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U.S. News 2021 Business School Rankings Insights: HBS Sinks While Others Float On

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The U.S. News & World Report Best Business Schools rankings are out and there are a few surprises, especially within the top 10.  For those of you who have yet to see our announcement of the ranking, the top 25 schools in this year’s edition (with last year’s rankings included for reference) are as follows:

School 2021 Rank 2020 Rank
Stanford University 1 (tie) 2
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 1 (tie) 1
Northwestern University (Kellogg) 3 (tie) 6
University of Chicago (Booth) 3 (tie) 3
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) 5 3
Harvard University 6 3
University of California–Berkeley (Haas) 7 6
Columbia University 8 6
Yale University 9 9
New York University (Stern) 10 12
University of Virginia (Darden) 11 12
Dartmouth College (Tuck) 12 (tie) 12
Duke University (Fuqua) 12 (tie) 10
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross) 12 (tie) 10
Cornell University (Johnson) 15 15
University of California–Los Angeles (Anderson) 16 16
University of Southern California (Marshall) 17 17
University of Texas–Austin (McCombs) 18 19
Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) 19 17
University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 20 (tie) 19
University of Washington (Foster) 20 (tie) 21
Emory University (Goizueta) 22 21
Indiana University (Kelley) 23 (tie) 21
Vanderbilt University (Owen) 23 (tie) 29
Georgetown University (McDonough) 25 (tie) 24
Rice University (Jones) 25 (tie) 26

Key Takeaways from the U.S. News 2021 Business School Rankings

1. HBS Lands at Number 6, But Appears Higher on DecisionWire

While the top 16 MBA programs in the United States remained the same, their order has shifted somewhat. The biggest news in this regard is Harvard Business School’s fall to #6.  While the school was tied for third place last season with Chicago Booth and MIT Sloan, it’s fallen slightly behind those two competitors and also been leapfrogged by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern in this latest ranking.  A look at the methodology reveals that HBS may have struggled due to a lower average GMAT score, coupled with employment statistics that fell shy of their peers at the top.  We would be remiss if we didn’t note that it’s important to avoid putting too much stock in year-to-year shifts within the rankings, and we certainly haven’t seen evidence of any decline in interest in HBS among candidates via our DecisionWire Clear Admit’s Alex Brown adds, “U.S. News does seem to do a good job of reflecting the marketplace, when you look at the top 25. But when you see HBS dropping to number 6, despite the small margins that made that happen, it doesn’t truly represent the reality of consumer choice.”

2. Two Familiar Faces at the Top – Stanford GSB & Wharton

Wharton remains in the #1 spot, but now shares the glory with Stanford. What’s interesting to note is the fact that Wharton remains king of the hill in starting post-MBA salary, and that Stanford performs incredibly well in the ranking despite potential penalties for having fewer graduates employed upon graduation (as many head off to entrepreneurial ventures).

3. Northwestern Kellogg Sees a Higher Slot

Northwestern Kellogg is on the move, leaping from sixth place last year to share third place this year with crosstown rival Chicago Booth. This is likely to continue as Kellogg sees continued gains from their stunning new campus and consistent strengths in consulting, marketing, and technology placements.

4. CBS is Just a Bit Outside

Columbia Business School, generally considered a member of the “Magnificent 7” alongside HBS, Wharton, Stanford GSB, Kellogg, Chicago Booth, and MIT Sloan, suddenly finds itself at number eight overall, staring up at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

5. NYU Stern Returns to the Top 10

NYU Stern cracked the top 10 and has come roaring back from their 20th place in the U.S. News 2017 ranking of business schools (when the school was controversially penalized for unknowingly failing to report a response to one of the survey questions).

6. A Recurring Tie for Duke & Michigan

Duke Fuqua and Michigan Ross have fallen out of the top 10 (they were tied at #10 last year), but remain tied at #12 this year.  Dartmouth Tuck stayed in twelfth this year, creating a three-way tie.

7. Vanderbilt Takes Largest Leap in Top 25

The Vanderbilt Owen School of Management is celebrating the largest gain among programs in the top 25, leaping six slots from 29th last year to 23rd this year.

Additional Insights

Beyond these tidbits, the most interesting thing about this year’s U.S. News ranking is the relative lack of movement overall.  Most schools stayed put or moved 1-2 spots up or down, and the top 25 is nearly identical (with the sole addition being Owen).  In fact, not a single school left the top 25 this year thanks to a tie at the #25 position between Rice Jones and Georgetown McDonough.

As always, we encourage applicants to exercise caution when using rankings, as they are just one data point one should consider in building a list of target schools.  We also encourage readers to make use of other sources, such as school web sites, conversations with alumni, and even Clear Admit’s own ApplyWire and DecisionWire tools, when researching and forming opinions of programs.

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