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10 Business Schools To Watch In 2017

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Think MBA education revolves around Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton? That’s natural. The troika has been perched atop many business school rankings for decades. They boast big-name alumni and faculty, fat endowments, and brand names that transcend culture, generation, and academic background. Despite their prominence, you couldn’t help but notice a subtle shift in 2016.

Look no further than the rankings. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Fuqua broke into the top three ahead of Wharton. Booth tied Stanford for second according to U.S. News and World Report. The biggest shock of them all? INSEAD leapfrogged the “Big Three” to rank first in the Financial Times ranking.

Does this mean Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton are in decline? Quite the opposite — it is a testament to their success. They served as a template for other programs, blazing a path and setting the bar for what was possible. While they remain the schools to beat, their example has helped to raise the quality of business education as a whole.

Last year, several schools began making big moves out of the shadows. After years of planning and experimenting, their efforts have gathered steam. They’re receiving more applications, building new campus centers, and beefing up such outcomes as graduate employment rates and salaries. They are amplifying their special strengths to carve out defining niches. Most importantly, they’ve taken a page from their cases and applied their resources to where they’ll get the highest returns: students themselves.

As we enter 2017, which schools are poised to raise their profile among MBA applicants? Here is Poets&Quants’ list of the 10 full-time MBA programs that are most likely to gain ground or break out in the coming year.

(Editor’s Note: These schools are not ranked in any order.)

Ross School of Business

University of Michigan (Ross): What makes a great MBA program? Is it deep resources? A surplus of options to gain real world experience? Academic excellence across every discipline? Leadership in flourishing concentrations like entrepreneurship, tech, and social impact? By those measures, Ross has emerged as the go-to school for MBAs looking for a rich blend of business fundamentals and experiential learning.

Mind you, the school endured a rocky start to the year. With a lame duck dean, the school’s dirty laundry became public when the faculty’s biting evaluations of outgoing Dean Alison Davis-Blake hit the net. However, history is expected to be kind to Davis-Blake. During her five-year tenure, this change agent turned a daunting budget deficit into a surplus; created more equitable faculty compensation; and raised academic performance for incoming MBAs. With the groundwork laid, Ross can now focus on what the new dean, Scott DeRue, calls “big and bold ideas.” Last spring, the school launched a life-long learning initiative, where Ross MBA graduates can return to take executive education courses for free.

But the boldest idea is yet to come. We expect DeRue to take experiential learning, long a mainstay of the Ross program and an increasingly popular part of MBA curriculums elsewhere, to an entirely new level. Rather than assign teams of students random projects with companies, Ross is trying to get its MBAs involved in more transformational corporate work. If it can convince a company such as Ford Motor to embrace multiple teams of students to work on the company’s move into driver-less vehicles or electric cars, DeRue could really up the ante on experiential learning.

The numbers also favor Ross. In March, the program ranked among the top MBA programs in 9 out of 10 specializations, including marketing, finance, entrepreneurship and management, according to a survey of academics conducted by U.S. News. Even more, Ross has gained increasing cache among recruiters. The 2016 graduating class pulled down a record $150,600 in median total compensation, fourth-highest behind just Harvard, Stanford and UVA Darden. Even more, 98.4% of the 2016 class had landed a job within three months of graduation. Such numbers had to be good news for the incoming 2018 class, which saw its percentage of women jump from 32% to 40%, further ranking it among the top full-time MBA programs.

The new Kellogg Global Hub sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. Photo by Mike Crews

Northwestern University (Kellogg): Searching for a sign that a business school is thriving? Just look at the facilities. Come winter, Kellogg will be the envy of almost every MBA program with its new “Global Hub.” This 415,000 square structure, built at a cost of $220 million dollars, is a game changer for the program. Replacing the cramped Jacobs Center, the Global Hub is a marvel of glass, limestone, and steel. Designed to foster community and collaboration, the building is defined by wide, naturally-lit spaces and an array of classroom configurations to fit any purpose. LEED Gold energy efficient, it also includes an auditorium seating 350 and a three story plaza that boasts stunning views of both Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago.

The school’s new home will cap a host of improvements led by Dean Sally Blount over the past six years because the Global Hub is also an expression of the program’s continuing success. In the 2016 Poets&Quants ranking, which collates the major MBA rankings, Kellogg climbed a spot to rank with Wharton at 4th. It also placed 2nd in The Economist ranking, which leans heavily on student satisfaction to evaluate programs. Kellogg’s ranking may even rise further in the coming year. The 2016 class, for example, enjoyed both its highest starting pay and sign-on bonus ($139,747) and placement (96%). Hardly a surprise, however, considering that Kellogg ranked second  and seventh in recruiter surveys conducted by U.S. News and Bloomberg Businessweek this year.

While Kellogg has a reputation for being a “marketing school,” its students are showing increasingly diverse interests…particularly in technology. Some 22% of the graduating class entered the tech field, up 10 points from three years earlier. More important, Kellogg tech grads were landing jobs in such blue ribbon firms as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Linkedin. The incoming class is also positioned to build on the past classes’ successes, boasting a higher average GMAT than Booth for the first time. The upshot? Kellogg GMAT scores have risen 20 points in the past five years, resulting in classes with increasing academic heft to go along with their trademark team-driven spirit.

  • Alexey Postnov

    Spain has 18% unemployment. In fact it was the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone in 2007.

  • Koichi Fuyumi

    Sounds like you are an insider. What you share here is not accessible in public source. Or there is one possible way to get above information is if you have a paid LinkedIn account and you search IMD graduates’ name one by one which is time consuming but would be a nice piece of analysis to share. Of course some can argue not everybody updates LinkedIn so frequently. Can you share more insider information to us?

  • Tesla

    IMD MBA is declining so fast. Many of its graduates struggle to get decent jobs. just check over the web. Many still unemployed.. or got back to same employers with similar jobs. Many top professors left the school, the rank is going down.. it is no longer a target for top elite recruiters.. It is at best comparable to Cranfield or RSM..

  • Yaniv

    IMD is a failing school and declining program, all indicators tell so.

  • ulin

    I am sorry to remind you of the recent struggle of IMD graduates in the marketplace. IMD removed its employment report from its website, and keeps the outdated 2014 report. They intent to return to the three or five year average report to further cover up their failure.. This school is no longer belong to the top, it is by most comparable to RSM, Bocconi, or Cranfield.

  • Tesla

    HEC prominent alumni are graduates of its master of management program NOT the MBA. The alumni of HEC look down to the MBA and don’t recognize it as elite as the grade Master program..same apply to most european schools..

  • C. Taylor

    I like how you think. There are two factors you should also consider. I’ll get to those below.

    I hear banks love IMD guys. Main thing is the two factors listed below. As for your Asia comment, it’s entirely off base. You’ve got two
    recruiters on campus for every student, if you end up in Asia, it’s
    because the offer was even sweeter than the other recruiters’ offers. Same companies, different locations. And with 9000+ execs coming through the campus every year, your Rolodex is huge.

    As I see it, you can’t get more elite than IMD; so I’m not sure where you wanted to go with your third bullet. Whether IMD is the best program for you depends entirely on your background and goals. Google, Amazon, Uber, MBB do on-campus recruiting for those who need flashy companies to jump-start their post-MBA careers.

    1) A one year program is generally not the best choice for someone targeting an uphill career move, post-MBA. (Anything else to banking is an uphill move.) INSEAD’s copious data suggests that almost all INSEAD guys who end up in banking were either already in banking or in a closely related position. And January starts even have a an off-hand chance at a summer internship while at INSEAD.

    IMD’s or INSEAD’s one year program would make a lot of sense for someone being sponsored by his bank or who’s background+network is already sufficient to obtain a banking position, post-MBA.

    2) How PE and IB guys hire. Banks often hire around 50-80% of post-MBA hires from their summer internship pool. Summer banking internships also often require 80-hour (or more) work weeks. Difficult to manage while studying at IMD full time. PE guys often prefer to know you well before hiring–as they don’t always hire as many (this process also requires more time).

    For someone making an uphill career move, you also often get your banking internships/jobs through networking in the school year. A one year program doesn’t provide as much time for this so that is an additional barrier for anyone who isn’t already plugged into the industry. The first half of IMD’s program is intensive.

  • Unlocking Value

    In terms of admissions stats (not employment salary data), which largely guide USN rankings, Yes Yale has solidified itself within or at the Top 10 spot – we agree. My point and those of others here is that it took a few years worth of effort/investment to get Yale to earn that spot. Cornell’s investments are very bold and large – way more than just a new building, and they are very long-term and their payoff should start coming in the next few years, and not this year or next as you rightly point out. However, for those looking for a smart play with future upside, I think that Cornell is probably the most dynamic and bold risk taker of the top 20 at this time. Kudos to Yale for showing that it is possible to move from top 15-20 to the top 10! I think Cornell is next…