BusinessWeek’s Historical Rankings

by John A. Byrne on

Over the course of 12 separate rankings in the past 24 years, BusinessWeek has ranked Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management first more often than any other business school. In five of the 12 times, including the first three consecutive biennial surveys from 1988 to 1992, Kellogg reigned supreme under legendary Dean Donald Jacobs. And the school made a stunning comeback in 2002 and 2004 under Dean Dipak Jain, who now leads Europe’s best business school, INSEAD.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is the next big winner with four first-place finishes. The current number one school, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, has won this accolade three times.

Harvard Business School and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, widely considered the two top schools in the world, have never finished first in the BusinessWeek survey. Harvard’s best showing has been second place on three different occasions, while HBS was third in four separate surveys. Stanford has never done better than fourth place, which it has achieved three times. In 2000, Stanford fell to its lowest rank in the BusinessWeek survey: a shocking 11th place finish.

How is it possible that the two business schools generally regarded by most observers as having the best full-time MBA programs have never captured the BusinessWeek crown? Chauk it up to methodology. BusinessWeek largely ranks schools based on two surveys that it does every other year. One surveys goes to the latest graduating class of MBAs and is essentially a customer satisfaction survey. The second survey goes to the most important and influential corporate recruiters who hire the most MBAs.

Harvard graduates may simply have higher expectations than others. Because many of the scores are bunched closely together, that could easily be the reason why Harvard has never been number one.

The recruiter survey, meantime, could be biased against smaller schools that attract fewer corporate recruiters. This might very well be Stanford’s problem in the BusinessWeek survey. And the recruiters who go to Stanford often come away with fewer MBAs than they would like to hire because a large percentage of the class would prefer to work for smaller startups in Silicon Valley that are not traditional mainstream hirers of MBAs in the survey sample or are more likely to start their own companies at graduation.

When you combine the rankings for all 12 years, the top three winners are Kellogg, Wharton, and Harvard Business School (see below table). Thanks to its more recent resurgence, Chicago Booth is now fourth on the all-time list, with the University of Michigan’s Ross School in fifth place.

Over the 24-year span, the most noticeable changes have occurred further down the list. In the early years, for example, the University of Rochester’s Simon School and Purdue University’s Krannert School did much better in these rankings than they have more recently. On the other hand, the school with the most improvement is arguably UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, which is currently ranked eighth by BusinessWeek, though it has ranked as high as 19th place.

The schools that are currently at or equal to the low point in their BusinessWeek rankings include New York University’s Stern School, which once ranked as high as 13th but is now 18th, UCLA’s Anderson School, which once placed as high as ninth and is now 17th, and the University of Texas at Austin, which once ranked 17th and is now 25th.


Rank & School                            Index   2010 Rank   Highest Rank   Lowest Rank
  1. Northwestern (Kellogg) 100.0 4 1 4
  2. Pennsylvania (Wharton) 99.4 3 1 5
  3. Harvard Business School 98.6 2 2 5
  4. Chicago (Booth) 98.0 1 1 11
  5. Michigan (Ross) 96.4 7 2 8
  6. Stanford GSB 95.5 5 4 11
  7. Columbia Business School 93.7 9 6 14
  8. Duke (Fuqua) 92.6 6 5 13
  9. MIT (Sloan) 92.1 10 4 15
10. Dartmouth (Tuck) 91.8 14 3 16
11. Virginia (Darden) 90.7 11 5 16
12. Cornell (Johnson) 90.3 13 5 18
13. UCLA (Anderson) 88.6 17 9 17
14. UC-Berkeley (Haas) 87.1 8 8 19
15. New York (Stern) 86.9 18 13 18
16. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 86.7 15 9 19
17. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) 86.4 16 8 19
18. Indiana (Kelley) 86.2 19 7 21
19. Texas-Austin (McCombs) 68.5 25 17 25
20. Yale School of Mgt. 61.4 21 14 24
21. Rochester (Simon) 58.8 43 21 2T
22. Washington Univ. (Olin) 58.2 40 16 NR
23. Vanderbilt (Owen) 53.9 37 19 2T
24, Purdue (Krannert) 52.7 41 20 2T
25. Southern Cal (Marshall) 49.8 26 17 NR

Source: BusinessWeek full-time MBA rankings Notes: 2T indicates that BW put this school in an unranked second tier Methodology: To create this combined ranking of 12 separate BW rankings over 24 years, we assigned 100 points for each first place finish, 99 points for each second place finish, and so forth. We allotted 50 points for each second tier showing.

(See following page for the table that provides a full historical look at BusinessWeek’s rankings through the years)
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  • Monsieur Nuclear Option

    Actually, BW’s rankings lost credibility in the ’90s when Kellogg kept being ranked number one. Sorry, John. It seemed the fix was in.

  • Rchwell

    BusinessWeek has always hated NYU Stern.  Sorry, but 18th and just in front of Kelley and Broad, not buying it.  And Stanford 11 in 2000, yea right.

  • Maki04Q

    All rankings measure different things – that’s all.  One can’t simply dismiss BusinessWeek, the very first business school ranking, just because some general public thinks HBS and Stanford should always come #1 or #2 in order for any source to be credible.  Kellogg must have deserved the #1 spot just like Booth has recently and Wharton had in the past.  I am sure BW who dedicated a lot of resources into this knew what they were doing. 

  • Jay

    Booth went from 3rd to 8th to 3rd to 10th to 2nd between 1994 and 2002. I’d like to hear BW explain those swings.

  • Guest

    I love how the first thing people do when they disagree with a ranking is to attack it as a whole, and discredit it. Never to go into the weeds and dispute the methodology used, just attack it as a whole and call it’s rankings ludicrous. 

    Yes, haters whose school got shafted by this ranking, I’m sure BW has a MBA version of the Sorting Hat (from Harry Potter for all you muggles) that it uses to magically predict which school goes where in the ranking. 

  • Travis

    Tend to agree, BW rankings sort of lost credibility and once a program made it in the early to late 80′s they were set. Northwestern should not have been # 1 , NYU should be higher among others and some of the regional programs were suspect. No sense living in the past and the degree has lost serious clout now. To be honest I think the degree is a bit dubious as are those that write about it. Magazines make money ranking and journalists are kept employed spinning.

  • Santiagohg

    If your school is ranked 1st on BW then you celebrate the ranking, but if your school is ranked 10th or 17th then you simply attack BW’s credibility. If you don’t like the ranking that’s ok, but that does not mean that either BloomberBusinessWeek uses a crappy methodology or that no school can be better that Harvard, Stanford or Wharton.

    Each ranking evaluates different things, and if you ask me, I think BW evaluates very valuable things such as employer satisfaction, students satisfaction, teaching, career management -not only salary or job placement.

  • llavelle

    Thanks for the vote of confidence Santiagohg. You’re absolutely right. And just for the record, the assumption behind some of these comments (that BW editorial opinion influences the outcome) is wrong. We don’t do extensive surveys then retire into a back room somewhere and decide who’s No. 1–if that’s what we were going to do, we’d probably just skip the surveys altogether (they’re remarkably expensive).

    The numbers show what the numbers show, and sometimes the wisdom of crowds is just a trailing indicator–reflecting reputations built years earlier, not current quality. As for Kellogg, there’s a good reason why it seems to have a lock on No. 1. Three of the five No. 1 rankings it got were in the first few years of the ranking, when b-school quality was something of a blank slate, and each one makes the next one more likely  (school gets ranked No. 1, it’s inundated with applications, and it cherry picks the best of the best, who fare well on all the metrics that are used in BW’s rankings and others).

    As John has pointed out in numerous articles there’s sometimes very small differences between schools in the BW ranking. The fact is sometimes schools are “clumped” together and relatively small differences in either the student or recruiter surveys can get amplified, creating shifts of 5-8 spots up or down. That’s not a flaw, it’s how the ranking works.

    Louis Lavelle
    Associate Editor
    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • llavelle

    I thought I did Jay: As John has pointed out in numerous articles there’s sometimes very
    small differences between schools in the BW ranking. The fact is
    sometimes schools are “clumped” together and relatively small
    differences in either the student or recruiter surveys can get
    amplified, creating shifts of 5-8 spots up or down. That’s not a flaw,
    it’s how the ranking works.

    For the record, those wild swings you’re referring to didn’t happen under my watch. For as long as I’ve been in charge of the BW rankings, Booth has always been either No 1 or 2.  Hope that helps.

  • guest6

    Any ranking that has Tuck at #14 is not credible.  Sorry.

  • Jay

    Then perhaps you should consider assigning a numerical score to each school in order to demonstrate just how small the differences actually are in any given year.  

  • Jay

    Looks like you already have that. My mistake :)

  • Dan Poston

    Bravo for noting the impact of various statistical factors behind the difference in school rankings.  The rankings seek to rank quality, but the relative ranking of schools of comparable quality may vary across rankings because of other factors like program size or school location.  The smaller size of Stanford’s MBA program may be a disadvantage in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranking, but it provides a significant advantage to Stanford in the US News ranking where student selectivity metrics and job placement percentages are key factors.  Stanford has frequented the No. 1 spot in that ranking.  In the depths of the recession the placement results were more remarkable than they appeared for Harvard, Wharton, and other huge schools given the actual number of graduates seeking jobs.   In those years, smaller schools in regions hurt less by the economic downturn had an advantage.   Looking at the longer term, the large actual number of Harvard and Wharton graduates who struggled to find a job in the recession will probably see a higher salary increase as alumni three years out than other schools.  This may boost both schools in the Financial Times ranking in the future.   A school’s quality does not vary month-to-month or ranking-to-ranking.   Scores across rankings vary because the metrics vary.   Rising or falling in this or that ranking matters less in a determination of quality than how a school has done across multiple rankings over a longer time frame.  -Dan Poston, Assistant Dean for MBA Programs, Foster School of Business, University of Washington        

  • Guest

    Thanks Louis for joining us here! We appreciate your feedback and response. Of course, many of us here think that you guys have a great ranking system. Not perfect, as none is, but definitely highly respected. Thanks again!

  • Guest

    Well, I’m glad you didn’t go to law school. #logicfail

  • Guest

    John- Is there any chance of getting a similar table for the top 50 ranked by US News over the last decade?  I have found the top 10 on similar message boards but not much beyond that. 

  • John A. Byrne

    That’s much harder to do, primarily because U.S. News hides its historical rankings. Let me see what I can do. Would love to have these historical tables for all the major rankings over the years.

  • Jake

    That was fixed promptly. Thank you!

  • Maki

    New update looks great! Thank you so much, John.

  • JohnAByrne

    Thanks. Glad you like.

  • Matt C

    How do the rankings differ between their FT and PT rankings?

  • Matt C

    Moreover, how does the methodology differ because the rankings between the two vastly differ?

  • JohnAByrne

    The differences among the rankings are spelled out in our article entitled “Ranking the Rankings.” There’s a link to that story at the end of the large table on the second page. Essentially, though, BusinessWeek ranks on the basis of three factors: graduate satisfaction, corporate recruiter satisfaction with the school and the MBAs it hires from each school, and academic scholarship. The first two criteria are the most important.

    U.S. News ranks on the basis of the GPA and GMAT scores of the latest entering class, the percent of grads employed at graduation and three months later, average starting salary and bonus, and two reputational surveys: one to deans and MBA directors and one to recruiters. The latter recruiter survey at U,S, News is not as controlled and carefully executed as the BW survey.

  • Matt C

    I’m talking about rankings between BW FT compared to BW PT…how do these ranking measuremetns differ?  Based on the lack of career services for PT students, I’d think the way BW measures the PT program rankings has to differ and its shown by the disparity of schools..Elon #1/NYU #36???

  • Romani

    The biggest gap between highest and lowest rank here is with Wash U Olin. Although its great and highly ranked parent uni, long history, and very well rounded MBA program, I really don’t understand why this school is underestimated and underrepresented by the rankings?

  • paramia

    Plus, it is one of very rich b schools in US with endowment over $250 m !!!

  • BS

    Garbage ranking!

  • Rtgant

    not just Businessweek.. even Occupy Wallstreet hates them.. they screwed the economy!

  • Jwrio

    Kellogg ranked # 1 in the early surveys because
    Don Jacobs had the relatively simple insight that companies wanted graduates
    from a culture that emphasized teamwork and leadership skills.  Building a culture around that simple concept required
    a great deal of work to operationalize.  Opening
    the James L. Allen Center required a serious collaboration with the Chicago
    business community.  Many activities such
    as admissions decisions and annual conferences and events were organized and
    led by students.  Kellogg was the first
    business school in the world to interview all candidates to assess their
    leadership potential and suitability for the school’s cooperative environment.  Some of the Kellogg money was used to build
    an integrated living/learning center to strengthen that environment.  When I graduated in 1982, Kellogg had loads
    of opportunities to improve, but it was years ahead of its peers in developing
    a particular distinctive that companies liked. 

  • BE-7

    It’s a typo, they’re perfectly ranked at 41.

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