Turning the Tables: Ranking the MBA Rankings

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Forbes says the full-time MBA program at the University of Stanford is best. BusinessWeek say it’s the University of Chicago. U.S. News & World Report has yet another answer: Harvard Business School and Stanford in a dead tie. Say what you will about the lack of consensus on what constitutes the best MBA program in the U.S., but at least three different areas of the country—east, west and mid-west—can claim a No. 1 business school. Meantime, British-based publications seem to prefer MBA-granting institutions not based in the U.S. at all. Until this year, The Economist claimed the best school in the world is IESE in Spain. Now The Economist seems to agree with BusinessWeek that the best MBA program is at  Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The Financial Times begs to differ, preferring London Business School in its backyard. When The Wall Street Journal did an annual ranking, it often put Dartmouth’s Tuck School at the top.

Or just take the ranking of any prominent school at random and puzzle over the disparities among them: One of the finest business institutions in the world is the University of California’s Anderson School in Los Angeles. Yet, The Economist ranks it 50th behind Boston University. BusinessWeek ranks UCLA’s business school 14th, U.S. News & World Report gives it a 15th rank, and the Financial Times puts it at 33.

How is it possible that the five major rankings of business schools all have different winners at the top? How can they rank a single school, such as UCLA, so differently? Chalk it up to the differing ways each publication cranks out its list of the best.  The different methodologies employed for these rankings have as much if not more to do with where the schools place rather than the actual quality of the institution or the MBA experience.

The general problem with most rankings is that they measure what is easy to count, largely statistics on average GMATs and GPAs, starting salaries and bonuses, rather than what really matters. The latter is harder to get at, but essentially what is more important is whether you think the cost of the degree is worth the time and effort. Was the teaching quality superb? Did you learn as much from your fellow students as you did from the faculty? Did the coursework prepare you for a successful career? Do you feel the alumni network will help you throughout your professional life? Did you create friends who you will keep for the rest of your life? Did the degree enrich you far beyond the monetary rewards? Those are questions that few rankings tend to measure, yet those are the important questions.

By searching the web, you’ll find lots of other rankings besides these five major rankings. (The Wall Street Journal stopped ranking full-time MBA programs in 2007.) Ignore them. Often, they’re put together by people with an axe to grind against the big five or by others who are trying to sell you something. The theory is simple: If you don’t like these results, you put together your own ranking. That’s been done by faculty who want to reward academic research over teaching quality and MBA salaries, and that’s been done by consultants or others who are clamoring for attention to sell you something. As imperfect and flawed as the five major rankings are, they represent legitimate and good faith efforts by conscientious journalists who cover higher education day in and day out. They are looking for what they perceive to be the best ways to measure the quality of a business school education.

Which leads us to an inevitable question: How would you rank the rankings? First, an admission: I created BusinessWeek’s ranking 22 years ago. At the time, the BusinessWeek list was the first major MBA ranking and its approach was unique. BusinessWeek ranked the top MBA programs by surveying recent graduates and corporate recruiters. We asked the questions that had rarely been asked before. A few examples: “Did the professors convey enthusiasm for what they taught?” “In classes taken with popular or distinguished professors, how would you rank their accessibility after class?” ”Were you given a way of thinking or approaching problems that will serve you over the long haul?” “Did you have the feeling that your teachers were at the leading edge of knowledge in their fields?” “What percentage of your classmates would you have liked to have as friends?” These are questions that get far closer to the quality of the MBA experience than a median GMAT score for an accepted applicant. Until the BusinessWeek survey debuted, rankings relied primarily on the opinions of B-school deans, faculty, or top executives who were asked to name the top programs—even though they often had only indirect knowledge of many of the schools—or merely ranked schools on available statistical data.

That first BusinessWeek ranking in 1988 upset the traditional order of things. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School beat out both Harvard and Stanford. Dartmouth scored high, taking sixth place. Yale, often in previous Top 20 lists, failed to make the ranking because of dramatically poor grades from recent graduates. Over the past 22 years, through 11 separate rankings by BusinessWeek, Kellogg has claimed the number one spot the most, five times; Wharton is second with four No. 1 rankings by BusinessWeek, and Chicago’s Booth School of Business is next, having won the top spot twice, in the last two consecutive polls.

Many years have obviously passed since I had any involvement in the rankings and I left BusinessWeek’s employ at the end of 2009. Through all those years, however, I’ve maintained a curious interest in the world of business education. I’ve visited the campuses of well over 100 business schools. I’ve interviewed hundreds of deans, faculty, and students. I’ve also studied the core competition. Here’s my two cents on how the best stack up against each other.

  • SkiBowl

    LBS is easily top 5 in the world…but not above Harvard or Stanford…I’d put it on par with Wharton…

    The one reason why I hesitate is because LBS GMAT is a little low – like 700 or something while HSW are in the 720s/30s. I thought about it more and think that part of it has to do with the number of foreigners at LBS…the verbal section was tough for me, and I’m American; I can only imagine how tough it is for non-english speakers…

    That being said, I would have gone to any of these schools but didn’t get in to any of them 🙁

  • LC

    “The US owns the world, or it takes, and bombs”? “Accept it”? I think you should accept instead that people (Americans and non-Americans) won’t accept that.
    Otherwise the US would be a worldwide dictator and I don’t think it is the case.
    And I believe in democracy, thank you very much.
    What I am sure about is, if someone like you was a student in my MBA class, I would ask the MBA program to kick him/her out. Failing that, I would leave the MBA program and move to a better school. Bye bye.

  • Neil

    I like this ranking – makes complete sense to me! Nice post!

  • Jesse

    Sorry not ESADE, I meant IPADE – the one in central/south america!!

  • Jesse

    When I think about all the various rankings, I have a select group that represents the best of the best globally. Those elite schools are: HBS, Stanford GSB, Wharton, London Business School, INSEAD, ESADE, University of Cape Town GSB, IIM Ahmedabad, CIEBS, and Australian Graduate School of Management. I don’t even want to rank these schools among each other because I think these schools encompass the best of the best from the various regions in the world. This is the top 10 GLOBALLY and envelopes the cream of the crop everywhere – not just the US. Many people choose to stay in their home countries for one reason or another. This top 10 takes that into account…

  • PaedoWhey

    Sorry correction, tie for 4 with MIT, Columbia, AND Booth…

  • PaedoWhey

    Re: FT, I agree that LBS should not be ranked about HBS, Stanford, and Wharton. I do think that it offers a better MBA experience than Kellogg though (and I think many would agree with me).

    I think the current ranking of 4 makes sense…some will disagree with my assessment – that is fine. I had applied to b school back in the day (2 years ago): was admitted to Kellogg, Fuqua, Tuck, LBS, INSEAD, and Columbia. Was denied at HBS and wait listed at Wharton.

    While I chose to not attend b school after all since I made it directly into management consulting through my own professional connections, I would have picked London over the other schools that I was admitted to. The only school that I would have undeniably picked over LBS was Harvard, but who wouldn’t make that choice?

    FT ranking LBS number 1 is a little silly though – completely agree with article in that respect. Number 4 is justified as a ranking though. I would actually put a tie for number 4 between LBS, MIT, and Columbia…

    At the end of the day, who cares though? All schools will get you to that next step if you maximize the opportunity, alumni network, and prestige of the school….

  • Nearly Nubile

    It’ll be easier to take the BW rankings more seriously if you ranked schools like INSEAD, IMD and LBS in the same ranking as the American schools. These schools globally, and often even in the United States, are regarded just as well or better than, say, Tuck or Duke for sure. This is 2012, not 1999. 

  • Jimmy

    Poets&Quants does not consider the QS MBA Ranking where my favorite program (UCLA) has its best ranking (number 9). Too bad ! If you would add it, UCLA would gain 2 or 3 seats in your Top 100 average ranking !

  • Louis Lavelle,

    You may have seen my comment left for Matty. I’m not actually participating in the rankings debate but am trying to obtain information as to how to submit my school´s information to be considered for rankings. I´ve looked into to Bloomberg Businessweek’s rankings method and their current lists of ranked schools in International Schools and Executive Education categories. Again, the lists are short and only include 20 schools. Is there a more extensive list available? We would like to participate in these categories, especially in Executive Education as we feel confident in our ability to compete in this area. Any tips or info you can provide is appreciated. Thanks

    Seamus Dufurrena
    Dean´s Assistant – Faculty of Business Administration
    Externado University

  • I appreciate it John, thanks.

  • I’m not really certain because there have been a lot of changes at Forbes since the last publication of the rankings. I’ll try to check in with them and find out.

  • Matty,

    I work as Dean´s assistant of the Faculty of Business Administration in the Externado University of Colombia, a regionally prominent business school. We are making inquiries about the Forbes rankings as to when and how they are conducted as we hope to participate in the international categories, although I noticed they only published the top 11 on their website. You say they publish the rankings in August? Do you know if they make availble the rankings of other schools beyond the first 11? Or do you perhaps know where I might find this information? Thanks so much.

    Seamus Dufurrena
    Dean´s Assistant
    Externado University

  • @TonyW: I’m not sure I’m buying this argument. You’re correct, students might be inclined to give their school great ratings for the reason you state, but (1) we have statisticians review the findings to make sure they don’t, (2) students everywhere have the same inclination, in effect canceling each other out, and (3) if this were true we’d never get a negative comment, and we do. A lot.

    As for mismatched expectations, you may be right that students (and recruiters) expect more out of schools like Harvard, but they should expect more out of schools like Harvard. (Harvard charges more, for one thing.) If this really put schools like Harvard at such a disadvantage, they wouldn’t be so highly ranked year after year after year–students and recruiters would get fed up and before you know it we’d all be wondering why Harvard was suddenly ranked #413.

    If this were a real problem–if Indiana really does enjoy an advantage over Harvard–I’d be curious to know how exactly you would fix it. Maybe grade student and recruiter satisfaction on a curve?

    Louis Lavelle
    Associate Editor
    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • TonyW

    The student survey is very open to being “gamed.” If you were a student at good old Acme Business School, and you knew that your employment options and starting salaries depended to some substantial degree on the rating of your school, wouldn’t you consider rating the school as better than perfect in every survye category so as to improve your employment prospects? Another potential source of bias concerns the nature of the students who choose to attend different schools. It is quite possible that those attending Harvard are sophisticates who demand the best, who went to Harvard expecting to have the best possible professors for each and every course, and who would be disappointed if they did not have the most famous and pedagogically able professor for each course. Students who go to Indiana University, in the unpretentious town of Bloomington in the middle of America’s corn belt, might have very different, very reasonable expectations. Thus, ratings by these different groups of students might not be readily comparable.

    The employer survey suffers from a similar potential problem. Employers hiring from Harvard and Indiana might be hiring for very different positions and expecting very different people from each school. They might pay Harvard graduates $150,000 and expect them soon to be running a region, whereas they might hire an Indiana graduate for $80,000 and expect him to be a solid contributor who will take twice as long to get a promotion as the Harvard graduates. Once again, are employer’s ratings of the schools truly comparable?

  • Bela,

    Very good point. So if student satisfaction really matters to you, you’ll buy into the BusinessWeek ranking. If all you really care about is return on investment, Forbes is the one. If you’re keen on getting a sense for how the international schools stack up, then The Financial Times would be your survey. If you want a simple overview of a school’s quality, U.S. News is the one.

  • Who makes the best automobile?

    The answer depends on how the individual wants to use it. Right? And whether you are shopping for an SUV for your camping trips, a mini-van for your toting around your offspring, or a sporty chick-magnet for your mid-life crisis, you’ll have lots of choices.

    I don’t see B-school rankings as much different. It’s pretty safe to assume that individuals attend B-school to enhance their careers, but in what precise way? Further their ascent up the ladder as a “company” man/woman? Leave consulting to get into I-banking? Acquire a professional network and make enough contacts to secure capital for that startup?

    In today’s world of hyper market segmentation, I am not sure any single ranking methodology will do.

  • Admit

    I completely agree with Sean’s comment. Both LBS and INSEAD offer top notch educations and can easily compete with Harvard/Wharton/Stanford. While there is an obvious favor for US schools on this website, one should not overlook the high performing international schools. Both LBS and INSEAD are far more international than any US school could ever be. This diversity allows the students to get a truly global education without a US-centric outlook on business.

  • Sean

    “….It’s just not even credible to think that London Business School can give you a better MBA education than Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, or Northwestern…” – There we go again with the preconceived notions and the die-hard bias towards US institutions. H/S/W are all fantastic business education institutions, but it is a pretty bold (and arguably unfounded) statement to make when one says that a prospective student can’t get a better education at a non-US school like LBS or Insead than she would at one of your favoured top US schools. In today’s globalized world, schools like LBS and Insead offer a far better understanding and connectivity to the global business community than some of those very same top US institutions can claim. Also, if one wants to make this website unbiased, independent and truly credible, then the need to make such overarching statements (without facts) should be done away with….


  • It was a joke!

  • Embarrassing…(@Louis)


    “We haven’t quite figured out a way to get people like you to stop complaining about it.”

    Wow. Even if Matty was / is painfully misinformed, is this your version of professional etiquette? Your reasoning is sound but the delivery is awful.

    Stick to Bloomberg. Cheers.

  • We survey hundreds of recruiters every year, and use three separate recruiter surveys for each ranking (2010, 2008, 2006 for the 2010 ranking). The recruiters are asked which schools produce the best grads and their choices are weighted based on the number of MBAs they hire. In SMU’s case, the recruiters who DID hire Cox grads liked them a lot, and that counts for more than the fact that they hired relatively few. That’s the reason for the apparent disconnect between SMU’s poor placement numbers and high recruiter ranking.

    You seem like a pretty reasonable person Matty, but you’re falling into the same trap as every other rankings critic. When a ranking doesn’t line up exactly with every other ranking–or “reality,” whatever that is–you declare the ranking flawed instead of questioning your own assumptions. So let me ask you: why would you expect any ranking to be identical to any other ranking, when they do not share the same methodology? If one ranking of cars is based on price, another is based on speed, and another is based on defects reported by owners, would you expect all three to come to the same conclusion? I didn’t think so.


  • Matty

    The real inherent flaw, IMO, was perfectly stated by John Byrne in the “Cons” section –> “a polling sample problem.”

    While I can’t say exactly what caused a school like SMU to beat out names like Tuck, NYU, Yale etc., it seems that you’re relying on completely different sets of recruiters while failing to weight which recruiters are more “important.”

    How do you determine which recruiters should have a bigger say? A higher salary offered? Location in places to which MBA grads tend to flock (NYC, Chicago etc)? Or maybe rather than weighting recruiters, you simply survey many more from those higher-paying firms relative to elsewhere.

    I’m not a polling expert and certainly don’t play one on TV, but its rather obvious that the BW ranking does not line up with reality. Its a shame because BW is such a widely referenced ranking, as it throws a complete curveball into one’s MBA research.

    Maybe its because I simply couldn’t hit a curveball, but my advice is to be patient and wait for the fastball (US News & FT).

  • Bill, the recruiter survey is only part of the BW methodology (45%). The other parts are the student survey (45%) and the intellectual capital measure (10%). The only inherent flaw in our ranking is that we haven’t quite figured out a way to get people like you to stop complaining about it. Cheers.

    Louis Lavelle
    Associate Editor
    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • Dr.J.Sarkar

    Admission process of some of the top business schools in USA is flawed.Academic background,experience profile(kind of reputed company,salary etc.), GMAT score,and Interview of the candidate must be the main criteria as these cannot be manipulated.Things like Eassy,Recomendation letters etc. can be manipulated by well connected candidates in many countries.

  • Bill

    Business week is a garbage ranking. It is based on “employer feedback” reviews. The results make perfect sense …. Deutsche Bank, BofA, etc prefer Chicago grads over Harvard/Stanford. (Because nobody from Harvard/Stanford accept their offers/mediocre salary). Does that really mean Chicago is a better program?

    In the end, people are most interested in the school which has the smartest group of classmates (low admit ratio/high yield), and provides the best exit opportunities.

    Thus, any ranking which doesn’t start off with:
    1.) Stanford
    2.) HBS
    3.) Wharton
    4/5/6/7.) MIT/Kellogg/Chicago/Columbia

    …. is inherently flawed.

  • DannyS

    At the core of the shortcoming of all MBA ranking methodologies is their focus on short-term results. While it is understandable why an applicant may be concerned about the first job he or she will take our of business school, no one makes the investment to earn an MBA just for that first job offer. Every MBA applicant should be interested in the long-term benefits and returns that come from earning an MBA from a specific school. A publication which is interested in tapping into those sorts of benefits should be surveying graduates 10, 15, or 20 years out of business school.

  • Jennie Walker

    Thanks for the article. It has several good points. Your point about the rankings not focusing on actual student experience especially resonated with me. I was a little surprised later in the article, though, with the remarks about diversity and language acquisition being meaningless. Diversity experiences and cultural skill building are quite significant in student experiences specifically and in developing our future leaders generally. This is substantiated by a comprehensive analysis of the global leadership development literature and student development in MBA programs that I have done for my dissertation.

  • Dear Poets and Quants:

    Congratulations for this story. That is very useful for us, AméricaEconoméa, the most important business magazine in Latin America.

    Since 15 years, we have been ranking the best Business Schools in Latin America, and a few years a go we also started doing the ranking of the best Global Schools.

    You can see our work here.

    I am AméricaEconomía’s MBA & Executive Education Channel editor. We publish daily news and articles with trends and perspectives to the latin american MBA industry.

    If you want, contact me to explore some colaboration ways.

    Best Regards,

  • Matty

    All of their biennial rankings come out in August of odd numbered years, so I assume we can expect the next one this August.

  • MBAGrad

    Does anyone know when the new Forbes ranking will be published?

  • Petran

    John, thanks for the great article and discussion. It would have saved me a lot of effort if I had come across it before choosing a B-School.

  • Red Poet,

    I agree with you. Those claims are ridiculous.

  • Chris Lowe said:

    “Women are also less able in quant related tasks (this is a PROVEN fact that numerous scientific studies have corroborated). Women are also less able as leaders and managers (and yes studies have been done proving this).”

    These kinds of statements are troubling, and I can’t believe that they have gone unchallenged for — what, three months now?

    I challenge the author to defend these claims.

  • As someone who understands the pitfalls to statistics, I am very pleased to have found your ‘ranking of the rankings.’ I’ve only just recently considered the possibility of enrolling in an MBA program and this article has been abundantly helpful in identifying the biases before they are thrust upon me. Thanks!

    With Love and Gratitude,


  • Philippe,

    Thanks much for your very thoughtful and insightful comments. You make a very real and important point: it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate the truly multi-cultural experience you can get in a very good European MBA program. That is less true in China or India where the vast majority of students are Chinese or Indian–even more so than U.S. students in U.S. schools.


  • Dear John
    I just came accross this site which I found very helpfull to students. I have done an MBA at HBS, thaught at Stanford and INSEAD and now as Dean of Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium also have an international MBA (BIMBA) at Beijing University.
    No doubt that up to a few years ago and in some dimensions today still the very top US schools surpass the top internationally. However in relevance of research for business, company specific programmes, real multi-cultural classrooms, and especially openness to multiple thruths about our economic and social systems I would put more international schools in my top ten than american ones. The insead mba experience for example is of a competely different international and multicultural level than any US one. Even a smaller school like Vlerick has 39 nationalities in a 90 student mba, all experiencing an exchange with a top Chinese programme and all experienceing a ‘giving back ‘ project with ngo’s accross the globe.
    I am afraid the US -apart from a couple of schools such as harvard- has not yet solved the inherent contradictions between faculty interested in teaching as little as possible, and concentrating on A journal research for their peers, and the business community asking for relevance and real learning,

  • Abhishek Sharma

    Hey guys,

    I am an aspirant of the Class of 2014 at one of the top 5 Business programs around the world. I have found articles on this site to be reasonable and self correcting in a way that leaves little scope for Bias. And every article ever written has to have a point of view, and John very clearly takes a stand when he says that the 4 best B-schools of the U.S. are better than their counterparts in Europe. You can love or hate that.

    As a student and a professional in one of the most dynamic economies in the world at present, India, I just want to state that, “Yes, the U.S. is the ‘Mecca'” of business and the heart of capitalism. Most of the Great Corporations in the last century originated in the US and were, in fact, “nation-building” companies, they may be struggling today however over a period of 100 years every company falters, hell, top three in every industry change in approximately 25-30 years, and we are talking about a century here.

    I agree that Europe has a culture which is richer as compared to that of U.S. However, that culture is often also accompanied with lot of “notions” which are often written in stone. The U.S. on the other hand is a place where you can dream big and often turn your dream into reality.

    As for the bigger question as to which programs are the best, I would never believe that IESE is the best program in the world, When I join a school it will be because of its resolve to stand the test of time, and the “Awe” that it creates in a recruiters mind. Because quite simply the fact is “Every Student passing out of the top 20 programs from around the world will have something that’s working for him and will be able to market himself to potential recruiters. However, there are only a handful Institutions around the world which command the respect of one and all around the world and are not just celebrated regionally.

  • Sam,

    Because the BW ranking has been around longer than any other, and because it captures data that is otherwise unavailable in the marketplace, it is highly influential. The underlying philosophy of BW’s methodology is that you already have access from the schools to GMAT scores, selectivity, compensation and employment data. If you want to rank schools on those criteria, you’re able to do that on your own. What BusinessWeek brings to the game is data that would otherwise be unaccessible to you: what graduates think of the experience they’ve just had and what companies who actively recruit MBAs think about the product they’ve bought. That may have more to do with “customer satisfaction” than “quality,” but that’s what the BW survey measures.


  • Sam

    This article loses all credibility when it states businessweek’s ranking is the granddaddy of all bschool rankings. Businessweek’s rankings questionable at best, with Chicago at #1, SMU at #12, and MSU at #20. I’ve met a number of Chicago students who were incapable of making a decision in the business world… maybe they were good at standardized tests? I can’t say the same about Berkeley, Stanford, HBS, UCLA or USC grads. SMU and MSU should not be in the top 25 unless you want to call the rankings the biannual “feel good rankings,” the facts are the facts (selectivity, salary, etc). US News and World Report is the only ranking that makes any sort of sense, but they should put a higher percentage of the score on selectivity of school… selectivity is THE MOST important factor of a business school like the talent of HS football players is for a collegiate football program. Also, one of the “Cons” for many of the rankings is that they are US-centric, but most people who use the rankings are only looking for schools in the US. It could very well be a “Pro” for the majority of people. Just my 2 cents.

  • Chris Lowe

    There is world outside America and you have to look broad and look wide.


    Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. The US owns the world. What the US doesn’t own it takes or it bombs. That’s fact. Love it or hate it and then accept it. China and perhaps Brazil are the ONLY countries even close to the US as far as economic power is concerned. Europe is a running joke with their economies tanking and the Euro getting POPPED. Europeans just can’t take the fact that they have poor institutions that aren’t well respected (London Business School and Oxford being exceptions). I’d like to hear about ONE major company leader (self made not inherited) that went to one of these Euro schools. The best and brightest are being sent to the USA to go to Harvard and Wharton.

    Females are underpresented? GIMME A BREAK! Less women apply to B-school and that is why LESS ARE ACCEPTED. Women are also less able in quant related tasks (this is a PROVEN fact that numerous scientific studies have corroborated). Women are also less able as leaders and managers (and yes studies have been done proving this). Are there exceptions? OF COURSE. There is no doubt in my mind that there are women more able than most men in any field. But the truth is that business is more of a man’s world. An AMERICAN man’s world. Deal with it.

  • Hi, this was an interesting group of articles. I was wondering if there is a meta-list of criterion (perhaps I missed it?) which you created to do your meta-ranking. I’ve gleaned some of the criterion from this article but wonder if perhaps there is an overall list which ranks/weights the criterion.
    I work as lecturer and a program coordinator at a university in Germany and my dean passed an article in a German business magazine about this meta-ranking. This lead me to your website. Great stuff. At any rate, he (my dean) was quite interested and hoped to use the criterion to change his faculty for the better.

  • Wonderfully written, preserve those approaching. We want extra level of quality posts like this on the internet. Bookmarked!

  • I normally do not stay around very long, however I really enjoyed your site. Thanks for all the quality content, keep it up.

  • Austin

    I remember being given some excellent advice regarding rankings when I was deciding where to study. I was told, much as this article has articulated, that the rankings are all slightly flawed. However, over time there is a degree of consistency within each tier; the top tier (top ten) and second tier (next ten) schools remain much the same with movement between tiers but only slowly over many years. More important than specific rankings is which tier prospective schools sit.

    When I was a student at London Business School I was proud that we jointly topped the FT rankings in 2009 but I would never have said we were better than any other top tier school.

    As a Sloan Fellow it is also nice to sit back and watch the competitive heat genereted between MBA programmes. The LBS Sloan Programme has been ranked in the top three Sloan Programmes worldwide for the last 40 years 🙂

  • Luis

    There is a very lively discussion going on in Business Week’s forum about a claim the FT made that US schools are seeing their power begin to wane… Here: http://forums.businessweek.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=1&nav=messages&webtag=bw-bschools&tid=85948.

    It seems to have stirred a lot of heated feelings. Most of the counter-arguments seem to revolve around the notion that American B-Schools are so far ahead that it is inconceivable to entertain the idea that others are catching up. I, personally, find it dangerous when people use their own perceptions as a means of backing up, guess what, those very perceptions.

  • @Cookie: Thank you for pointing out the PPP adjustment done by FT. The figures make sense now, but I do believe that the adjustment should be clearly mentioned as it misleads a lot of International students about the living standards in a country like India. Cheers !!!

  • Cookie

    Vikas, check my quote above on the PPP adjustment that FT applies to salaries. It’s a very basic but very important point on the FT ranking


    Which is the best B-school in India?

  • Vikas

    A very insightful and informative post explaining the ins and outs of the various MBA Rankings.

    Finally, someone did point out the flaw in the weighted salary of an ISB MBA quoted by FT. I am a native of Hyderabad, where ISB is located. I’ve got a good number of friends who are currently studying at ISB and a few who graduated last year. Whenever I ask them about the ‘correct’ placement figures, every friend of mine has the same answer … “The Placement Team is pretty tight-lipped about the numbers”. Always makes me wonder why ? I have not met a single ISB graduate who makes more than INR 4500000(approx. equivalent to $100k), and I’ve met quite a few.

    When I see such a disparity in the quoted numbers and the real numbers, it makes me wonder how valid the various rankings really are ?

    Cheers !!

  • Please be assured that I am not assuming that an MBA earned in the U.S. is better than one outside. That is not true. I do, however, believe that there the very best schools outside the U.S. still aren’t as good as the very best schools in the U.S. There are now quite a few exceptional business schools all over the world that are as good, if not better, than most of the business schools in the U.S. It may also be important to explain what I mean by best: my definition doesn’t merely involve the basic instruction inside a classroom. It also involves quality of the faculty and the students, the quality and variety of teaching, of the infrastructure support for the program, of the facilities, of the ties with prestige companies and executives, of the ability to attract the very best employers of MBAs, and of the depth, size and prestige of the alumni network. All of these factors are essential to the overall reputation and worth of the degree. It’s very hard for a relatively new MBA program (something started within the last 20 years) to equal or exceed one that has been in existence for more than 100 years, such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Wharton, Chicago, and Northwestern, or 85 years in the case of a Stanford. You can get accounting, finance, statistics, marketing, strategy and organizational behavior courses that are as good, possibly better, than the best U.S. schools offer, but it’s very hard to match the overall quality of the MBA experience at well-endowed and -resourced schools that have perfected that experience over 85-plus years. Thankfully, U.S. business schools are not like U.S. auto companies.

  • Tiago

    As an European I find it narrow minded and cocky that you automatically assume that an MBA outside US can by no means be better, or equal, than an American one. I seriously doubt that you have data to back that up!
    Nevertheless, I’m sure this article reflects a widespread idea across US, so I’ll consider it when applying to the MBA. (Or maybe not, because the majority of programs have 2 years.)

  • Very good point. Thanks for making it.

  • Thanks for your insightful comment. I think it adds greatly to the discussion.

  • Cookie


    On the FT salaries:
    “Insiders also believe this data, reported to the FT by the schools, is being fudged by some schools who also include in the number their Executive MBA grads who already have high paid jobs. For example, the reported “weighted salary” for an MBA from The Indian School of Business is $141,291, a sum that exceeds what MBAs are making at Oxford, Cambridge, Northwestern, Berkeley, Duke, Michigan, and New York University, among many of the other top schools in the world. It simply strains credulity.”

    The reason for the 141k in India is not alleged cheating (and I don’t think such an allusion helps your argument) but rather the fact that the Financial Times is using a PPP adjustment on salaries to compare salaries across countries. The PPP is based on the World Bank numbers and yielded about 3x more for India vs the US, e.g. the 141k in India is equivalent to a salary of about USD 45k, but of course a 45k salary in Delhi or Ahmedabad carries you a lot further than a a 45k salary in New York City.

    The real flaw in the FT calculations is that they are using a country PPP for a city living standard. As a graduate in Shanghai, I would get paid a salary that is competitive for Shanghai (which is fast approaching pricier western levels for cost of living), while it gets converted into a US-equivalent salary at the PPP for China as a whole (i.e. taking an average of all the cities and all the poor farmers across the vast lands of China).


  • Cookie


    “All the top U.S. schools have anywhere from a third to 40% of the students from outside the U.S. I’d say that is pretty international, especially when many U.S. states have the size and populations of some European nations and the regional differences in the U.S. lead to major cultural differences and references.”

    I would like to point out two issues with your argument:
    1. I have studied my MBA both at one of the leading non-US and at one of the top US-schools. The 30-40% of international students that you quote is simply a delusion compared to the international profile at some of the best non-US schools. Why? The passports of the students might say Mexico, Argentina, Austria or China, but most that i have met have lived in the US for all their educational years if not their whole life. The US does a very good job at integrating people into the US culture, but in this case with the unfortunate result of diminishing the cultural variety. The percentage of true international students that i have observed at this one top US school is probably more like 5%.
    2. Secondly, i find it hard to follow your argument that US states compare to European nations in terms of cultural variety just because they have the same size or populations. The US is justifiably known for its coherent culture in the same way as Europe and even more Asia are known to celebrate their different cultures.

    One little anecdote to share: At this top US school, I attended a class called International Tax Strategy. In the first lesson the (young) professor stood up and said most countries in the world share the US tax system and only very few countries in the world have a territorial taxation system. Therefore our strategies would be based on the US model. Nice, i thought, except to find out that most (and relevant) countries in the world do NOT follow the US taxation system…


  • wordsmith

    John, thank you for your exquisite, journalistic commitment and experience in the MBA arena I am a big fan of yours. I understand your position that the “Big 4” American MBA programs are the best in the world because of their vast resources relative to the top 2 or 3 non-U.S. MBA programs. This makes sense historically however, Big 4 grads have often mentioned that they find themselves competing for the same jobs in one of the handful of major U.S. cities. Assuming then that MBA’s are relatively interchangeable, how do Big 4 grads achieve a comparative advantage with one another in order to get that dream job? Furthermore, businesses and investors are focusing on opportunities outside the U.S. because of international prospects for growth. Since the top 2 or 3 non-U.S. MBA programs are much more versed in grooming their students to become global business leaders than U.S. MBA programs doesn’t this give non-U.S. MBA grads a clear competitive advantage? The bottom-line is, despite larger endowments or deeper alumnus ties you are markedly discounting the present value of an international education given the significance in current trends of globalization and growth. Wouldn’t you agree?

  • That is absolutely true: there is no one best school for everyone. Each school has its own unique culture, specialty strengths, teaching methods, faculty, placement function, and alumni network. Frankly, I believe, the students are more interchangeable than most believe. They are an amazingly smart, driven, eclectic bunch, with very high inter-personnel skills. The general quality of most of these attributes begins to decline as you move down the rankings. There may be fewer specialties, less accomplished faculty, weaker placement support and fewer prestige recruiters, less valuable alumni network, and the overall quality of the study body begins to erode. On this latter point, you’ll have high GMATs but possibly lower inter-personnel skills, or vice versa. In other words, the student body and the faculty for that matter, will be less consistent in overall quality. So it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get an alum to help you with a job or a business deal. It does mean, as you move down the rankings, that the person may not be as well connected or may not return your call. It doesn’t mean that you won’t find exceptionally smart, well-rounded students. You will, but they may be a percentage of your class, not your entire class. As for the historic best in the world, that’s not a bad list you have there. I would include a few more schools, including Chicago, Dartmouth, MIT, and Columbia. Truth is, you can get a great MBA education at a lot of schools deep into the list. The differences are what I cite above. Good luck.

  • RS

    John, realizing that there’s no one best school for everyone, am I correct that your perception is those four schools you mention are *historically* the best in the world and in that order? (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg.)

  • Luis, that’s a fair question. I wrote that statement because I believe it. The four U.S. schools I mentioned have incredible resources that vastly exceed those of the London Business School: faculty, support staff, facilities, the very best students, strong and deep alumni networks that span the globe. They have been at the forefront of management education for decades so their brands are well recognized and entrenched everywhere. London is a superb institution, but its excellence is a more recent development. The Financial Times, for instance, which has named LBS best in the world for the past two years, never ranked it that high before. Check out our smackdown report between London and Wharton to see the rise of London. So the school simply doesn’t match up against these other U.S. giants–in terms of faculty, support staff, facilities, student quality, the depth and power of the alumni network, or the aura of a brand that has stood the test of time. If you want, however, the quintessential international experience, or you want to go to a great school in Europe, or you prefer to work in London or another European capital, I would seriously consider London over the four schools in the U.S. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Luis

    Hi John,

    Would you care to elaborate a little more on the following:

    “It’s just not even credible to think that London Business School can give you a better MBA education than Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, or Northwestern.”?

    Just curious to see whether this opinion is based on actual data or if it is more of a perception that we can’t really check.

  • Thanks Benny. You’re absolutely right: the Beyond The Pinstripes ranking by the Aspen Institute is worth a consult, particularly for anyone who is interested in social entrepreneurship and sustainability. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Benny H.

    John, great blog that adds some much needed transparency to the MBA ranking space. I absolutely agree that all MBA rankings have certain flaws and are only valuable for evaluating certain factors of the quality of an MBA program.

    As Steve mentioned in a previous post, the America Economia ranking could be a good addition to the list in order to provide an even more complete picture. Another ranking that i find very interesting, due to its unique approach and focus on social and environmental stewardship, is the Aspen Institute ranking: http://beyondgreypinstripes.org/rankings/index.cfm.

  • That’s a good question: all these rankings reflect the quality and the reputation of each school’s full-time MBA program, whether it is a one-year or a two-year program. Because the full-time MBA is almost always the flagship program of a school, it’s often interpreted as a sign of the school’s overall quality. However, rankings of Executive MBA programs, part-time programs, and specialized programs can be significantly different.

  • Jk prez

    Are all these rankings for MBA programs or of overall graduate business schools
    which have other business programs?

  • I certainly don’t want to pat myself on the back. You raise a good and valuable point. There are people out there who will do things that are less than honest if it might help their cause. Every ranking is susceptible to cheating and fudging. Every ranking, including BusinessWeek’s, is flawed in some way.

  • Frustrated at a regional school

    In an effort to ensure schools don’t “game” recruiter responses, BW annoints an individual recruiter who may have strong ties to a school themselves, but that seems to not be questioned at all. We also know that larger programs will likely have a larger yield at recruiting companies which would cause the recruiter to value larger programs more highly. This discriminates entirely against strong regional programs which may never get a mention. This approach purports to take the high road while actually creating a completely discriminatory process that does not fairly represent the quality of the output of small and regional programs. Size does not indicate quality and I wish John and Business Week would quit patting themselves on the back for a process that is rigged differently, but still rigged.

  • Thanks much Nick for your very thoughtful and well-argued post.

  • John, I think your comments regarding general agreement about the supremacy of the US in graduate business education are no longer accepted automatically over this side of the water (Europe).

    We are now in a situation where business schools are seen to have completely failed many stakeholders in recent years. Schools in Europe (hands up here, I am working at ESMT in Berlin, Germany) are, I believe, more likely to integrate some necessary aspects of corporate responsibility into their courses and values. Our responsibility as business schools has changed. Schools can’t simply continue along the American way of unbridled shareholder focus.

    With less of a burden of history among European or Asian schools, I believe we are leading this change.

    Good luck with the site.


  • Roxx,

    Thanks much for your heartfelt comments. Truth is, all of the rankings have flaws in them. Some more than others, but there is no perfect way to rank the overall quality of an MBA education. These surveys do take a stab at measuring quality and some come closer than the others. The most important thing to remember is that the chosen methodology largely determines the result. So it’s crucial for you to know what goes into a ranking and where you might have issue with it.

    All the top U.S. schools have anywhere from a third to 40% of the students from outside the U.S. I’d say that is pretty international, especially when many U.S. states have the size and populations of some European nations and the regional differences in the U.S. lead to major cultural differences and references. As we point out, there are many business schools outside the U.S. that are as good or even better than U.S. schools commonly ranked among the top 25. But pretty much everyone agrees, on this side of the pond and across the pond, that the U.S. remains the world leader in graduate business education.

  • Roxx

    This email is in response to your article “Turing the Tables: Ranking the MBA Rankings”

    The Economist’ MBA rankings are not at all flawed. The most important factor in the rankings is “Internationalism” and “Diversity” that means, what % of your class has International students, from how many countries and what % of your class if Female.

    These are the factors where the US schools lack heavily and the Internationalism and Diversity of US schools has only declined with time. The reason???

    1. The admission officers at US schools are much more worried that their European or Asian counterparts about future MBA’s employability and hence turn down many highly qualified International students applications. This has rightly been said by a recent interview with Georgia Tech’s MBA Admissions Director Paula Wilson.

    2. The tuition and required fees at US schools have been increasing steadily but their loan and scholarship programs for International students have dried up completely with US schools showing no additional efforts to help prospective International students attend US schools.

    3. The Economist or FT ranking is a ranking for the world and of the world and not only US and arguably there are some of the finest business schools outside US also. IESE has a post MBA average salary of US$ 111,000 with a student admission rate of 18%, then why can’t it match Harvard, Wharton, Columbia? IESE has a guaranteed loan program with Banco Sabadell” covering 100% of Tuition fee. This shows the commitment of IESE towards the International students.

    There is world outside America and you have to look broad and look wide.


  • Roxx

    The Economist’ MBA rankings are not at all flawed. The most important factor in the rankings is “Internationalism” and “Diversity” that means, what % of your class has International students, from how many countries and what % of your class if Female.

    These are the factors where the US schools lack heavily and the Internationalism and Diversity of US schools has only declined with time. The reason???

    1. The admission officers at US schools are much more worried that their European or Asian counterparts about future MBA’s employability and hence turn down many highly qualified International students applications. This has rightly been said by a recent interview with Georgia Tech’s MBA Admissions Director Paula Wilson.

    2. The tuition and required fees at US schools have been increasing steadily but their loan and scholarship programs for International students have dried up completely with US schools showing no additional efforts to help prospective International students attend US schools.

    3. The Economist or FT ranking is a ranking for the world and of the world and not only US and arguably there are some of the finest business schools outside US also. IESE has a post MBA average salary of US$ 111,000 with a student admission rate of 18%, then why can’t it match Harvard, Wharton, Columbia?

    There is world outside America and you have to look broad and look wide.


  • Steve

    Another widely-circulated annual MBA ranking worth consideration comes from America Economia, a leading Latin American business magazine. Similar to the Financial Times and Economist rankings, AE’s list places U.S. and non-U.S. schools side-by-side in a comprehensive global lineup. However, unlike European (and U.S.) publications’ rankings, the AE list of the top 60 worldwide MBA programs includes none from its own region. The AE ranking may thus tease out some of the implicit “hometown” favoritism found in other global MBA rankings.

    It is worth noting that a small component (5%) of each school’s final rank is determined by its presence in and connections with the Latin America region. The other components of scoring include “selectivity” (30%), comprised of GMAT score and acceptance rate profiles; “faculty quality” (20%), which considers the proportion of teachers with PhDs; “salary” (20%), which reflects gross post-MBA salaries and salary gains following the MBA course; and finally the “prestige” of each program (25%), as measured by a reader survey conducted by America Economia.

    Programs topping the 2010 AE rankings include schools familiar to “top-five” positions in the other rankings mentioned in your article:

    1. Harvard Business School
    2. London Business School
    3. IE Business School
    4. IESE Business School
    5. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

    The full list can be accessed via the following link:


  • TC

    I go with BusinessWeek’s rankings. Even one of my company’s top executives recommended the BusinessWeek list!

  • s g

    Very informative article. As a B-school applicant, I’m going to be a regular (read fanatic) reader on this website.

  • Vipul

    I found out about this site from from an article by BusinessWeek and I think I’ll be coming back often. Thanks for listing the pros and cons of each of the major lists. It would help prospective students make better decisions om which schools to attend.

    In my opinion, the most important factors for grading a school should be the following. Everything else seems meaningless.

    1) Student satisfaction after completion of the MBA.
    2) Employer opinions about the program.
    3) % of students getting job offers, 3 months after graduation.
    4) ROI

  • Thanks for coming to Poets&Quants and reading the critique. I think it’s important for everyone to understand that all these lists–including the one I created in 1988–tell you pretty much what the methodology spits out. So it’s very crucial to get a grip on the flaws of each survey in evaluating the worth of the results.

  • John B Pascual

    Finally, MBA rankings are being ranked. MBA hopefuls will now be able to know which ranking is more relevant (and credible?) for them. And yes, I was skeptical about the list of The Economist. Thanks for this John.

  • Yes, indeed. There’s little doubt that the steady march toward higher average GMAT scores at the top schools is at least partially due to rankings pressure. As you know, U.S. News uses GMAT scores for entering classes as a key component of its ranking. So does The Financial Times and The Economist. Generally, GMAT scores are heavily weighted in these rankings so many schools, unfortunately, are entering high GMATS instead of more well-balanced students who are far more likely to have leadership potential and, therefore, leadership success.

  • Jennifer Merritt

    Ah, intellectual capital… I remember dreaming up that addition with your guidance and then deciding the only way to do it right and not miss any names was by hand (since automated searches only captured the first author of a journal piece). Poor interns. But I do have a comment and question: Isn’t the reason BW doesn’t use GMAT scores because of the belief that doing so simply causes more gaming of the rankings by schools AND pushes schools to select a less diverse (in many ways, but one big one being professional background)?

  • kate

    Well done here, tho its funny for me to read knowing the back-story!