MBA Rankings: Finding the Best Business Schools

From the FT to Businessweek, we discuss the importance of rankings and how they work

Editors Note: We're pleased to launch a new MBA rankings interactive feature, where you can find the business schools that are ranked in one or more of the top-three MBA rankings publications, The Financial Times, Businessweek, and The Economist. Please go to the FIND MBA rankings page, and use the map to see the ranked programs.

Rankings are important because they rate MBA programs by a set of objective and subjective criteria. They can provide an easy way to filter out the top programs. But since there are any number of publications that rank MBA programs, it might be hard to figure out where to start. Here's a run-down of the three most notable ranking publications, as well as some other important ones.

Bloomberg Businessweek's MBA rankings

One of the longest-running MBA rankings, Businessweek has been ranking MBA programs in some form since 1988. At first, they focused solely on full-time programs in the United States (with updates every two years), but today they have separate rankings for non-US programspart-time MBAs, and Executive MBAs (as well as undergraduate business schools). 

Although Businessweek has introduced non-US rankings, its focus is American programs: In the most recent full-time rankings in 2010 Businessweek ranked 57 American MBA programs and only 18 non-US programs. 

Businessweek bases its rankings on three factors: alumni surveys, career recruiter surveys, and research output by faculty.

For the alumni surveys, Businessweek asks grads from the most recent year to rate their programs based on a variety of factors, including teaching quality and the effectiveness of career services. The results for this survey account for 50 percent of the total "student satisfaction score." The other half is made up of the survey results from the previous two rankings.

Businessweek also surveys recruiters, who are asked to rate the top 20 schools according to the quality of graduates, based on the recruiters' direct experience with them. Like with the alumni surveys, the data from this survey is combined with that of the previous two factors.

For the research output part of the survey, Businessweek tallies the number of articles published by school faculty, and then adjusts by faculty size.

According to Businessweek, the current top-five US full-time MBA programs are offered by Chicago-Booth, Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, and Stanford.

The Financial Times: Global MBA Ranking and others

Where Businessweek has a strong focus on American MBA programs, the FT, which has been ranking MBA programs since 1999, provides a truly global ranking. In the most recent Global MBA rankings, for example, over 20 countries are represented.

The FT ranks full-time MBA programs and Executive MBA programs (but also ranks or lists programs in masters in management, masters in finance, executive education, and online MBAs). To be eligible, a program must have run for at least four years, and be accredited by an international accreditation organization, at the minimum.

To arrive at the rankings, the FT uses data from two annual surveys: one for the schools and one for an alumni class (usually graduates from the class four years prior to the current ranking year). In the full-time Global MBA and the EMBA rankings, the FT lists the top 100 programs each.

The bulk of a school's ranking is determined by the alumni surveys. Of this, salary data is especially important: post-graduation total weighted salary and salary increase make up for 40 percent of a program's overall ranking. Like with the Businessweek rankings, memory is built into the rankings by counting in data from the two previous rankings.

The school survey accounts for almost a third of the overall ranking. School representatives are polled based on criteria such as the diversity of teaching staff and students and the international reach of the program.

The remainder of a school's ranking is based on its research rank. The FT bases this on the number of articles published by faculty in top research journals, weighted relative to the faculty's size.

The FT's current top five full-time MBA programs globally are offered by Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, London Business School, and Columbia.

The Economist's Which MBA? ranking

The Economist has been ranking full-time MBA programs since 2001, and in the most recent rankings, included 100 programs from 17 different countries. The Economist has also ranked EMBA programs since 2013. Like the FT, the Economist determines its rankings by relying on two surveys: one for students and alumni, and the other for the business schools. These surveys provide data for a number of different criteria within four broad categories: how effective a program is in opening new career opportunities, the extent of professional development, amount of salary increase, and networking opportunities.

The surveys collect a broad range of data, from the quality of students (based mainly on average GMAT scores), to the breadth and internationalism of alumni networks.

Like the other rankings, the Economist combines most recent statistics with those of the two prior years to inform the final ranking.

The Economist's current top full-time MBA programs are offered by Dartmouth Tuck, Chicago-Booth, IMD, Virginia-Darden, and Harvard.

Beyond the big three

Besides the three main rankings, there are a few others that are worth noting. Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranks 100 MBA programs based on their commitment to integrating social and environmental concerns into their curricula. This ranking factors in how much of a program's coursework covers social, ethical or environmental issues; whether a school has dedicated institutional support (a center for ethics, for example); and how much relevant faculty research is done through the school.

And there are still others: Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, América Economía, and U.S. News & World Report also publish MBA rankings, while a number of other publications, The Guardian (UK), Handelsblatt (Germany), and Sino Manager (China), publish more regional rankings of business education, though not necessarily MBA programs, specifically.

Please see the MBA rankings page at FIND MBA for links to these rankings.

Photo: "Trophies given at the 2008 Michigan wine festival" by Steve & Christine / Creative Commons (cropped and rotated)

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