The Top Five: Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Wharton & Dartmouth

Harvard Business School’s Baker Library. Photo by John A. Byrne

There are significant and telling flaws in every MBA ranking, no matter where it comes from or how it is put together. The vast disparities in rank across the major rankings shows that where a school ranks is more a function of the methodology than any overall indication of quality. That’s why we carefully studied the pros and cons of each ranking, weighted each of them based on their authority and credibility, and then used all of those inputs to come up with our own ranking.

The beauty of this methodology is that each of the five major MBA rankings—BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times, Forbes, and The Economist—are brought together for the very first time. By blending these rankings using a system that takes into account each of their strengths as well as their flaws, we’ve come up with what is arguably the best and most reliable ranking of MBA programs ever published. This composite index also naturally accommodates some of the wild disparities that you find from one survey to the next. Consider the University of California’s excellent Anderson School of Management. The Economist ranks it 50th, well behind L.A. rival the University of Southern California and the University of Notre Dame. The Financial Times puts UCLA at 33rd. BusinessWeek rates it 14th, U.S. News at 15th, and Forbes at 19th. Those are some pretty big differences of opinion on UCLA’s Anderson School. We think it’s the 16th best school in the U.S., a rank that is the sum total of all of them, adjusted for the authority we believe the major rankings have.

Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Wharton and Dartmouth Rank At the Top

To some long-time watchers of MBA education, there may be little surprise at seeing the Harvard Business School and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business at the very top as No. 1 and No. 2. The most influential ranking by BusinessWeek, however, has never had either Harvard or Stanford in the top spot. Through 11 rankings over 22 years, BusinessWeek has awarded that accolade to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management five times, to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School four times, and to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business twice. In the global MBA rankings published by The Financial Times, last ranked Harvard first back in 2005. Since then, Harvard has lost out to Wharton (four times in a row) and to London Business School (in the current 2010 FT ranking). The highest rank Stanford has ever achieved in The Financial Times ranking is third and that was four years ago in 2007.

But the power of this newest ranking by Poets&Quants is that it awards consistency across the various surveys, eliminates the greatest anomalies in any one ranking, and takes advantage of the largest amount of qualitative and quantitative data ever compiled in a single study of the best business schools. One problem we could not overcome: it was impossible to make this a true global ranking because BusinessWeek and Forbes separate international schools (with Forbes carving up the overseas market into one-year MBA programs and two-year MBA programs), U.S. News doesn’t rate any non-U.S. institutions, and the Financial Times and The Economist mix them. The lack of standardization across the surveys prevents a fair and credible blending of non-U.S. schools. However, it is possible to rank the non-U.S. schools separately, and that’s what we did.

Differences in Rank Can Be Statistically Insignificant

Unlike the majority of rankings, we also give you our index numbers, which gives you an understanding of how far ahead or behind one school is over another. In many cases, the differences are so slim that they are statistically insignificant, yet most of the organizations that rank schools hide this data from you. So you can see that Wharton at an index number of 95.6 is only 1.2 percentage points behind Chicago in this ranking. Showing you index numbers provides you with the analytical context to better make decisions on which schools to apply to and which schools to say yes when accepted. The index numbers reveal where the statistical differences are so slim as to matter very little. Also, don’t assume that if one school has an index number twice as large as another that it is twice as good. It may be, or it may not be. The difference between No. 1 Harvard, which tops the index at 100, and No. 20 Indiana University, which has an index number of 47.9, is obviously far greater than two-to-one.

P&Q Rank & SchoolIndexBWForbesNewsFTEcon
1.  Harvard Business School100.023135
2.  Stanford School of Business97.861147
3.  Chicago (Booth)96.814594
4.  Pennsylvania (Wharton)95.645529
5.  Dartmouth College (Tuck)89.01227146
6.  Columbia University88.0769620
7.  Northwestern (Kellogg)87.53842215
8.  MIT (Sloan)84.99143819
9.  California-Berkeley (Haas)80.010127283
10. New York (Stern)77.9131791313
11. Duke (Fuqua)75.9813142028
12. Michigan (Ross)73.9518122825
13. Virginia (Darden)70.5169133124
14. Cornell (Johnson)69.7117183632
15. Yale School of Management69.02410111627
16. California-L.A. (Anderson)60.11419153350
17. Carnegie-Mellon University57.21923163433
18. North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)55.51715214639
19. Texas-Austin (McCombs)53.92111165249
20. Indiana-Bloomington (Kelley)47.91525235746
21. Emory (Goizueta)46.52322273452
22. Brigham Young (Marriott)44.622163383NR
23. Southern California (Marshall)41.82532205736
24. Georgetown (McDonough)40.9NR31243848
25. Notre Dame (Mendoza)37.52038317134
26. Washington U. (Olin)33.02841195065
27. Maryland-College Park (Smith)31.82629454351
28. U. Washington (Foster)31.72740337831
29. Southern Methodist (Cox)30.81833499688
30. Vanderbilt (Owen)29.63030365764
31. Minnesota (Carlson)28.4ST26247562
32. Georgia Institute of Technology27.2294426NRNR
33. University of Iowa (Tippie)24.3ST20426461
34. Ohio State (Fisher)24.2ST39216745
35. Michigan State (Broad)22.3ST214665NR
36. Rochester (Simon)22.0ST372748NR
37. Texas A&M (Mays)21.0NR243354NR
38. Univ. of Connecticut (Storrs)17.4ST2779NRNR
39. Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison17.1NR35276754
40. Boston University16.3ST61316140
41. Purdue (Krannert)13.9ST453654NR
42. Arizona State (Carey)13.8ST562789NR
43. Penn State (Smeal)12.9NR2848NR58
44. Univ. of California-Irvine10.7ST583672NR
45. Wake Forest (Babcock)10.6NR3446NR77
46. Rice University (Jones)10.4NR47394477
47. Boston College (Carroll)8.4NR463947NR
48. Illinois–Urbana Champaign8.3ST63425287
49. Babson College (Olin)4.6STNR5499NR
50. George Washington Univ.4.3ST735557NR


NR – Not ranked. Because the Financial Times and The Economist include many non-U.S. schools in their rankings, a larger number of very good MBA programs at U.S. schools remain unranked by those two publications.

ST – Second tier. BusinessWeek ranks the top 30 business schools and then identifies a group of 15 more schools in an unranked “second tier.”

Methodology: Schools on each of the five major rankings were scored from a high of 50 to a low of 1, the numerical rank of the 50th school on any one list. Then, those sums were brought together, weighting the BusinessWeek ranking 30%, the Forbes ranking 25%, the U.S. News & World Report rankings 20%, the Financial Times rankings 15%, and The Economist ranking 10%. These differing weights reflect the authority and credibility we believe each of these rankings have in the business school universe. For a deeper explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of each system, see how we think the most influential rankings stack up against each other. To be included in the Poets&Quants analysis, each school had to receive a ranking from at least three of these most influential lists of the best full-time MBA programs.