Poets&Quants’ Top 100 MBA Programs in the U.S.

SMU’s unusually high rank from BusinessWeek, is in contrast to its standing in every other major poll: Forbes ranks Cox 33; U.S. News puts it at 49; The Economist at 78, and The Financial Times at 96. Only four years ago, SMU didn’t even crack BusinessWeek’s top 30 list.

The reason why Cox did so well in the latest BusinessWeek ranking is due to the surprisingly high score it received in BW’s survey of corporate recruiters—sixth. Yet, a full third of this year’s graduating class at Cox were without jobs three months later. That’s even worse than the 27% jobless number of a year-earlier, despite a fall of $6,000 a year in median starting salaries to $81,000 this year from $87,000 in 2009. It was the worst performance of any school in BusinessWeek’s top 30 list. A spokesman for Cox attributed the continual decline to turnover in its career services office.

It’s hardly a record that would warrant a rank of sixth in BW’s poll of MBA recruiters. Whatever the reason for the odd showing—whether it’s polling sample problem or an orchestrated lobbying campaign by SMU with recruiters—it’s a questionable result. By combining it with the four other major rankings, however, SMU does not better than 34th in the Poets&Quants survey.

Another example is the University of Rochester’s Simon School, long a highly regarded business school that has produced some of the most distinguished business academics. The Economist puts Simon 93rd in its global ranking—a result that is 66 spots lower than Simon’s best rank of 27 from U.S. News and 45 places lower than Simon’s next worst rank of 48 from The Financial Times. The anomaly is clearly The Economist ranking. Combining all five surveys, Poets&Quants ranks the school 35th.

THIS RANKING ALSO AWARDS CONSISTENCY ACROSS THE FIVE MAJOR LISTS.

Another interesting finding is that a few schools—most notably No. 20 Emory University’s Goizueta School, No. 27 Rice University’s Jones School, and No. 28 Vanderbilt’s University’s Owen School—are ranked higher by Poets&Quants than they are in any of the five rankings. Why? Because our composite ranking tends to award consistency across the five major lists, resulting in a more credible result.

Users of this ranking also should understand that the lower a school is ranked, the more likely its specific rank is based on increasingly thin data. For example, the ranking of some 36 of the top 100 is informed by the richest set of data available because those schools appear on all five lists. Toward the bottom of the 100, however, the ranking for 24 schools is based on only a single list, most often that of U.S. News & World Report, The Financial Times, or The Economist, all of which rank the largest number of schools—100 institutions each. While it’s helpful to know which schools round out the Poets&Quants top 100, it’s also important to understand that the result may be less useful because it is based on less information.

Interestingly, the differences in specific ranks for schools in the top group of 50 or so schools appear more significant than the bottom 50. Unlike many rankings, we publish an index that shows how far ahead or behind any one school might be versus another. You can then make your own judgments about how statistically meaningful one rank is from another. The gap between any group of ten schools in the top half of the 100 tends to be roughly 10 to 12 index points. But in the bottom half, particularly the last 40 schools, the difference between one group of ten and the next group is only four or three index points. Translation: the quality differences among the schools ranked 60th to 100 are small and far less meaningful than the differences among the top 60 schools.

HOW TO USE THE P&Q RANKING.

If you’re choosing an MBA program solely on the basis of a school’s brand—its overall image and reputation based on the quality of the institution and its graduates—we believe there is little substantive difference within any group of schools separated by four to five index points. The only exception to this rule probably applies to Harvard and Stanford, given the equity those MBA brands wield due to attributes, such as faculty quality, available resources, and alumni networks, not fully captured by rankings.

How do use the index numbers? Yale’s School of Management, with an index score of 86.4, has a brand image that is not significantly better than Cornell (with an index score of 84.2) or Carnegie Mellon (81.6), which is ranked just below Yale. Likewise, Berkeley (with an index score of 90.8), Duke (88.7), Virginia (88.4), NYU (87.3), and Michigan (86.5), schools ranked above Yale, do not have brands that are “significantly better” than Yale’s.

Obviously, there are a lot of other reasons to choose a school beyond brand image, including geography, the type of job you ultimately want, a school’s expertise in a specific subject such as marketing or entrepreneurship, culture, and teaching methods. In that case, you’ll still want to factor in a school’s overall reputation but differences in rank and index numbers may be less meaningful. If you can’t get into Harvard, for example, but you’re convinced that the case study method of learning is ideal for you, the most obvious next place to apply is the University of Virginia’s Darden School. If you’re interested in working for a technology firm, you’re going to have a significant advantage at Stanford or Berkeley than you would at Columbia or Wharton. And if you want a highly collaborative culture where cutthroat competition is entirely verboten, you might want to apply to Kellogg, Dartmouth, or Cornell—regardless of what other more highly ranked schools accepted you.

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.