Forbes’ 2009 MBA Ranking

This is the sixth biennial list compiled by Forbes based on a simple but important formula: the return on investment graduates have achieved after five years. The Forbes study—based on a survey of 4,080 responding alums from 103 schools–shows that alumni of the top five MBA programs typically earn more than $200,000 five years out of school.  Stanford topped the latest Forbes ranking because the median salary of an MBA from the class of 2004 was $225,000, highest among all U.S. rivals. Forbes figures that the typical Stanford student graduating in 2004 paid $235,000 for the MBA, a sum including two years of forgone salary (at Stanford the average MBA had a median salary of $82,000 before entering school).

Pro: It’s simple and elegant and doesn’t pretend to measure the quality of the MBA experience or the actual education you receive. It’s all about dollars and cents, measuring the worth of a degree five years after graduation.

Con: Forbes ranking is U.S.-centric, though Forbes does separate lists of non-U.S. institutions that award MBAs in one year and in two-year programs. The biggest problem is that the ranking only measures compensation versus the cost of getting the MBA. Return on investment, while interesting and important, is hardly a measure of the quality of the education or the experience you’ll have. Forbes also gets this data from alums so there could also be sampling bias (alums who are not making much money would probably be less likely to return the survey than those who are doing well). And because alums know that their answers result in an immediate ranking, they may want to inflate their compensation to improve the rank of their school.

Forbes Rank & SchoolP&QBWU.S. NewsFTEconomist
1.  Stanford School of Business26147
2.  Dartmouth College (Tuck)5127146
3.  Harvard Business School12135
4.  Chicago (Booth)31594
5.  Pennsylvania (Wharton)44529
6.  Columbia Business School679620
7.  Cornell (Johnson)1411183632
8.  Northwestern (Kellogg)7342215
9.  Univ of Virginia (Darden)1316133124
10. Yale School of Management1524111627
11. Univ. of Texas-Austin1921165249
12. California-Berkeley (Haas)9107283
13. Duke (Fuqua)118142028
14. MIT (Sloan)893819
15. North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)1817214639
16. Brigham Young (Marriott)22223383NR
17. New York University (Stern)101391313
18. Michigan (Ross)125122825
19. UCLA (Anderson)1614153350
20. University of Iowa (Tippie)33ST426461
21. Michigan State (Broad)35ST4665NR
22. Emory (Goizueta)2123273452
23. Carnegie Mellon1719163433
24. Texas A&M (Mays)37NR3354NR
25. Indiana-Bloomington (Kelley)2015235746
26. Univ. of Minnesota (Carlson)31ST247562
27. Univ. of Connecticut (Storrs)38ST79NRNR
28. Penn State Univ. (Smeal)43NR48NR58
29. Maryland-College Park (Smith)2726454351
30. Vanderbilt (Owen)3030365764
31. Georgetown (McDonough)24ST243848
32. Southern California (Marshall)2325205736
33. Southern Methodist (Cox)2918499688
34. Wake Forest (Babcock)45NR46NR77
35. Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison39NR276754
36. Rollins College (Crummer)NRNRNRNRNR
37. Univ. of Rochester (Simon)36ST2748NR
38. Notre Dame (Mendoza)2520317134
39. Ohio State (Fisher)34ST216745
40. Univ. of Washington (Foster)2827337831
41. Washington Univ. (Olin)2628195065
42. Univ. of Tennessee-KnoxvilleNRNRNRNRNR
43. Univ. of Miami-Coral GablesNRNR8983NR
44. Georgia Institute of Technology322926NRNR
45. Purdue (Krannert)41ST3654NR
46. Boston College (Carroll)47NR3947NR
47. Rice University (Jones)46NR394477
48. SUNY-BuffaloNRNR70NRNR
49. William & Mary (Mason)NRNR75NRNR
50. Univ. of Georgia (Terry)NRNR59NRNR



NR means not rated by the publication.

ST means “second tier,” the rating given to 15 schools by BusinessWeek after it ranks the top 30.

Source: Forbes, 2009 ranking

  • Arthur Featherstonehaugh Dullsworthy

    “Through a glass darkly”?

    My point is, Bruce, that you don’t need no stinkin’ survey in Forbes to tell you that Darden is preferred to Johnson.

  • Bruce Vann

    Well, just like in real life you make the best decision that you can with the info that you have. We see through foggy glass on this one.

  • Arthur Featherstonehaugh Dullsworthy

    Dowagers rating debutantes at a cotillion.

    More seriously, I question the accuracy of self-reported numbers and I question whether there was a sufficient response to produce a representative picture of “returns.”

  • Bruce Vann

    It’s crazy to me that Johnson < Darden in this ranking. I guess saying that you have an Ivy league MBA does help in your return on investment.

  • Forbes does a separate ranking for non-U.S. schools. If you’d like to see where some of those schools stand, you can check out our list of the best schools outside the U.S. which also tells you where various surveys placed these MBA programs.

  • Peter Githinji

    Why are European and Asian schools not in the ranking?