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A Banner Year: WSB Releases Employment Outcomes for Undergraduate Class of 2023

Two years in, the school’s Career Forward program is already generating blockbuster results

By Wisconsin School of Business | Photography by Paul L. Newby II

April 1, 2024

Melissa Leffin, director of career engagement for the undergraduate program, mentors student in the Career Engagement Studio space.

Wisconsin School of Business graduates from the undergraduate class of 2023 are breaking new ground—and breaking records in the process.

A recent report from the school’s undergraduate program reveals that this past year’s cohort is not just positioned to succeed: They’re already thriving post-graduation across multiple key areas. Based on comprehensive data from almost 900 of the program’s 950 graduates, the report touts significant growth across multiple categories, including record compensation levels, high job placement, and a rise in emerging areas of student interest.

Undergraduate job placement
Increase in starting salary over previous year’s class
Undergraduates receiving a signing bonus

Highlights include:

  • 94% of WSB undergraduates seeking employment landed a job post-graduation. Equally impressive is the school’s knowledge rate—the ability to track nearly 100% of student outcomes and the transparency in reporting on it, a differentiator that not all institutions can claim.
  • Rising compensation: The starting salary for WSB undergraduates went up $5,000 from last year. Similarly, the number of WSB undergraduates receiving signing bonuses rose to 59%, a new high.  
  • Exponential career pathway growth: The number of students accepting positions in investment banking continues to increase while jobs in investment research have quadrupled since 2022.
  • Top of the rankings: Once again, WSB’s renowned undergraduate real estate program was ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report, continuing to prepare and to attract top undergraduate talent for real estate industry roles.

Career Forward

The recent outcomes are due in no small part to the Career Forward program, an initiative the school launched in 2021. Designed as a comprehensive, customized approach to career development and planning, the program provides individualized support and resources throughout every step of an undergraduate student’s career journey.

“This is illustrative of two full years under the Career Forward model,” says Brett Jones, director of employer engagement for the undergraduate program. “It shows that Career Forward is working: We’re starting to deliver on the promise of what this could be. We are starting to see signs through the data of how students are placing and how different employers are engaging.”

While at WSB, undergraduates benefit from a team of career coaches, academic advisors, alumni, and career pathway consultants within the business majors to support students in developing individualized career blueprints. Students can choose from a myriad of career pathways across 12 majors and a variety of certificates, expanding their view of what is possible as early as their first days on campus.

“This is illustrative of two full years under the Career Forward model. It shows that Career Forward is working: We’re starting to deliver on the promise of what this could be.”

—Brett Jones

“Career Forward helped create a better line of sight for students into what they can do with these majors at the school,” says Melissa Leffin, director of career engagement for the undergraduate program. “You come into the business school, and you’ve got 12 majors to pick from. Your initial reaction is, ‘I’ve got 12 different jobs I can go get!’ We’ve basically taken that to another level by saying, ‘No, there are actually around 40-plus different pathways that these major and certificate combinations can lead you to, especially when combined with co-curricular experiences.’ I think what it’s allowed us to do is to provide more nuanced and industry-focused guidance to students. And it helped them demystify the process.”

Behind the numbers

High employment rate

The fact that 94% of WSB’s undergraduate students have a job after graduation and stay personally connected with the school “is one of our biggest pride points,” says Leffin, particularly since WSB has a bigger student body—more than 3,500 students make up the undergraduate program—than many of its peer institutions.

Since Career Forward’s inception, one of its key goals was to allow the school to deliver results at scale by helping all students succeed, not just a select few. The design allowed students to take advantage of career planning services early on in their educational experience and to tailor that exploration specifically to their individual desired career outcomes.

This year’s data also revealed continued growth in placing students in emerging markets, particularly in the Northeast and West. Business Badgers accepted positions in New York City in the double digits, a prime destination coming second only to Chicago. After New York City, Denver ranked as the most popular metro area for WSB undergraduates outside of the Midwest.

Increase in salaries

A certain amount of salary increase is to be expected based on placing students in some of the high-demand career pathways, says Jones. But he’s witnessed more of an “across-the-board rise” of salaries on average than before.

“We’ve experienced about a $10,000 increase in the average starting salary for all of our undergraduate business students over the last two years.”

Growth in areas of focus

Both Leffin and Jones agree that they are proud of the growth they have seen in areas of focus and career pathways over the past few years.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in consulting, growth in some of the really competitive areas of finance, and around analytics and insights within marketing and tech,” says Leffin. “These are areas that before Career Forward did not have a lot of resources built out for them. We’ve implemented those and have seen that effort return dividends and placements.”

And the program’s career pathway consultants are integral to building out these resources and industry insights. As career experts embedded in each academic department, they’re able to provide specialty knowledge and direct connections to field-relevant faculty and alumni.

A dedicated Badger network

Helping students get that first job is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor involving a dedicated undergraduate career team of 13, top faculty, and a worldwide network of alumni and employers excited to connect and support undergraduate Business Badgers.

This past year, the career engagement team created a résumé book of all students still seeking jobs—even those post-graduation—and leveraged the enthusiasm and connections in alumni and employer networks.

“Our coaches know the students they are working with, and our employer team knows their employers and the specific roles students are looking for so that they can make those matches,” says Leffin. “That really tailored support is what helped us get those numbers and is something we’re really proud of.”

Expansion and innovation

The program is already seeing increased student participation: The undergraduate team witnessed 281 more career coaching appointments during Fall 2023, a 22% increase from the previous year.

Looking ahead, Jones and Leffin hope to build on the success their teams have established, as well as continue to innovate. The program’s career treks, for example, have yielded particularly excellent results: Of the top ten hiring companies this year, nine of them hosted a career trek for WSB students.

“When I started here seven years ago, we were largely reactive, supporting industry by executing on more traditional recruiting functions like career fairs and company presentations,” Jones says. “While those events are important and we do them very well, we spend almost half of our time on what we call ‘supporting student career exploration and development through signature experiences.’”

Those are visits to employers, case competitions, job shadowing, and similar activities, Jones says, and it’s where they started to see a shift and an “evolution” take place.

On a recent trip with students to Walgreens HQ in Chicago, Jones says, industry executives were blown away by the level of questions WSB students were asking, and reported that over half of the students on the trip had applied for the company’s open position.

“They are seeing the value of our students representing themselves. WSB students are impressing them and they are making it a priority to hire Badgers.”