The Topsy-Turvy Economist Ranking

Hult International Business School

Hult International Business School

Hult International Business School makes a point of its sometimes stellar showing in MBA rankings. There’s a prominent link on the school’s homepage to access its latest position in any one of three major business school rankings.

The school proudly notes, for example, that it is “top ranked by The Economist” as the “21st best business school in the U.S.” and the “31st best business school in the world.”

No more. In today’s 2013 Economist ranking, Hult did a nose dive, plummeting 28 places in a single year to rank 59th. IE Business School, a far more prominent global player in business education, didn’t get much love, either. It also plunged 28 places to finish 50th, from a relatively lofty perch of 22nd only last year. The U.S. school to suffer the biggest drop this year is the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, which fell 20 positions to rank 63rd. Boston University lost 18 places to rank 73rd from 55 a year ago.


What gives? It’s just another topsy-turvy ranking from The Economist, which has consistently published the most unstable and volatile ranking of business schools since its debut in 2002.

Some 34 business schools in all had double-digit climbs or falls in this year’s Economist ranking, including three newcomers and five schools that completely fell out of the Top 100. As if it couldn’t get any worse, one business school literally came out of nowhere, climbing at least 71 places to finish at a rank of 30th. The European School of Management and Technology in Germany, which was not on The Economist’s Top 100 list last year, showed up above such world renown business schools at Cambridge, the University of Texas, Georgetown University, and Italy’s SDA Bocconi. Because ESMT failed to make the ranking in 2012, it meant that if it were the 101st school last year it would have had to rise 71 places in a single year to end up 30th.

The biggest gains by schools on last year’s list were posted by the business school at the University of St. Gallen, which zoomed ahead 29 places to rank 52, and SDA Bocconi, which climbed 23 spots to rank 47th this year from 70th in 2012. The big U.S. gainers are the University of Georgia’s Terry School, up 19 places to rank 79, and Arizona State University’s Carey School and Case Western’s Weatherhead School, both up 14 positions to rank 45th and 86, respectively.

The Economist says that its methodology for ranking MBA programs takes into account new career opportunities (35%); personal development/educational experience (35%); increasing salary (20%); and the potential to network (10%). The figures are a mixture of hard data and the subjective marks given by the school’s students who are surveyed by the magazine.


What generally causes such wide swings is a methodology where the underlying result is so close that a numerical rank for a school if more often than not statistically meaningless. The Economist does not publish underlying index numbers along with the actual rank of each school so it’s not possible to tell exactly how close one school is to another. But it would not be possible to have so many dramatic changes in a year-over-year ranking unless the differences among schools are mere slivers of fractions.

Obviously, business school MBA programs don’t change all that dramatically in a single year. So there are no explainable transformations of curriculum, student quality or MBA outcomes to justify such roller coaster results–especially when they occur to roughly a third of the sampled schools. The MBA programs at Hult and IE didn’t deteriorate since last year in any meaningful way to drop like stones. The University of St. Gallen and SDA Bocconi didn’t appreciably improve to warrant jumps of 29- and 23-places in the space of 12 months.

(See the following page for the double-digit losers and winners this year)


  • Rahul

    Tier 1 Business Schools:
    A+ schools: Harvard, Booth and Stanford
    A schools: Columbia, Kellogg, MIT, Wharton
    A- schools: Berkeley and Tuck
    B+ schools: Cornell, Duke, Michigan, NYU, Virginia, Yale


  • Rankings aren’t useless

    -Spoiler Alert-
    I would be shocked if this wasn’t the order for the top 7:

    1. Harvard
    2. Stanford
    3. Booth
    4. Wharton
    5. Columbia
    5. Sloan
    7. Kellogg

    I put Columbia and Sloan as a tie, because with my data they are too close to call, it will depend on how they adjust some of their weights.

  • Rankings aren’t useless

    Rankings should be more concerned with post MBA job prospects, lifetime earnings and respect by potential employees than what incoming students are looking at.

  • Rankings aren’t useless

    Keeping in mind that the ability of a school to attract, educate and then graduate talent is fluid over time, Booth is clearly an A+ School at this point.

  • RankingsGuru

    Thank you. An interesting survey.

  • Bjoern

    Is Notre Dame not second with +26?

  • matt

    Wow, these rankings are horrible. Darden better than Harvard, seriously?

  • JohnAByrne

    Legacy rankings continue to be the most popular among respondents, the survey found. The most popularly consulted ranking, according to the poll, was BusinessWeek, which began ranking business schools 25 years ago this year. Some 69% used the BusinessWeek rankings, while 61% consulted the rankings by the Financial Times. About 54% used the rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Though less than three years old, some 41% said they consulted Poets&Quants’ composite ranking which takes into account the five most influential MBA rankings published by BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, U.S. News, The Economist, and Forbes. About 40% used The Economist, while 31% consulted Forbes.

  • JohnAByrne

    Two weeks.

  • RANK

    John – when is the next P&Q ranking coming out?

  • Renault


  • RankingsGuru

    Thanks John,

    Congratulations! Can you point me at the research please? It sounds like a valuable contribution to understanding how rankings are used. All best, RG

  • marmari

    Stern is top 7 its at least with Haas and Tuck

  • Tired-of-Rankings

    These rankings are all “Shock and Awe”… if you wade through all the B.S. you basically find there are 15 schools most people would consider “Tier 1” broken in to 4 groups (which I list below alphabetically).

    Tier 1 Business Schools:
    A+ schools: Harvard and Stanford
    A schools: Booth, Columbia, Kellogg, MIT, Wharton
    A- schools: Berkeley and Tuck
    B+ schools: Cornell, Duke, Michigan, NYU, Virginia, Yale

    But the stupid thing even about my ranking is that for any individual person a particular school would be a much better fit despite the fact that there may be “higher ranked” schools above it (i.e. someone truly interested in non-profits should probably go to Yale over Wharton if given the choice).

  • castigate

    wow Stern is doing really well lately

  • TheTrader

    I believe what makes P&Q ranking more credible is its specialty. P&Q is a publication that solely specialized and dedicated to the MBA, not like the others, where the mba ranking is just a side small thing compared to the core business of the publication. However, I see the FT dedicate more resources and people, (videos, rankings, blogs, ..) for the MBA. I wouldn’t be surprised if this site acquired by Pearson or Bloomberg in the future 🙂 I hope its readers will have some free launch ::))

  • JohnAByrne


    Thanks for pointing out the GMAC results. I should note, in all humility, that a survey this year of MBA applicants by the trade group representing MBA admission consultants shows that more applicants now consult Poets&Quants ranking than either Forbes or The Economist.

  • JohnAByrne

    Thanks for that clarification and congrats on your amazing debut on the ranking. You’ve got to admit, it had to be a big and wonderful surprise!

  • Nick Barniville

    Just a quick comment on ESMT – this is the first year the school was invited to participate. Entry to the Economist ranking is by invitation from the magazine. Nick Barniville, Director, MBA, ESMT

  • RankingsGuru

    Fascinating commentary. Have you seen the GMAC research of b-school applicants? It effectively “ranks the rankings” in the following way (index numbers included!):

    %age of respondents rating the source as “extremely influential”

    1) School website 24%
    2) Financial Times 17%
    3) US News 16% (US only)
    4) Bloomberg Businessweek 16%
    5) WSJ 11% (no longer publishing a ranking)
    6) Princeton Review 8% (US only)
    7) Forbes 8%
    8) Economist 6%

    Source is GMAC’s research of prospective students from, 2012 (number of respondents = 16,000)