Disclosure: I may earn affiliate revenue or commissions if you purchase products from links on my website. The prospect of compensation does not influence what I write about or how my posts are structured. The vast majority of articles on my website do not contain any affiliate links.
I enrolled at Lehigh University in 2012 and graduated with a Computer Science & Business degree in 2016. Almost five years have passed since then and I’m happy to report that I can be considered a conventional success. On top of that, I’m satisfied with my life. As I’ve had more free time while working from home over the past year, I’ve been speaking with prospective students as they consider enrolling at Lehigh.
I found myself repeating the same talking points and I decided that a blog post on the topic of CSB has been well overdue. It’s probably time for me to move on from the realm of giving college and early career advice and I think such a post will be a fitting conclusion.
Please Read This Section
I tend to share strong, specific, unpopular opinions based on experiences that are highly anecdotal. I’m persuasive. The purpose of this post isn’t to get in some jabs at Lehigh or undermine anything that’s going on at Lehigh but you’ll probably read some points that make you think “damn, this boy is mad as hell.”
I want to provide perspectives that I wish I had when I was a kid still trying to figure things out. This said, I never intend to write anything that is factually misleading or anything that is completely irrelevant in modern times. Any clarification or additional context that I receive from current students, alumni, members of my cohort, or staff, I will absolutely incorporate into future edits of this post!
What is CSB and What are the Selling Points?
Lehigh University is a somewhat selective school (50% acceptance rate) known for having historically solid engineering and business schools. Lehigh engineering has always enjoyed a strong reputation in the NYC metro area. Lehigh’s accounting program was ranked #1 in the nation (among students) about 15 years ago. There’s a laundry list of very successful people who have come through Lehigh, many of whom espoused the “work hard play hard” mantra.
Combining an accredited Computer Science degree and an accredited Business degree makes a lot of sense. Lehigh started offering this program back in the 2006-2007 school year. Back then, it wasn’t just a good idea, it was visionary.
The main selling points of the program when I was visiting, applying to, and attending information sessions at Lehigh during the 2011-2012 school year were:
- 100% cohort employment (or grad school placement) in relevant fields
- Highest average starting salary of any undergraduate degree program at Lehigh (in the vicinity of $70k per year back then)
- Great placement at “top companies” in both software and business fields.
- Dually accredited engineering and business degrees (a nice perk if you end up wanting to be a patent lawyer, which is something I considered later in life)
- Lehigh in Prague abbreviated study abroad program where some of the trip was subsidized by PwC
- “Honors-like in quality and rigor”
- Lehigh had a reputation for being significantly more fun and much less weird than most comparable private engineering schools; “work hard play hard”
How did CSB Originate?
Safe to say that marrying Computer Sciences and Business back in 2006 probably didn’t originate with a university bureaucrat raising his hand in a meeting. I mean, can you imagine? Obviously, someone came from the outside with a large gift and said make this happen.
To my knowledge, that man was Peter Bennett. All I can tell you is that he seemed to be an LBO guy back in the 90s and he’s served on the boards of over 40 companies (!). His contributions to Lehigh have been staggering.
When I was an undergraduate, we were told that Mr. Bennett was indeed the benefactor of the program. Clearly, he’s a busy guy. He always struck me as an enigmatic, almost godlike figure. I think that one of his lieutenants did come to Lehigh once to give us some type of presentation but it was a pretty disappointing fluff talk. Mr. Bennett was not a Ken Griffin. It left me thinking, what was CSB intended to be?
The Intention of CSB
Fifteen years after launch, the employment landscape has changed a bit. CSB was ahead of its time in many respects but its intention–the outcome that the high-level classes have been preparing students for during its entire existence–will definitely surprise you.
To me, as a high school senior, CSB provided a fast track to becoming a “programmer on Wall Street.” High prestige job, solid compensation, the perfect application of skills! Or, what about being an engineer at a cool Fintech company like Stripe? If not that, maybe you could become a project manager at Microsoft. How about a job in Quantitative Trading?
Well, actually, the intention was to structure a program so they could say that:
CSB prepares students not only for careers in software or business, but also for unique cross-cutting opportunities that require expertise in both computing and in business, including forensic accounting, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and risk management.https://eventscalendar.lehigh.edu/event/computer_science_and_business_information_session_admissions_3717#.YHNplxNKg6U
Wait … what? Risk management? Forensic accounting? Compliance? You mean to tell me people are willfully pursuing accredited computer science degrees, squeezing 136 credits into 4 years in a rigorous program, to work in compliance or for accounting firms?
This is the only “integrated” Computer Science & Business course (aside from capstone projects) in the entire curriculum. Yes–the intention of CSB, which is still supported by the curriculum, is to prepare people for low-prestige, fairly low-paying jobs in the fields mentioned above.
This marks a huge contradiction between what most 18-year-olds want to do and what the program administrators actually have in mind and still use in their promotional materials. Surely, there is some outside influence. Some… invisible hand.
Yep, you’re right. This class, and, part of the stated purpose of CSB, is actually to fill generalist (“Risk Assurance“) roles at the Big Four professional services firms: PwC, Deloitte, E&Y, and KPMG. These firms certainly love Lehigh kids, but most of the roles they offer are insulting to those who have accredited computer science degrees. They pay pretty much 1/2 of what you’d get starting at a big tech firm or trading firm.
I find it silly that there’s been no meaningful diversification of the curriculum or the stated purpose of the program considering that these jobs kind of suck and this focus may discourage other employers from recruiting on campus at Lehigh.
Why I Chose Lehigh and CSB
Quick profile on Tim O’Hearn: I chose Lehigh’s CSB program because I wanted to be a programmer on Wall Street. That was my goal. Also, I was an underachiever at my private high school, so Lehigh was likely the most prestigious school I could get into (32% acceptance rate back then). I applied Early Decision I to help improve my odds. I was a pretty serious runner in high school, so I spoke to the Cross Country coach who said I could attempt to walk on to the team.
Getting accepted to Lehigh, for me, was an accomplishment. To go there and excel in my major, run at the Division I level, have a normal social life, and end up with a phenomenal job, would have been a fairytale. The phenomenal job is the only part of the fairytale that really happened for me.
Where Did CSB Fall Short?
I’m going to focus on what felt disappointing or inconsistent about the Computer Science and Business program. Part of this is about not meeting my expectations (which evolved as I progressed as an undergraduate), part is a clear divergence from what was advertised when I was still a prospective or an accepted student.
Recruiting and Outcomes / No Career Prep
On-campus recruiting (view my other post if you don’t know what this is) ranged from awful to non-existent for most tech/banking/CSB blend careers that people actually wanted. Microsoft was the only notable tech company recruiting on campus while I was at Lehigh and they were only taking 1-2 people per year.
It was demoralizing to realize (very… slowly…) that no companies at the career fair wanted to hire freshmen or sophomores for internships. At more prestigious schools, if you can program at some level, these opportunities do exist albeit sometimes they’re unpaid. Although the sophomore summer commonly had Lehigh in Prague taking up part of it, it was pretty sad that the program directors hadn’t arranged any advice or guidance on what people were supposed to be doing during those summers. Those summers are really important; we were left to fend for ourselves.
And when I say that we were left to fend for ourselves, I mean I had to do a ton of work to both understand the employment environment and understand what roles I could fit into. I had to dig; I had to send cold emails. I felt that my counterparts in IBE had slightly better career guidance, whereas having to rely on Lehigh’s career services department was more or less a cruel joke.
So, where was everyone going to work? Decent portions of the graduating classes around my time were going to the Big Four accounting firms. These aren’t awful jobs, but when you have a Computer Science degree and you take one of these jobs, you’re selling yourself short (admission: there is a fairly wide salary spectrum here but nothing eclipses six figures).
There would be a few really ambitious kids in each class who would manage to make it to Google and other firms of that caliber. It was by no means impossible, but you had to really work for it. From my graduating class, the outcomes were mediocre. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.
In summary, my experience with recruitment at Lehigh stood at odds with the program directors claiming that we regularly competed for top opportunities in two realms. We were fighting for scraps and these top employers had no idea who we were.
Evidenced by the fact that the average starting salary is now roughly $90,000 (and a lot of legwork that I’ve done on LinkedIn), graduates from this program are slotting into much better roles, on average!
Next was that the fundamental CS curriculum was desperately in need of an update. There was little Python taught and there weren’t too many practical on-the-job skills taught in the core curriculum (though we did learn AWS as part of CSE 303). The jump between the second-level Java class and the third class in the sequence, which was essentially a weed-out C++/C class was pretty rough. Why we were learning these things and learning them in the order we did never really made sense to me.
My biggest gripe with the CSE curriculum was that CSE 340, the class where we learned Algorithms using CLRS, occurred well after anyone would have interviewed for their critical junior internship. The information in this book is critical to getting through standardized interview processes at big tech and finance companies. I actually spoke to the guy who taught the class about this–he was a brilliant professor. I was like this makes no sense, I wouldn’t have bombed my Google interview if I had known this. He agreed and said he had also been asking to have things re-arranged.
Thankfully, this has been changed! The CSB curriculum leaves students better prepared for big tech interviews now.
Experiential Learning / Sponsored Projects
Next was the experiential learning aspect. Lehigh in Prague was touted as this magical study abroad program with super cool internships. My buddies the year above me claimed they even got their flights paid for via some grant from PwC. My year, we were told that the flights weren’t covered anymore (okay). The internships were pretty bad! I’m not aware of anyone who had a rigorous, challenging internship.
Applying this same theme to the yearlong CSB senior capstone project, the quality of the projects was lacking. I understand that it’s probably a full-time job to organize and source these projects while keeping everyone happy, but many students were left unfulfilled. I was fortunate to have been placed into what I felt would have been the most rewarding capstone project, and it was not bad! But if you were to hear any CSB student in my class talk about their experiential learning, you’d hear the word “joke” uttered more time than program directors would care to admit.
I don’t really have specific feedback here. Some of the projects just seemed cobbled together. I sometimes wondered if it would have been better to just pair students up with people from the business school or entrepreneurship program just to bring startup ideas to life.
Undergraduate Life is Tough
I’m trying to separate my CSB grievances from my Lehigh grievances, but I never felt Lehigh provided the vibrant comprehensive student life that all the promotional materials claimed. I spent years enduring 18-credit semesters and I rarely felt like it was worth it while I was an undergraduate. The food sucked, the dorms sucked, the school spirit sucked, the school-sponsored events sucked, the on-campus recruiting sucked, the social scene could be really iffy. Drop me into any state school in the country and most of these problems would have been solved immediately.
If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know I typify what it means to be a cynic. I regularly told my parents, and stand by my belief that Lehigh was a total let down as an institution, especially considering how expensive it was.
Until I nailed down my first real internship in early 2015, I was constantly stressed out and strung too thin. I don’t really feel like I was able to enjoy the college experience until I showed up on day one of my senior year with a full-time offer in hand. This was despite the fact that I was in a fraternity and had a solid group of friends. If I could have been guaranteed the same friends and outcome, I sometimes fantasize about having just enrolled at the University of Scranton and breezing through the classes there while also being able to pursue running at the DIII level.
I feel like I sacrificed a lot, some things that I still try to compensate for or chase after now even as a 26-year-old. Maybe something was wrong with me or maybe something was wrong with Lehigh.
Where Did CSB Excel?
Easier to become a TA/Grader
At larger schools, students fight over who gets to become graders or TAs for classes. These opportunities are some of the most valuable for undergraduates, so you can learn a little bit, do real work, and actually get paid!
At Lehigh, I was far from a straight-A student. I basically walked into grader positions for multiple classes which were then easy to parlay into other grader positions. I really enjoyed these roles and I’d like to think that I was good at it. But, the point being, this was an obvious advantage of smaller classes and more personalized interactions with professors.
Very Little Fluff in Lehigh’s Business Core
Lehigh’s Rauch business school isn’t particularly prestigious. We’re lying to ourselves if we expect “Rauch” to have any name recognition in the real world. However–I really enjoyed the majority of the business core classes. There were 6 or 7 classes that I found fun yet rigorous, and many of the concepts learned are still part of my decision-making process.
Lehigh is a Social School
I would say I was a fairly awkward, weird kid when I arrived at Lehigh. Lehigh’s social scene forced me and many of my friends to come out of our shells and not be total losers. The benefit of this cannot be overstated. There are plenty of geeks who lurk around the CS programs of very prestigious schools just to never see the same career trajectory as Lehigh alumni. Lehigh alumni who, objectively, are not as smart or talented as them. I believe that if Lehigh’s administration was not hellbent on destroying the traditional social scene, we’d see a lot more major mid-career success stories from Lehigh grads. Unfortunately, this is now a benefit I can’t be confident in touting.
There are two parts to any college outcome and we must be mindful of this fact. There’s the what happened to the people you started with and thewhat happened to the people you graduated with.
What Happened to the People I Started With?
CSB is a high churn major because anyone can enroll in the program. A huge portion of the starting cohort won’t make it past freshman year. Keep in mind, there is no minimum GPA requirement, so nobody gets kicked out. But failing several tests in your first or second rounds of exams puts you in a tenuous situation.
Are you going to work extremely hard and hope you can still pass with a C or low B? Or, are you having trouble grasping the material and doubting that you’re cut out for the work? At Lehigh, you’ll have about a week after your first round of exams to decide to drop classes without them affecting your GPA.
These are the people who silently suffer at rigorous schools like Lehigh. Plenty of people will “try out” CSB because, why not? If you make it through, you have some really interesting career options available to you. I knew many people who tried this but ended up having to drop several classes and had mediocre grades in the classes they passed. It takes a year or two to recover from such an early implosion, and when you finally bring your head up for air in the business school you realize that your employment prospects are not that glamorous.
By my estimation, at least 40% of the people who started in CSB were gone by the end of sophomore fall. Again, nobody gets kicked out of CSB for having a low GPA. Talking with students in other cohorts, this number seems to be holding at the 40-50% dropout rate. However, due to fluctuations in student quality, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is as high as 60% some years.
What Happened to the People I Graduated with?
This is a weird one because I had some really close friends in my major; I also had frenemies. It was a somewhat tight-knit group and I have tried to remain somewhat apprised of what people are doing. To analyze these outcomes with the implication that I probably had the highest starting salary is a bit self-aggrandizing. Having high compensation right out of college inflated my ego… I’m only comfortable talking about it now because I no longer have that job and the picture of my current income looks significantly different.
Now, to stop my generalizing once and for all, I compiled a list of the ~40 graduates in my 2016 cohort of CSB and actually assessed how they started their careers, according to LinkedIn.
The results are consistent with what I’ve been telling people over the last few years. Very few students went into top-flight software roles. A huge portion of the class went to work at the Big 4. There was little deviation from the mean.
- 4 immediately continued education
- 11 started their careers at The Big 4: PwC, Deloitte, EY, or KPMG
- About 10 worked as consultants, many for the companies listed immediately above
- 5 went to work in technologist roles at banks (mainly JPMC)
- 11 went to work in what I would classify as pure software engineering roles
- 1 went to work in investment banking
- 1 went to work at what would be widely considered an exceptional software company (Paypal)
- About a handful found themselves in Product Manager roles right out of undergrad, which is pretty cool
These outcomes disappoint me. While it looks like we did hit 100% employment and the average starting salary was certainly a bit above $70k per year, this seems low considering all mainstream software companies were paying at least $90k starting even back then. And, come on, not a single person went to Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, or Amazon?
Additionally, these roles at banks never struck me as the exciting front-office roles that I imagined when I was a kid.
So, my question is, if you know you can make $90k–easily–in a software role (even at IBM or something), why are you going to work at PwC? What’s the point of CSB compared to a Business Information Systems degree?
My thought is that it’s really hard to bullshit your way into a software engineering job if you can’t pass programming interviews. I mentioned above in the “curriculum” section that it would require a fair amount of work outside of the classroom to be able to compete for the best internships and full-time opportunities. The prevailing attitude when I was in CSB seemed to be that after you made it through a few difficult classes, you could coast through the remaining high-level classes without really learning or refining any additional programming skills.
Weird attitude, but I think it was proven by the outcomes. Nobody was rifling through programming interviews. I trained really hard (even had a whiteboard in my bedroom) and, in the end, I still had some awful interview performances.
I have noticed that some of my peers have moved on to better opportunities after their first 2 years! But once you’re into your mid-twenties your education and what you learned in college starts to matter much less. If I was aware of a truly exceptional outcome, I would mention it.
What Are the Alternatives?
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re wanting to pursue a degree that marries engineering and business, likely at a competitive institution. Great idea.
If you do it right–if you make the effort to learn the material and keep a high GPA–the world is your oyster. From one of these programs, you can go into banking, tech, consulting, trading… you can begin your career in pretty much any of the most prestigious most highly-paid industries in America.
If you’re more entrepreneurial, this can also set you on an exciting course. I know many people who have started businesses or who have been more productive in their side hustles thanks to their breadth of knowledge.
When it comes down to it, the best alternative to attending Lehigh for CSB is probably pursuing a Computer Science degree at the most prestigious school you can get into. Leave the “B” aspect behind unless you’re confident that it’s going to provide that much of an edge or make that much difference in helping you achieve your early career goals.
Below is a list of all integrated Computer Science + Business degree programs in the US. At most schools, you could theoretically design a dual major that accomplishes this, but at these schools, you have programs similar to Lehigh’s where there are integrated classes, special advisors, and other benefits that will seriously boost your prospects and, ideally, make it so that you can still graduate in 4 years.
Lehigh CSB Alternatives
Berkeley M.E.T.: You’ll earn two BS degrees from this program which can be customized to the point that it’s more similar to Lehigh’s IBE program than CSB. Berkeley is a great school located on the doorstep of some of the most prestigious tech companies in the world. I just looked up the profiles of a few current students, and it’s safe to say that the outcomes trounce what I’ve seen even among the best students from Lehigh.
UPenn Jerome Fisher M&T: The most prestigious program of its kind at the most prestigious school on this list. This program which only accepts 50 students per year has likely been used as the blueprint for all other integrated technology and business programs. If you get in, go. Simple as that.
USC Computer Science & Business Administration: USC isn’t quite UPenn, but it has a great reputation and provides a phenomenal all-around student experience. Though this CSBA program doesn’t have a fancy acronym or the pure brand recognition of UPenn or Berkely’s equivalent, it looks like a fantastic choice. It isn’t clear what type of “integration” there is by way of classes, but I will say that I would have salivated to take any of these recommended business electives while at Lehigh. USC is just on another level.
WashU Business & Computer Science: WashU is a T-20 school, so this program is going to be a no-brainer if you get in. The information provided online is surprisingly scant so I won’t attempt to fill in the gaps. It’s not clear to me whether this is a dually accredited degree or what other factors make this a truly integrated program.
CU Boulder Business and Computer Science: This program is offered through the business school which makes me suspect that it is not a fully accredited CS degree. My only issue with this is that, if you’re going to sit for 28 credits of CS education, you might as well just get the full degree. Boulder is one of the best public schools in the country at which you could study computer science. This program would definitely benefit from better branding.
Texas Computer Science & Business: Texas has a relatively new CSB major that is offered as an honors program. What’s apparent from the program description and the recommended course sequences is that they’ve really thought about the full undergraduate experience including when to load up on courses during the summer, when to offer rigorous honors courses, and how to advise students to prepare for some of the most exciting career options.
Northeastern Computer Science & Business Administration: This was my backup plan if I didn’t get into Lehigh. To a large extent, the marketing and branding of Lehigh’s program were much better than Northeastern’s. This is pretty weird in retrospect since I think NEU is now ranked higher than Lehigh by several publications.
NJIT Computing and Business: I have no opinion on this program.
Grand Canyon University Computer Science with an Emphasis in Business Entrepreneurship: I have no opinion on this program.
When I was a wide-eyed 18-year-old, my vision for how to navigate college and find success in the real world was quite different from how things turned out. The information I needed was really difficult to find. Most of the time, I didn’t even know what I was looking for. Through this post, I hope I’ve provided a balanced description of Lehigh’s CSB program that will help you have more confidence in making what will be one of the most important decisions you will make in your life.
Thanks for reading! If you graduated in a later cohort and want to share your experience, please reach out.