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2018 Financial Times MBA Rankings: Stanford GSB Dashes INSEAD Three-Peat Dreams

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INSEAD hoped to top the Financial Times MBA rankings for the third year in a row, but it wasn’t to be. Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) gets top bragging rights this year, returning to the number-one spot it has held only once before, in 2012. INSEAD was knocked to number two, followed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which held steady at number three. London Business School (LBS) reclaimed some ground this year—coming in fourth—after a rare fall last year out of the top five. Harvard Business School (HBS), meanwhile, ranked fifth, its lowest showing since 2008.

Rounding out the top 10 this year were the University of Chicago Booth School of Business at sixth (up from ninth last year); Columbia Business School at seventh (unchanged from 2017); China’s CEIBS at eighth (up from 11th); MIT Sloan School of Management at ninth (up from 13th); and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business at 10th, (also up from 13th).

Perhaps the greatest victors of this year’s FT rankings were two-year MBA programs, which occupied nine out of the top 10 spots. More two-year programs moved up or maintained their position this year than moved down (31 compared to 21). In contrast, more one-year programs lost ground than gained this year (14 up, 21 down).

“It’s great to see the continued strength of the two-year MBA format in this year’s FT rankings, a format that allows for a truly transformational and immersive experience,” said Clear Admit Co-Founder Graham Richmond. “LBS’s move back into the top five isn’t surprising in light of the program’s continued strength in job placements, new facilities, curriculum redesign, and location at the heart of business and innovation in Europe (even as Brexit looms),” he continued. “While HBS’s position is inconsistent with Clear Admit’s Decision Wire-based data on applicant preferences, it’s the increasing gap in the FT ranking between Stanford and HBS that seems noteworthy.”

As always, the bearing a given ranking should have on your own choice of schools depends on how closely the methodology used to arrive at that ranking aligns with what you deem most important. So just how does the FT compile its list each year?

Understanding the FT Ranking Methodology
The FT ranking is based on surveys of alumni three years out from graduation, school data, and research rank. Alumni responses inform eight criteria—including average income three years after graduation and salary increase compared with pre-MBA salary. Together, these eight criteria account for 59 percent of the overall ranking. School data inform another 11 criteria—including various measures of diversity such as percentages of female and international faculty, students, and board members. Together these criteria make up another 31 percent of the ranking. The remaining 10 percent of the ranking is based on research rank, calculated according to the number of articles by full-time faculty in 50 internationally recognized journals, weighted relative to faculty size.

Record-Breaking Salaries Put Stanford GSB on Top
Stanford, which ranked second last year, managed to unseat INSEAD this year thanks in part to the record-breaking salaries reported by its alumni. The average Stanford alumnus salary three years after graduation was $214,742, up $20,000 over last year’s figures and the highest recorded since the inaugural FT ranking in 1999. Stanford grads’ average salary also represented a 114-percent gain on their pre-MBA salaries, also the highest increase among ranked schools. That a significant proportion of Stanford grads head into highly lucrative hedge fund positions helped it outdistance its rivals in this regard.

Stanford also far outdistanced its U.S. rivals in terms of the international exposure it affords its students. More than 25 percent of the latest graduating cohort did an internship abroad—compared to an average of 4 percent at ranked U.S. schools. Overall, though, Stanford ranked 32nd for international course exposure, down 14 places from last year. But in other measures of diversity, Stanford made gains, including its international faculty (41 percent), international board (25 percent), and international students (41 percent). In this last figure, too, Stanford set itself apart from its U.S. rivals, the majority of which have recruited fewer international students. Although the average proportion for ranked institutions is down by only one percentage point to 38 percent, the FT noted.

Research Scores Hold HBS, LBS Back
Both HBS and LBS saw their average salaries three years out increase by approximately $14,000—to $192,133 and $167,897 respectively. That climb helped LBS return to the top five this year, but sharp drops in each schools’ research ranks worked against them. Harvard’s research rank plummeted from third to 16th—contributing to its fall to fifth in the overall ranking. “This year’s research rank is based on articles published in 50 academic and practitioner journals by full-time faculty since January 2015, but several Harvard faculty last appeared in these publications in 2014, too long ago to count,” the FT noted. LBS, for its part, dropped from 12th to 27th in research rank.

Rice Business, Olin, Georgetown McDonough, Cornell Johnson See Big Gains
Just as two-year MBA programs fared well with regard to their one-year rivals this year, a select group of individual schools saw big gains this year over last. Rice University’s Jones School of Business jumped 19 places this year, from 64th to 45th. This surge can be attributed primarily to strong salary growth. Average salary grew from $130,189 to $139,189, contributing to a 118-percent increase over pre-MBA salary (up from 97 percent last year).

Washington University’s Olin Business School rose 18 spots, from 68th to 50th. The St. Louis school saw significant gains in average salary ($122,709) and increase over pre-MBA salary (107 percent). Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business jumped 10 spots, from 40th to 30th, thanks also in part to increased average salary, as well as improved research rank (up 10 spots to 17th) and various diversity measures. And Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management also moved 10 spots up in the ranks, from 27th to 17th, due in great part to a significant increase in its research rank, up 13 places to fourth overall.

Spain’s Schools Slip Out of Top 10
In less celebratory news, two of Spain’s top-tier business schools slid out of the FT’s upper-most ranks. IESE slipped from 10th to 11th. Though its graduates’ average salary increased year over year, the increase was slight. Moreover, it slipped seven spots in terms of percentage increase over pre-MBA salary. Research rank, too, fell by five spots over the previous year.

IE Business School, meanwhile, fell out of the ranking altogether—from eighth last year. This is because it couldn’t gather a representative sample of the school’s alumni to take part in the FT’s survey.

As always, those of us here at Clear Admit encourage prospective applicants to use a school’s performance in these and other rankings as just one of many measurements to determine the MBA program that will best fit your individual needs.

View the complete Financial Times 2018 Global MBA Rankings.