Most Reliable & Valid MBA Ranking?

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

  • fidel305

    Or is it the increase in average earnings that in part gives rise to the increase in ranking? Folks just keep violating that cardinal rule of stats. Correllation does not equal causation

  • 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.

  • As

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • AmericaFyeah

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • ks

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

  • Hmmm

    we both agree that the solution of basing rankings on gpa and gmat scrores imperfect. The point is that there are hardly any obvious alternatives.

    As I said, once you start measuring alternative program-related factors as the FT does, then everyone seems to object to the results, even though these might be more accurate or close to an ‘ideal’ ranking not based on gpa and gmat scores.

    I whole-heartedly agree that Pie should be ranked according to the final product of a finished pie. But people’s taste in pie differs, and taste in mba program elements differ even more. Should the pie be warm? cold? golden baked? hard bottom? crunchy bottom? braided top? covered top? it isn’t as clear cut as you present it.

  • Cmoney

    Lol – I agree that about the difficultly of trying to measure, rate, and then rank MBA intangibles but I whole heartily disagree that the solution (according to the article “U.S. News rankings are largely based on average GMAT and GPA scores”) is to measure metrics that have NOTHING to do with the university. Nothing!

    Would you measure the quality of pie based on the ingredients or the final product? Correct me if I am wrong, but I remember reading that some years ago that HBS actually dropped the standardized test requirement because the adcom team saw that high scores had little correlation with successful MBA candidates. They prob brought back to placate the MBA ranking companies; In fact, I would speculate the MBA programs keep pushing up the GMAT and GPAs standards in a response to how US new’s ranks schools.

  • Powers18

    The IT work / consulting bait and switch is something I am familiar with, fortunately I was lucky enough to work in the int development world in a strategy position. The places I went were anything but boring. Regardless, the IT consulting side of “second tier firms” , is still BUSINESS, you can still make a lot of money doing it and would be a valid post MBA career path. I have been pretty forthright with my background….if you are the authority why don’t you share yours? Again, I believe that someone who had it all going for them wouldn’t waste time putting down others education/careers. My guess is you are still an applicant who hasn’t even been through the process.

  • YouAreALoser

    You probably tell people Accenture is real strategy work when its crap IT work that gets directed by McKinsey BTO. Post Merger Integration or PMI is the boring work that MBB deny,

  • Stats

    GPA is worthless unless you factor in academic pedigree. HSW have highest percentage of top undergrads and the number goes down with ranking. For instance, a Harvard grad at Texas was probably the bottom of his class as undergrad.

  • Hmmmm

    I clearly said Gmat and Gpa are an “indication” of calibre and quality of the student body, i never said they equate. Rather they are the best “proxy” we have for quality in the absence of more sophisticated measures. Although not perfect metrics, you would be very hard pressed to find a better metric in terms of availability and standardization than Gpas and gmat scores. How else can you realistically and practically (not in some ideal sense) measure student body quality across over 100 programs?

    Also, I said that the student body is “almost as important” as the program so te Fiji example is of the mark, and the US news ranking is not weighted 100% on gmat and gpa, so your comparison is innaccurate. Once again, it is extremely difficult to rank programme quality, as MBAs are not all the same. How do you weight international experience vs exchange opportunites vs number of available electives vs renowned professors vs contact hours vs number of careers workshops vs student involvement opportunities? Even if you could, again you would be hard-pressed to find a homogenous standardised way of measuring these things across such heterogenous programs.

    The idea of ranking according to “career value impact” is nice, but again utopian. Your definition of career impact is surely different from mine and each other person in an MBA. Is this measured by happiness with your job despite a low salary? High salary but no progression? deciding for quality of life instead of going to IBD? What about those people in the MBA that got a great education at HBS, Booth, Wharton etc but just didn’t land a good job, how much should their post-mba short-comings affect the ranking? Does that make it a worse education? Is career really everything?

    It would be great if we could do a ranking as you suggest, but once you get tasked to put together a ranking using a laptop and an excel spreadsheet, the reality of what you can do is much, much, much different. I think we both agree, it is not perfect.

    As soon as you start ranking according to % international students, % male vs women, % salary increase etc as the FT does then people are unhappy about that as well and say the results don’t reflect reality and what not.

  • Jesushimself

    I must say, a beautiful post with high quality.

  • Powers18

    lol, I like the username. I will be attending Darden in the fall. I am coming from a second tier consulting firm. I am looking to get into a leadership rotation program at a large company. Darden has great placement in these programs so I am happy with my choice. My question to you is where are you going / where did you go? If you are attending/attended an M7 why do you feel the need to troll these posts? Shouldn’t you be confident in your choice and not concerned with ranking methodology or belittling a U-Phoenix education which, for many people, is a great option to advance in their current jobs.

  • Powersisaloser

    You must go to the University of Phoenix and have an non-elite job to justify your wasted MBA.


    I heard worse than this! I heard that they hire hackers to hack the ranking websites and manipulate the data, and so far the most hacked website is BW where it was ranked 7th.!!!

  • Renault


  • Just a rumor

    I heard Ross games the system by paying students and alumni with gifts such as football game tickets to entice them to rigged the BW rankings.

  • Sassafras

    The best predictor of future success is past performance.

  • TJ

    Brilliant post. But sadly for those people obessed with HBS and McKinsey and GS — this will fall on deaf ears.

  • Powers18

    So you want a business school exclusively of top tier bankers and consultants?…and the only desirable career path for an MBA is to return to those industries? This would be a horrible ranking method as it would just create a very real incentive for schools to recruit exclusively from that pool. The business world is not solely limited to a career at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey. This ranking method would undermine a major component of the MBA which is interaction with people with experiences in all industries. That could include someone who worked at Target or someone who led troops in the military. There are a variety of reasons to get an MBA. Yours seems to be either to stay in or get into IB/MC. While that is a valid goal/reason for sure it is not better than anyone else’s. The quality of an MBA should be ranked on the programs ability to take you from where you were to where you want to go regardless of your own personal goal. This would largely be measured by post MBA factors such as job placement and career satisfaction. While such measures are difficult to gather and have flaws of their own they are certainly more relevant than your suggestion.

  • Cmoney

    A high GPA and high GMAT doesn’t automatically equate to a high caliber student. Further, US New’s metrics imply that the ‘best students’ dictate what is defined as the best MBA program, regardless of program structure, resources, etc. I do agree with your point that the network within each program is a critical piece of the MBA experience.

    I think I made this argument on an earlier P+Q post, but say we grabbed the entire HBS class of 2015 and sent them partying to Fiji for 2 years for their “MBA”. At the end of the 2 years, they would all earn a degree from HBS and I bet that most of them would be pretty darn successful years down the road. Keeping the US NEWS rankings status quo, this new HBS in Fiji would continue to be highly ranked, when in fact the program is just a party and IF this group of students had studied together at University
    of Phoenix for an MBA, they would be presumably better off. This is a bit of an extreme example, but I who is to say that networking / collaborative piece of the MBA is worth 50% of the value of the program and the educational piece is worth the other 50%, or maybe 60/40, 90/10, etc – I certainly hope some of these highly paid professors are providing some kind of value.

    Instead of speculating where the value of an MBA comes from, I think rankings should measure “long term career impacted”, which I believe incorporates all facets of value derived from an MBA. How was life before and after the MBA? Lets rank “value”

  • OwenisDaShiznizz

    Vandy is better than Ross. We have more IB/PE/HF jobs than Ross and we have more class.

  • Hmmm

    I understand your point and agree to some extent. On the other hand, although GMATs and GPAs are not an indication of the quality of the PROGRAMME, they are an indication of the calibre of the STUDENTS that enroll programme. At an MBA the quality of the students you are surrounded by is almost as important as programme specific elements (professors, courses etc). So I do agree with rankings in general in that they want to show what quality/calibre of students you will be sharing 2 years with, as you will be learning with and from them quite a lot.

  • sedroka

    GS hired 12 in the last two years NOT 6, all for front office jobs! Vandy is known for good connections with GS.


    I am about to finish my study at INSEAD, and I do agree with your post. Unless, you worked with top tier consultant pre-mba, it is very hard if not impossible to join them. same applied with more restrictions on IM, IB, PE, VC. The competition is horrible even with the internships.

  • gaming?

    “They are less easily gamed. The Financial Times is pitched to favor the more international schools”

    So being a globally focused business school with a highly international student body means you are ‘gaming’ the system? This is like saying the GMAT is pitched to favor smart people, or job interviews are pitched to favor better candidates. The FT is a GLOBAL ranking. The extremely intrinsic focus of US-business schools is most definitely a major flaw and they deserve to suffer in GLOBAL rankings because of it. This has nothing to do with ‘gaming’ or ‘skewing’ it is a fact that US schools are terrible at being international.

    Under 10% of US MBAs leave the US, yet there is an ENORMOUS (read larger than the US) market for consulting, banking, finance etc in Europe and Asia. At some point you are going to have to realize that on a global level, the US is competing head to head with other global universities and the fact that many US universities don’t do as well on international rankings is more than justified, given the global economy we live in and the almost exclusively internal focus of US schools.

  • BoothGrad

    Very true. Know from friends at other top & mid-tier schools and employment reports

  • KelloggGrad

    As ignorant as it may sound, it’s actually pretty true. The data for this isn’t public ally available but through various friends at other top schools, this is fairly accurate.

  • Fuquashouldnothobnobwithowen

    Goldman isn’t recruiting Owen for IB. They may recruit for private bank or other non-elite back office jobs. Owen is cr@p!

  • Terrifying

    “the MOST ignorant posts” you ever read in YOUR life!!!! of course, kindergarten do not teach MBA ranking, you need time to grow up.

  • Truer rankings

    This is one of the most ignorant posts I have ever read in my life. You clearly know very few people who went to/go to top business schools.

  • Renault

    Have you found any real data on the percentage of sponsored students at M7 (or even top ~15) schools? I’ve always been curious.

  • DukeMBA

    FYI, Goldman Sachs recruited 6 in the last two years from Owen. CEO of Emerson is Owen MBA’86. Your comment makes no sense at all.

  • WhyRossisNotHSW

    You are a retard. It has to do with quality of students. Non top schools can have similar GMAT scores but lack the pedigree and elite pre-MBA jobs.

  • The True Rankings

    The true ranking should be done like this: What % of your class is sponsored by MBB. What percent of your non sponsored MBB classmates get jobs there. What % of your class worked at Tier 1 BB IB/PE/HF jobs pre-MBA and what % get back to those top firms.

    This is why HSW are at the top.

    M7 schools are like HSW but have less sponsored MBB classmates that come from those backgrounds.

    Sweet 16 schools typically have tier 2 sponsored consulting like Deloitte and few if any MBB sponsored consultants. They have few bankers and the few that made it worked at tier 2 BB or MM firms pre-MBA. You can get a top MB/IB job here but you getting into top PE/HF/VC jobs is unlikely from here.

    Top regional schools have 1-3 if any MBB job offers that are not from OCR. They are on par for corporate jobs as sweet 16 schools but usually with a more regional focus.

    Anything outside of here is for education, convenience, and people planning on sticking with a company/region but not for career switchers or if you are fine with never getting an elite job /pedigree.

  • Owenisblah

    Owen is isn’t even a top regional like USC, CM, UNC, or Texas. Why is there any article about them. If top IB/MC firms don’t recruit there, let’s not waste articles about mediocre schools.

  • Donthatecuzimbetterthanyou


  • RacismdoesexistatRoss

    Ross isn’t racist but I would say 10-20% of the student body is.

  • Teacher

    If Dawn Iacobbuci WERE a prospective MBA student…

  • Orange1

    OK, here’s my beef. The professor has taught at Kellogg, Wharton, and Owen, which are three schools ranked somewhat differently, albeit Kellogg and Wharton are close. As so many of these professor go from school to school, how can the quality of education be so different? Does she teach more brilliantly at Wharton than Owen?

  • Vico

    Top 25 on P&Q

  • Emorian

    yes, and it been ranked well in us news 😉

  • Simon

    if you extract the US schools out of FT ranking, it’d be quite close to USN! beside, FT ranking is the only one that audited by professional auditor. Do not forget the USN scandal with tulane 🙂

  • CMU2015

    BusinessWeek is a US only ranking system, FT is an international ranking so this could cause some variation. TBH, I ignore FT mostly, I go with BW and USN

  • RossIsAwesome

    I know I wonder what that bloody jackass is at?

  • Cmoney

    If that is what in fact is going on and “everyone is doing it” then wouldn’t this gaming effect just cancelled out? I think all surveys have some kind of implicit self serving bias, but out of 500 kids in a bschool program some people have answer the questions candidly and these people might be the “ranking” difference unless you believe that individuals from one school are more prone to “game” the survey than others.

  • Mirza Obaidullah Baig

    Its not about stability in rankings…its consistency…. Businessweek ranks Chicago as #1….. Financial times ranks it at #10…. Not only is this confusing, it is also misleading to prospective students.

  • Andy

    Great findings, Sherlock!!!

    I could have said the same thing without the fuss or fanfare or wasted $$ on conducting some silly study….And we wonder why academics in bschool have low credibility?

  • SV
  • Skeptic

    Completely agree on the ability to manipulate the bw rankings and I think it is being done more than the author of this study realizes. I have friends spread out across the top 20 and even the biggest haters of the program rally all their friends and classmates to rank the school perfectly in the surveys because it is simply to their best advantage to have their MBA program ranked as highly as possible.

  • Simrug

    sorry but does vanderbilt offer an mba?!

  • halo

    I guess this “Professor” forgets one golden rule: Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean Causation.

  • km80

    Comment about Ross being a racist school in 3…2…1…

  • old dinosaure

    very good point. none of the rankings gives full weight to the quality of the programs.
    Who was the best in class before entering business school (GPA, GMAT) is of minor relevance. It is the after graduation measures that matter.

  • Cmoney

    I don’t see how measuring GMATs and GPAs (US News), metrics that are taken BEFORE an MBA, correlate to the impact or the quality of the program. I am all for objective metrics but I think these metrics need to be measured AFTER graduation. Let’s look at career progression, salary 5 years post grad, ROI, % of alum donating money, etc. It almost seems that US news is going after the low hanging fruit in terms of available data.