Since the late 1960s, publications have released MBA rankings based on differing methodologies. Common ranking criteria include admissions statistics, post-MBA career outcomes, and feedback from students, alumni, and employers. While each ranking has its own methodology, it is important to note that they change frequently, often resulting in significant changes year-to-year (and sometimes sparking criticism from those with an interest in the market for graduate management education).
Bloomberg Business Week was an early pioneer of MBA rankings, and remains influential. US News & World Report is generally considered the most accurate ranking of U.S. programs. The Financial Times and Forbes use slightly different methodologies, but are also closely watched rankings worth consideration. For your convenience, we have provided quick summaries of these four major MBA program rankings:
- Bloomberg BusinessWeek Ranking
- US News & World Report Ranking
- Financial Times Ranking
- Forbes Ranking
- The Economist
Most MBA rankings are released annually. MBA applicants generally look to rankings to help them identify MBA programs to consider, whereas schools use the rankings to highlight their prominence in the marketplace.
It’s worth noting that MBA rankings look at how well MBA programs serve all of their students. To help MBA applicants identify the programs that will best support their specific career goals, we have developed a series of articles that identify the leading MBA programs for individual career goals.
This is one reason that it is important for candidates to have well developed career goals before applying to business school. Why worry about a school’s strength in finance when you know you are planning to pursue a career in tech?
Because Clear Admit believes that rankings, independent of career goals, are a flawed way to review MBA programs, we have looked at which programs best serve candidates who are seeking popular post-MBA careers.
Of course, many of the leading business schools have proven strengths in many of these industries, even if we haven’t named them among the best. Put another way, you shouldn’t rule out a school just because it didn’t make our “best of” cut. Instead, we hope these articles help you get a better understanding of how to compare and contrast the various offerings at different top schools as you narrow in on the choice that makes the most sense for your individual goals.
The leading U.S. MBA programs are generally based in three important business locations, or “centers-of-gravity” for business, that comprise MBA recruiters, MBA alumni and leading MBA programs. These locations are New York City and the surrounding North East corridor (Harvard, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Columbia, NYU Stern, Yale SOM, and Cornell Johnson), Silicon Valley (Stanford and Haas) and Chicago and the mid-west (Booth, Kellogg and Ross.)
The location of a business school is key for a variety of reasons, but the most critical is its impact on post-MBA recruiting (a large percentage of MBA graduating classes tend to work in close proximity of a business school) and its alumni base, which is generally strongest within its region.
The emergence of the tech sector, which now competes for top MBA talent with the consulting and finance sectors, has seen the increasing importance of Silicon Valley – and to an extent, Seattle – as an MBA center-of-gravity. This benefits Stanford, Berkeley Haas and the University of Washington / Foster.
New York City and the north east corridor remains a strong center-of-gravity with its variety of industries, and strengths in consulting, finance and healthcare/biotech. Leading schools in this area are also developing better links to the Silicon Valley area, whether through campuses on the west coast (Wharton for example), exchange programs (Columbia with Haas), or career treks which are common across all leading programs. Many of the leading tech firms also have east coast hubs.
The Chicago and mid-west center-of-gravity, the home of Booth, Kellogg and Ross, may actually be weakening. Its attraction for top MBA candidates was for large consumer goods firms and industrial firms, headquartered in the region. While this remains attractive to some top MBA candidates, candidates are typically more interested in service related industries of consulting and finance, and the emerging tech sector. These industries are represented, but few are headquartered in the mid-west; McKinsey was founded in Chicago; it is now headquartered in New York.
Because Booth and Kellogg have been leading MBA programs for many years, and have built strong recruiter networks, and have large alumni bases (they are both relatively large programs, graduating large numbers of alumni each year) they remain leading MBA programs, and are able to send numbers of students to both Silicon Valley and the north east; but their presence in both Silicon Valley and the north east is weaker than the leading schools that are based in those regions.
The majority of other leading MBA programs, generally outside of the top 10, are in smaller cities, outside the three main centers-of-gravity. For example, Tuck is in Hanover, NH, Darden is in Charlottesville, VA, Duke is in Durham, NC, and Tepper is in Pittsburgh, PA. The exception to this is Anderson and Marshall, which are based in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States. That said, Los Angeles is not a strong center-of-gravity for business that’s attractive to top MBA candidates. Its main industry is media and entertainment, which less than 5% of top MBA candidates pursue. And those interested in media and entertainment increasingly have additional options in New York City and Silicon Valley. Anderson and Marshall do benefit from their reasonable proximity to Silicon Valley.
Other leading programs, outside of the main centers-of-gravity for MBAs, are able to have significant impact in their own region, in terms of placing students and cultivating their alumni networks, but their influence elsewhere is going to be weaker than their influence in their own region, and the influence of schools in those regions away from their locations. For candidates who know where they want to establish their careers after the MBA, this may be an opportunity, if a candidate’s preferences are for placement in another part of the United States or around the world. If you want to work in Atlanta and the Southeast, Goizueta is a great option, in Texas, it’s hard to ignore McCombs, Rice and Cox. Outside the US, leading European programs have strong networks, not only in their home countries, but in other regions around the world.
Different rankings list schools in different orders, and even so, no ranking gets it right; this is illustrated by looking at the top three schools listed for each of the four rankings we profile above. None of the four has Harvard and Stanford as 1-2 (in either order), and Wharton as 3. That order is accepted in the industry, and reinforced by our own internal analysis of DecisionWire data. It is because of these inconsistencies in main stream rankings that we believe a tiered-ranking system actually makes more sense.
In a tiered-ranking system, we suggest that certain schools, like Booth, Sloan, and Kellogg, are equally good, and for different candidates, based on their preferences, one may well be preferred over the other two. If you want a more tech-focused MBA for your long term goals, Sloan might be best. If your interests like in the financial services arena, Booth might have the edge, whereas Kellogg should provide your more opportunities in the consulting arena.
This is all to say, we don’t believe there is a true ordinal ranking for all candidates, without taking into account an individual candidate’s preferences regarding career and geographic focus.