Most Reliable & Valid MBA Ranking?

by John A. Byrne on

Professor Dawn Iacobucci

Professor Dawn Iacobucci

If Dawn Iacobbuci were a prospective MBA applicant instead of an accomplished professor, the MBA ranking she would most definitely consult before applying to business schools would be the annual list published by U.S. News & World Report.

Iacobbuci’s preference isn’t without deep study or consideration. As senior associate dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen School and a marketing professor who has also taught at Kellogg, Wharton and Owen, she has just completed a major study of the reliability and validity of three major rankings: U.S. News, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and The Financial Times.

The professor, who does not have an MBA degree, looked at every full-time MBA ranking ever published by those three publications: 13 separates lists from BusinessWeek which began ranking schools in 1988 and has published updated rankings every two years; 15 rankings from The Financial Times, which began its list nearly ten years after BusinessWeek, and 27 lists from U.S. News & World Report which started rating MBA programs annually in 1987.

Iacobbuci prefers U.S. News largely because she believes its ranking has shown greater reliability over the years and has greater validity. Her number crunching also found that every rank improvement toward the top on U.S. News yielded an additional $908.03 more on average for the school’s graduates in their first post-MBA job, significantly more than BusinessWeek‘s $605.27 or The Financial Times‘ $377.58.

“I would look at U.S. News as a result of this research,” she concludes, “partly due to objectivity of the measures and components that go into the ranking. They are less easily gamed. The Financial Times is pitched to favor the more international schools, and the BusinessWeek student poll has a good deal of variability to it. You don’t want to see schools slipping up and down and all over the place. If there is that much variance, what good can there possibly be to the ranking?”


From an academic viewpoint, variability is bad if you’re looking for consistency from one ranking to another, or as this academic puts it, “The simplest expression of reliability is that of consistency.” And it’s true that wide swings in a school’s rank over a short-period of time tend to lack credibility. That’s why Poets&Quants routinely points out the biggest changes in every ranking which tend to occur further down each list when the differences in the underlying data are slim at best.

Iacobbuci, however, focuses less on this issue than the variability in the student satisfaction poll used by BusinessWeek. “Comparing across media,” she writes, “we see that BusinessWeek varied quite a bit over its first 15 years or so, and it has become stable since approximately 2004. We can laud the U.S. News as yielding the most stable results, year to year, even from its inception.

From an applicant perspective, however, measuring the subjective opinions of the latest graduating class—which is what BusinessWeek tries to do every two years—can yield valuable information about the quality of the full MBA experience. It’s not unreasonable to assume, for example, that a school can fall down on critical elements of what makes a top-ranked MBA worthwhile, from the ability of a school to get students the jobs they want to the quality of the teaching in the classroom. Those things tend to be variable–and important to applicants.


U.S. News                            BusinessWeek                   Financial Times
 1. Harvard  1. Chicago (Booth)  1. Harvard
 1. Stanford  2. Harvard  2. Stanford
 3. UPenn (Wharton)  3. Wharton  3. Wharton
 4. MIT (Sloan)  4. Stanford  4. London
 4. Northwestern (Kellogg)  5. Northwestern  5. Columbia
 6. Chicago (Booth)  6. Duke (Fuqua)  6. INSEAD
 7. UC-Berkeley (Haas)  7. Cornell (Johnson)  7. IESE
 8. Columbia  8. Michigan (Ross)  8. Hong Kong UST
 9. Dartmouth (Tuck)  9. MIT  9. MIT
10. NYU (Stern) 10. Virginia (Darden) 10. Chicago

Source: Latest rankings from U.S. News (2013), BusinessWeek (2012), and The Financial Times (2013) of full-time MBA programs

1 2 3 Next
  • ks

    FYI, Deloitte is not Tier2-its very much up there with MBB if not better.

  • M7MBBConsultant

    Are you kidding me? Deloitte is tier 2 but that doesn’t mean they don’t have smart people working there. Their S&O group does mostly operations – efficiency and cost reduction. When they say strategy it’s mostly an operational strategy not true growth strategy work that goes to MBB.

  • Mitch Wexler

    Went to Stanford GSB – my preference for rankings is FT, USNWR, then businessWeek. I like how FT puts top international schools in the mix and feel the list of top 10 are representative of the top 10 in the world. I know plenty of amazing folks that went to LBS and INSEAD and feel those schools’ rankings are accurate and well deserved. With that said, I think both Kellogg and Tuck should replace HKUST and IESE (with Kellogg being ahead of Tuck). I think it’s a little strange that HKUST and IESE are ranked higher. Other than that, list seems spot on! Great article.

  • AmericaFyeah

    Your are a dirty frenchie….do your country and favor and learn to defend yourself.

  • ZuWangXi

    I am Chinese and went to CEIBS. I feel FT ranking is very accurate. We have Duke Fuqua, UCLA, Kellogg, Ross, UNC and Indiana exchange students. We work in group with them and I think the best are Kellogg, Duke, UCLA, Indiana, UNC and Ross. The top 3 are very smart and good to work with. I like some from Indiana, UNC, and Ross too but Ross and Indiana have lot of party kids who not serious about school. Just want to drink. I think FT is good in showing who serious.

  • Dexter

    Financial Times is the best ranking – hands down. Many of the the top 12 US schools are in fact inferior to the top European and Asian schools. Unfortunately for many US MBAers this is a harsh reality…

  • guest

    Honestly, something that is just NOT true is putting HSW in the same tier. I go to Booth and I admit that Harvard and Stanford is in a different league but Wharton, IMO, is much closer to Booth than to H/S. I got in at Wharton and chose Booth. I would NEVER have chosen Booth over Harvard and Stanford though. A lot of my classmates also chose Booth over Wharton. None that I know chose Booth over H and S. It’s HS then W… IMO, Wharton is a lot closer to Booth than to Harvard and Stanford.

  • morning_in_america

    The answer is simple. She started at Kellogg, but wasn’t good enough to make it there, and sent out feelers to other schools. Wharton hired her away using its huge endowment and thinking they were stealing a rising star from Kellogg. When she got to Wharton, they found out what Kellogg already knew, and cut her loose. She ended up at Vanderbilt/Owen, which is probably her level of compentency and clearly not the same tier as Kellogg or Wharton.

  • As

    agree. I chose Columbia over Wharton. But I would’ve chose S/H over Columbia.

  • Getoveryourself

    HI there “I went to some important school but even after I’ve graduated, I still troll the MBA sites for self-importance”. Maybe P&Q can hire you to right other crap articles here for more click-bait. Go add little value to the world in your finance-centric or consulting career. And remember, it’s easy to have high rankings when geography is in your favor. Put Stanford in Missouri, and pretty sure recruiting and post-grad salary stats wouldn’t float you to your heavenly MBA ranking clouds.

Partner Sites: C-Change Media | Poets & Quants for Execs | Tipping the Scales | Poets & Quants for Undergrads