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Two students sit on a Stanford Graduate School of Business sign on the Palo Alto campus.

Starting this fall, undergraduate students can enroll in graduate business courses at Stanford’s business school 

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Career readiness after graduation remains a priority for students and their future employers. When surveyed last spring, around 30 percent of 2023 graduates said they did not believe they had the skills needed to secure the job they wanted. Meanwhile, 67 percent of business leaders in another study said they don’t think higher education provides students with the skills they need to be successful.

A pilot program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business gives undergraduate students from all majors the opportunity to complete graduate business classes. Pathfinder course content focuses on practical exposure needed to launch a career in business, including learning about organizations, markets, decision-making and leadership principles.

What’s the need: Stanford doesn’t offer an undergraduate major or minor in business, so students interested in the field typically take economics or management science and engineering. The university provides a traditional liberal arts education, but making students career-ready is always a consideration, explains Jesper Sørensen, senior associate dean for the school of business and head of the Pathfinder program.

“One of the places where the GSB has always been very successful is in translating ideas into impact,” Sørensen says. “The idea here is: Is there a way we can be a complement to the kinds of majors and education that Stanford undergraduates are getting that helps them think about how they’re going to take what they know and use it in the real world?”

Previously, undergraduates could enroll in GSB elective courses on a one-off basis, but space was limited. Over the past five to 10 years, around 500 undergraduate seats in total were open in GSB courses; this academic year Pathfinder will provide 500 undergraduate spots.

How it works: Junior- and senior-level undergraduate students or those enrolled in co-terminal master’s degree are eligible to enroll, with no formal application or requirements to participate.

GSB faculty members designed courses for undergraduate students focusing on finance, accounting, entrepreneurship, social impact and economics. Each course has a smattering of themes, similar to a first-year interest seminar, to be applicable and attractive to students from a variety of disciplines.

For the 2023–24 academic year, GSB professors will offer seven Pathfinder courses—two in the fall, two in the winter and three in the spring—each worth three credits. Classes will have between 48 and 72 students, which is typical for an introductory graduate business course, Sørensen says.

Pathfinder courses will count as electives for undergraduates, but students can petition to have them apply to their major where applicable, with the GSB’s support.

The impact: So far, the courses have proven popular among students, with all three fall courses oversubscribed within a day, according to a Stanford press release.

There’s no credit incentive for students to participate in Pathfinder; instead, students show “genuine interest” in course offerings, Sørensen says. “The list of classes is eclectic in some way, because it really reflects what the faculty members are interested in teaching … I think there is a kind of intrinsic curiosity [among students]. They know they’re gonna go out into the world of business, and so they want to kind of get their feet wet a little bit.”

GSB’s instructors have been excited to teach in a new way, and business school leaders have invested in faculty development to ensure they’re prepared for the experience.

Undergraduate faculty members have been generally receptive to the new courses as well. Business-related courses are typically in high demand, so Pathfinder increases access without straining already-full course sections.

Scaling up: In the future, the GSB will increase co-curricular opportunities within Pathfinder, including alumni panels. Sørensen hopes to include a wider audience of undergraduates in career development programming, not just those enrolled in Pathfinder courses.

Space management is also being addressed—Stanford is building an additional classroom at the GSB to accommodate Pathfinder classes that happen at hours that conflict with the regular GSB schedule.

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