Poets&Quants’ Top 100 U.S. MBA Programs of 2012

On the other hand, we believe the index numbers tend to undervalue differences in the status of many of these schools. Though Harvard leads Stanford by a substantial 1.1 score on the index, some observers may be tempted to believe this is so close as to be a tie. It isn’t. With its vastly greater resources in star faculty, its more impressive alumni network, and outrageously well-endowed campus, we believe Harvard is not merely number one: It has a commanding lead over any other school on the list. There may be plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to attend Harvard (ranging from the large size of the school and the core classes to the more outwardly ambitious nature of the students), but status and prestige isn’t one of them.

Among the top 50 business schools, the big winners were Washington University’s Olin School in St. Louis, up 11 places to finish 29th from 41st last year, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School and the University of Washington’s Foster School, both up seven places to rank 27th and 33rd, respectively.

THE BIG WINNER AMONG THE TOP 50: WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY’S OLIN SCHOOL

The Olin School’s rise in our composite ranking is largely the result of significantly improved graduate satisfaction scores in BusinessWeek’s latest ranking as well as its inclusion on the 2012 Financial Times list. The school’s graduate satisfaction rank jumped to 15 this year from 31st in 2010, pushing its overall BusinessWeek rank up nine places to 31st from 40. And after not making The Financial Times’ 2011 ranking, Olin reappeared on its global top 100 list at a U.S. rank of 30th earlier this year.

Schools with more significant movement on this year’s list tend to be those that weren’t ranked by all five players and then won that distinction this year. Both Carlson and Foster fall into that category, making The Financial Times 2012 list after not being on the year-earlier ranking. Carlson and Foster also improved their standing on The Economist’s ranking.

The top 50 school that suffered the biggest fall? Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, which slid 18 places to rank 47th this year from 29th in 2011. It was the largest single decline of any school in our top 100 this year. The reason: A change in methodology by BusinessWeek largely prompted by the school’s surprising surge in that magazine’s ranking to 12th in 2010. The change in how the magazine calculates its recruiter scores led to a fall to 29th this year.

AFTER A STEEP DROP IN THE RANKINGS, ‘WE CONTINUE TO MOVE FORWARD’

Cox took the fall with grace. “We continue to move forward, our employers are still ‘wildly enthusiastic’ about the graduates they hire…and our graduating students are still very satisfied with the education and experience they have received at SMU Cox,” says Marci Armstrong, associate dean of graduate programs at Cox. “In short, the only thing that’s changed is the methodology.”

Cox, however, also fell two places in both The Financial Times and The Economist rankings this year to 50th and 42nd, respectively, among U.S. schools. But it did gain three spots in the U.S. News ranking, moving up to 54th from 57th.

Indeed, that is often the case. Each of the five most influential rankings use different metrics which result in different results. It’s common that a school will rise in one ranking that might track starting salaries and GMAT scores and fall in another that measures graduate and corporate recruiter sentiment. And the biggest changes always tend to occur as you move farther down the list of the top 100. That’s because the differences among those schools can be slight and many of them are not ranked by all five major sources.

BIGGEST CHANGES OCCUR NEAR THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST OF THE TOP 100

Generally, the most dramatic changes this year occurred to schools that were ranked outside the top 50. Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business in Fort Worth, Texas, had the largest single rise, up 35 places to finish 59th from 94th in 2011. That’s because last year only U.S. News ranked the school, putting it at 70th in the U.S. This year, however, Neeley found its way on both the BusinessWeek and The Economist lists, coming in at a respectable 46th on the BW ranking and 39th among U.S. schools on The Economist ranking. The school also improved its U.S. News ranking by three places.

One thing that is worth pointing out is that although we are naming the top 100 schools here, you’ll notice that toward the bottom of the list many of the schools have received a ranking from only one source. That means four of the most influential rankings failed to mention the school. We consider this valuable information for an applicant because obviously a school that only gains recognition from one of the five most influential sources of information on the best full-time MBA programs isn’t going to have as good a reputation than the schools that make at least three or more of the five rankings. So keep that in mind as you use the list to narrow your search for the best programs.

 (See following page for tables of Poets&Quants’ top 100 U.S. MBA programs of 2012) 

DON’T MISS: POETS&QUANTS’ TOP 50 NON-U.S. MBA PROGRAMS OF 2012