MBA Rankings: What You Need to Know

How different rankings work and what they can tell you about business schools and MBA programs

With thousands of MBA programs on offer around the world, MBA rankings can be a useful way to quickly find the best of the best.

But how can a program be ranked so favorably in the Financial Times but fail to make the top 10 in The Economist?

Each publication carefully calibrates its own set of quantitative and qualitative measurements for determining the top MBA programs. They try to determine what makes a program the best: is it how future employers see a program, how much graduates go on to earn, or how helpful current students find a school’s career services?

It’s generally a mix of all three, plus a whole lot more criteria packed in for good measure. And this year the Bloomberg Businessweek methodology has had a shake-up with the aim of focusing more on future career prospects.

Here’s a run-down on how the big three determine their rankings.

The Financial Times' MBA rankings

The FT’s Global MBA ranking, which has been published since 1999, stands out for its international focus. In 2016 its top 100 includes schools from 19 countries.

Besides the Global MBA ranking, the FT also publishes rankings for six other types of programs, including the Executive MBA, Online MBA and executive programs. They also offer a separate ranking of European business schools.

For full-time MBA programs, the FT ranking focuses heavily on surveys of alumni three years after graduating (so a program must be at least four years old to be included).

Alumni responses account for just under 60 percent of a ranking’s weight, and cover: income today (although the salaries of those working in the public and non-profit sectors, as well as full-time students, are discounted), increase in income since they began the program, and alumni data from the two previous years is used as well. This means that in 2016 it’s not just about the 2012 cohort, but gives a more comprehensive picture of a program’s impact on its alumni long-term.

The FT also addresses a program’s demographics: the various rankings measure the diversity of students, staff and board members (for the gender component, a 50:50 split will give a school the best score), as well as a school’s international reach.

Finally, the research component counts how many academic articles full-time staff members have had published, relative to the size of the faculty.

In 2016, for the first time FT ranked INSEAD’s MBA program, based in France and Singapore, as the world’s top MBA program. Next was Harvard Business School, then London Business School, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; Stanford Graduate School of Business rounded out the top five.

Bloomberg Businessweek's MBA rankings

Businessweek has traditionally focused on US-based schools. Today it offers a separate Non-US ranking, as well as a part-time ranking for US-based schools only.

For its most recent rankings in 2015, Businessweek overhauled its weighting and methodology with the aim of focusing more on the main reason why people spend money getting an MBA: a wish to improve their future career prospects.

Businessweek has scrapped factors like how many research papers a school’s faculty has published, in favour of some new components. These include a survey of alumni who graduated six-to-eight years ago, in order to measure mid-career job satisfaction, as well as data from a school’s most recent graduates (most recently the 2014 cohort) on their rate of job placement and starting salaries.

Use FIND MBA's interactive rankings map to find ranked business schools worldwide.

But the biggest component of the Businessweek ranking is the employer survey (35%) where recruiters are asked what skills they look for in MBA graduates and which schools best supply these kinds of employers.

Finally, they survey current students about a school’s general climate and career services, as well as collecting data on student demographics, and weighting this against the previous year’s data.

According to Businessweek, in 2016 the top five US-based MBA programs were Harvard, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and Wharton. Notably Stanford, which was ranked seventh, placed first in both the mid-career alumni survey and graduate salary rankings.

Their top five non-US based schools were: University of Ontario’s Ivey Business School (Canada), London Business School (UK), INSEAD (France and Singapore), IE Business School (Spain) and IMD (Switzerland).

MBA rankings from The Economist

Like the FT, the Economist offers a global ranking of full-time MBA programs. But in 2015 the top four were all US-based.

Every year the Economist first asks current MBA students why they chose to undertake a full-time MBA. Then they use the students’ various criteria to weight the rankings accordingly.

Eighty percent of the Economist’s ranking is quantitative data about each MBA program: graduate salaries, students’ GMAT scores and the number of registered alumni. The other 20 percent covers qualitative data collected by surveying current students and the school’s most recent graduates about the schools’ facilities, faculty and career services.

They also ask about their salaries to check that this matches salary data provided by the schools.

Just like the FT, the Economist’s ranking tries to provide an idea of the schools’ performance over time, by including data from the previous three years.

The Economist’s top five full-time MBA programs for 2015 were: Booth, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Harvard and HEC Paris, in that order.

Other MBA rankings

Aside from the big three, other publications like Forbes rank MBA programs as well.

It can be worth looking beyond the big three if you have a particular sector or ethos in mind for your future career.

Some publications produce rankings for students looking to get into particular industries, like the FT ranking for entrepreneurship. For example, SCM World produces a ranking of business schools on the topic of supply chain management. This ranking doesn’t list MBA programs specifically, but is a good resource for those looking for a career in supply chain management.

Additionally, the University of Texas at Dallas publishes a top 100 list of global business schools based on the number of research articles they have published over the previous five years.

The Aspen Institute used to produce the alternative ranking Beyond Grey Pinstripes, ranking schools based on their inclusion of sustainability, environmental and ethical topics, but this was suspended in 2012 when some schools refused to participate.

The Canadian publication Corporate Knights publishes the Better World MBA ranking, focused on sustainability and social factors like gender diversity.

FIND MBA produces top 10 lists of schools for students with specific career interests, like healthcare, energy and natural resources, or consulting.

FIND MBA also has its own interactive tool for finding the schools that are ranked in each of the main MBA rankings.

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