Surprises In U.S. News’ 2017 MBA Ranking


While the metrics employed by U.S. News may appear to be reasonable, they yield very close results–in many cases the difference between an MBA program ranked 35 and 40 or 60 and 70 is statistically meaningless. The best proof of this is the roller-coaster, year-over-year flips and flops in the ranking by so many schools.

The further one goes down the list, the more likely you’ll see wildly volatile results—evidence that these MBA programs are so close together in quality that there really is no meaningful difference among them—at least as measured by the U.S. News’ methodology.

Consider the seven schools that U.S. News puts in the same rank of 57th. Those seven schools alone had 104 changes in places, with each averaging a change of 15 positions on the ranking. The Zicklin School of Business at CUNY’s Baruch College jumped 28 places to rank 57th from 85th last year. The Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah soared 22 places to 57th from 79th. The Isenberg School at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst rose 18 places to 57th from 75th.


Dean Amy Hillman led W. P. Carey to its first Top 25 ranking

And what goes up, inevitably goes down. This year, the University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Business plunged 19 places to finish 64th from 45th last year. That 19-position drop is among the largest falloffs in this year’s U.S. News ranking, but by no means is it unusual.

In most of these cases, there were no substantial changes at the school or the full-time MBA programs that could possibly warrant such big swings. Indeed, it is rare when a big change is the result of meaningful and dramatic alternations of an MBA program.

The one clear example this year is the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University which rose 10 spots in a single year to a 25th place finish. The school’s improved admissions metrics reflects a strategic decision to offer a full scholarship to every single MBA student in a completely revamped MBA curriculum.


The upshot: Carey reduced its acceptance rate to just 14.3%, below Wharton’s 19.6% or Kellogg’s 20.1%. The average GMAT score for its latest cohort jumped ten points to 682, just a point below Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, while the average GPA rose to 3.54, a sliver above Dartmouth Tuck School’s level, from 3.37 a year earlier.

The numbers hardly tell the full story. The deep quality and wide diversity of the class taking advantage of this unprecedented offer is not fully captured by a few metrics (see Meet Arizona State’s MBA Class of 2018). No doubt, this cohort will also realized substantially higher starting salaries when they graduate, providing even more lift to the school in U.S. News’ future rankings.

And then there is the big eight-place jump by NYU’s Stern School. Last year the school did a free fall, dropping nine places after Stern had unintentionally omitted one data point out of more than 300 asked for by U.S. News (see Why U.S. News Whacked NYU Stern). It was the number of incoming students who had taken the GMAT test. The magazine relies on this statistic in its ranking model to to determine the strength of a school’s entering class relative to other programs.


Instead of calling up Stern and asking for the missing piece of information, U.S. News—which is ranking tens of thousands of schools in business, law, medicine, engineering and education at the same time—chose to use its estimate which severely penalized Stern. When school officials tried to give U.S. News the previously omitted information, the magazine refused to re-run all its rankings calculations. So Stern’s rise is, in effect, a correction of sorts on a unfair ranking in 2016.

Otherwise, this year’s biggest news has to do with Wharton’s move into a first-place tie with Harvard Business School and Stanford’s second consecutive decline in the U.S. News ranking to finish in a three-way tie for fourth place. Stanford fell into second place last year behind HBS due to comparatively lower employment rates for graduates, and it fell further behind this year for the same reason.

Though 72% of Stanford’s graduating class had job offers at graduation in 2016, only 63% of the students accepted those offers. That is a job acceptance rate that is nine percentage points below the year-earlier level of 72% when 79% of the class had offers. The deterioration in those numbers also showed up three months after graduation. At that point, 90% of the class had offers but just 82% of the MBAs accepted their offers. The job acceptance rate three months after commencement dropped four percentage points from the 86% level of a year earlier. Yet, the pair of job accepted metrics at graduation and three months later account for a substantial 21% of U.S. News’ ranking.


School 2016 Peer Survey 2016 Recruiter Survey
1. Harvard 4.8 (4.8) 4.5 (4.6)
1. Wharton 4.7 (4.7) 4.5 (4.5)
3. Chicago (Booth) 4.7 (4.7) 4.5 (4.5)
4. Northwestern (Kellogg) 4.6 (4.6) 4.4 (4.5)
4. MIT (Sloan) 4.7 (4.7) 4.4 (4.5)
4. Stanford GSB 4.8 (4.8) 4.4 (4.5)
7. UC-Berkeley (Haas) 4.6 (4.6) 4.3 (4.3)
8. Dartmouth (Tuck) 4.3 (4.3) 4.2 (4.2)
9. Yale SOM 4.3 (4.3) 4.3 (4.3)
9. Columbia 4.4 (4.4) 4.1 (4.1)

Source: U.S. News & World Report Year-earlier scores are between parentheses. All scores are on a five-point scale with five representing the highest possible score.

(See following page for core metrics of the Top 25 ranked schools)

  • gsbgrad

    As a ’14 Stanford grad who chose between GSB and HBS, and chose GSB (which was true for a meaningful percentage of my classmates), I find this ranking disappointing and flawed. Salary and timeliness for hire may be important at the long-tail, but it is not important here and says nothing of my experience.

    I went to Stanford as a former VC that wanted to be best positioned to have my own fund in the future. I studied 200 top investor bios, and 65% actually had MBAs, and amongst those with MBAs, the vast majority went to Stanford. When I chose Stanford over Harvard, I got a lot of push back from my family and former employer, but the tied ranking made me comfortable choosing Stanford, even with the more limited brand recognition vs. Harvard. This drop in rankings would require even more resolve in my plan.

    The reasons for falling, and the methodology for ranking has absolutely nothing to do with the things that matter to me or define a good business school in the top tier. Stanford is a highly entrepreneurial place. Salary and time to employment are not reflective of who we are. Citing “confidence” as the explanation for slow time to employment is just crazy. Slow time to employment is because we have a very high percentage of classmates who choose non-traditional jobs and start companies. To me, these are the types of people I want to be surrounded by. They are so intelligent, ambitious and take risks – all things that require confidence and resolve.

    When I left Stanford, I wanted operating experience, and it took me a couple months to secure my “just in time job”. I also made far less than I ever made in finance. But none of those things were indicative of the quality of Stanford or the quality of the job I took. I think about Interpersonal Dynamics and Leadership Labs many times a day, even two years later. My job was a direct result of Entrepreneurship and VC, where Eric Schmidt and Peter Wendell led the class, and my weekly advisor led the National Venture Capital Association for many years. This advisor introduced me to key VCs, who then pointed me in the direction of the company I ultimately ended up joining. With this insight, I found a classic rocket ship. I joined at employee 100, and the Company is now 4.5x bigger. I was the second person on my team, that is now a team nearing 30. I have 13 direct reports, and I’m building a global function.

    I’m still paying back loans, and I don’t love that, but only Stanford would have put me in a position to survey the innovation landscape so broadly and focus so intensely on my leadership style. Hopefully next year we see some rankings that better reflect what “best” means for a broad range of ambitions.

  • Truth

    The Wharton pay number is manipulated. Read their employment report and the other M7 employment reports. The number doesn’t logically follow. The pay at HBS and GSB is higher. The pay at Booth is almost identical.