recruiters, companies, and industry leaders.
“What we do academically for all Cox students is provide the skills and knowledge to be that next-level leader,” says Rife. “What we do on the career side is give them training to structure their past experiences and classroom learning into a compelling narrative about how they will make a positive impact within their target role and company.”
Preparing the leaders of tomorrow
The combination of career management and graduate admissions will foster valuable relationships with the business community and allow the Cox School to adapt to recruiting trends, meet employers where they are, and recognize gaps in the marketplace, all of which prepare Cox students for success. Again, collaboration is key, and thanks to SMU’s Dallas location, business connections are never too far away.
“I’m very excited about the future,” says Goodwin of this new collaboration. “I think the universities that are ultimately going to be the long-term survivors in business education are the ones that are really interconnected with industry. Research is going to be very important, there is no doubt, but it is going to be the university that has a very close relationship with its corporate partners. And that’s something that we’ve changed a lot since 2018. We didn’t have a group that really focused on our corporate partners. Now we have a whole team that is simply dedicated to working with them.”
Bringing this graduate admissions and career management team together under one roof is just one part of Cox School’s plan to produce a generation of independent, forward-thinking business leaders at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and it is the fruit of this collective effort that carries Cox into its second century and beyond.
“Instead of trying to follow the crowd, we focus on doing what’s right for our shareholders,” says Rife. “Our decisions are based on what we hear from employers, teachers and students: they are the true compass for us.”
Jason Rife is the Senior Vice Dean of the Career Management Center & Graduate Admissions at SMU Cox School of Business. Prior to joining SMU Cox, Jason graduated with his BBA from Texas Tech University, earned his MBA from Duke University, and served as the Director of Graduate Business Career Services at the University of Florida. In his current role at SMU Cox, Jason leads career services for more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate business students and oversees the admissions team that drives the portfolio of graduate business programs.