The Top 100 U.S. MBA Programs of 2011

All of this goes to show another important consideration when evaluating rankings. The slightest change in the methodology of any ranking can often have a significant impact on the final results. In the interests of transparency, Poets&Quants publishes the actual index scores upon which our composite ranking is based (only BusinessWeek currently provides users with this underlying data) and is also making clear that we have made a change to methodology and explaining in detail the result of that change.

Publishing the underlying index score allows you to decide how meaningful one rank vs. another is. The difference between Stanford and Chicago is now so small in terms of reputation and prestige that it’s safe to say there is no significance to that difference.


Why would we even tweak the methodology? Of all the rankings, U.S. News gathers and weighs the most comprehensive set of qualitative data on the quality of an MBA experience. Previously, we valued U.S. News slightly below BusinessWeek and Forbes because its surveys of both B-school deans and corporate recruiters is severely flawed. But it can also be argued that BusinessWeek’s methodology tends to penalize schools with smaller graduating classes. That occurs because fewer corporate recruiters go to schools which have fewer MBAs to recruit and those that do go are often disappointed because the available pool of candidates is so much smaller. That’s a major reason why Stanford is ranked fifth on the BusinessWeek list.

Another important insight when looking at this ranking or any other: the further down you go on the list, the thinner the data gets. And the thinner the data, the less certainty one can attach to the result. Among the top 25 schools, for example, every single school is rated by each of the five most influential rankings. In the next group of 25, the schools ranked 26th through 50, only 11 have been rated by all five sources.

This trend continues. None of the schools ranked between 51 and 100 are rated by all five sources. In fact, the schools with ranks between 77 and 100 are all there on the basis of a single source: most likely U.S. News & World Report. The value of the Poets&Quants system in this case is mostly comparative. Users can clearly see how a school on just one list stacks up with others.


Whatever any school’s individual rank, by and large, these top MBA-granting institutions have fared well through the economic downturn and the continued global uncertainty. Though applications have been declining at many leading schools, the starting pay packages received by this year’s graduating classes was generally up, along with job offers at graduation and three months later. At Dartmouth’s Tuck School, Harvard and Columbia, 97% of the students had job offers within three months of graduation. And at most schools the incoming crop of this year’s newest students was among the best ever as judged by their GMAT scores and work experience. At Harvard, the median starting salary of a Class of 2011 graduate hit $120,000, up from $110,000 a year earlier. And one Stanford MBA landed a hedge fund job in the Northeast that paid the freshly minted graduate a guaranteed bonus of half a million dollars.

Harvard’s repeat honor comes at an opportune time. HBS Dean Nitin Nohira is in the midst of a highly ambitious effort to update the Harvard MBA experiece. The curriculum changes are lessening the school’s dependence on its previously sacrosanct case method of teaching that has been the dominant pedagogy at HBS since the mid-1920s. The most significant of these alterations has been a new first year course called FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development). Based on small-group learning experiences that focus on leadership, global business and entrepreneurship, it puts the focus on learning by doing.

Most daunting for the institution and the faculty is that Harvard has had to line up some 150 organizations willing to give meaningful project work during the January term to 900-plus MBA students in countries as varied as Vietnam, India and China for an eight-day global immersion experience. The whole idea has some rival deans wondering about the outcome.


“What’s unique is that it’s required,” says Robert Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School. “Every student will have to do it.  It’s a big deal. I admire and applaud Harvard. The question is, will this exercise speak to the students? We’ll find out. I’m rooting for them, and I admire their audacity.”

So far, there has been some student grumbling over their forthcoming project assignments. But overall, the new curriculum changes are being received positively, say students. If places were switched and deFonseka were handing out HBS grades, which are done by number instead of letters, he would give Dean Nohira a low 1, equal to an A-.

“I’m not just saying that because I’m worried about how this quote will be used,” says deFonseka. “He has been a very visible Dean, and has been open in communicating his plans with students.  He and his team have been pretty responsive when students have had problems with the new curriculum–for example their FIELD location assignments. There is work left to improve the new curriculum, as one would expect, but the direction that HBS is going is definitely the right one.”

(See next page for the start of the ranking)