INSEAD | Ms. Humble Auditor
GMAT 710, GPA 3.56
Harvard | Mr. Markets Guy
GMAT 760, GPA 3.62
Kellogg | Mr. Hope-I-Get-In
GMAT 720, GPA 3.62
Yale | Mr. AI & Fitness
GMAT 720, GPA 3.88
Stanford GSB | Just Jim
GRE 335, GPA 3.99
Harvard | Mr. RIPKobe
GMAT 750, GPA 3.87
HEC Paris | Mr. Indian Journalist
GMAT 690, GPA 2.8
Kellogg | Mr. Andrew
GMAT 720, GPA 3.6
Kellogg | Mr. Sales Engineer
GMAT 740, GPA 3.00
Kellogg | Ms. Clean Tech
GMAT 690, GPA 3.96
Chicago Booth | Mr. Masters To MBA
GMAT 730, GPA 3.9
NYU Stern | Mr. Long Shot
GRE 303, GPA 2.75
Kellogg | Ms. Kellogg Bound Ideator
GMAT 710, GPA 2.4
Darden | Ms. Teaching-To-Tech
GRE 326, GPA 3.47
Harvard | Mr. Amazon Manager
GMAT 740, GPA 3.2
Yale | Ms. Biotech
GMAT 740, GPA 3.29
Tuck | Mr. Winning Team
GMAT 760, GPA 7.95 out of 10
Harvard | Mr. Renewable Energy Investing
GMAT 740, GPA 4.0
Tuck | Mr. Strategic Sourcing
GMAT 720, GPA 3.90
Tuck | Mr. Recreational Pilot
GRE 326, GPA 3.99
Stanford GSB | Mr. Seller
GMAT 740, GPA 3.3
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Government Consultant
GMAT 600, GPA 3
Chicago Booth | Mr. Space Launch
GMAT 710, GPA 3.0
INSEAD | Mr. Media Startup
GMAT 710, GPA 3.65
MIT Sloan | Ms. MD MBA
GRE 307, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Mr. Research 2+2
GMAT 740, GPA 3.96
London Business School | Mr. Investment Finance
GMAT 750, GPA 2.2

MBA Rankings Largely ‘Follow The Money’

In “All the President’s Men,” a man in the dark shadows of an underground garage uttered one of the more memorable phrases in any movie.

“Follow the money,” advised Deep Throat, the code name for the crucial source of The Washington Post stories that broke the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.

Despite claims that MBA rankings measure the overall quality of a business school or the value of the degree a school grants, most major rankings have followed Deep Throat’s counsel. By and large, MBA rankings follow the money.

According to a new analysis of the top five most influential MBA rankings, salary and placement data vastly outweigh any other criteria in determining a school’s rank–not the value of an alumni network or the quality of the faculty or the learning experience in and outside a classroom (see table below).

NEARLY HALF THE WEIGHT IN THE TOP MBA RANKINGS REFLECT SALARY & PLACEMENT

In fact, 45% of the total weight in the five top rankings reflect salary and placement figures–often from surveys of alumni with response rates that can be questionable.

Alumni opinion? That’s worth about 15%. Recruiter opinion? Another 12%.

What about the actual quality of a class, measured by GMAT scores, grade point averages, admission acceptance rates or work experience? Those metrics account for about 9% of what the top five rankings measure.

Faculty? The published research by a business school’s professors, as well as the number of profs with Phds, account for about 8% of the weight in the top five rankings. Not all that much, given the importance business schools place on the quality of their faculty.

The logic behind the emphasis on MBA pay and jobs is simple: What the market actually pays for an MBA really determines the worth of the degree. Most people sign up to go for an MBA degree to get a better paying job and career. Otherwise, the significant investment in the degree would make little sense.

Comparison of Common Ranking Criteria

         Source: Matt Turner, PhD market researcher at UT-Austin’s McCombs School of Business

Problem is, MBA compensation also is a reflection of the career paths of a school’s MBAs as well as geography. MBAs who take jobs in consulting are paid a lot more than MBAs who go into marketing or retail. “The highest salaries are a reflection of consulting jobs,” says Matt Turner, a market researcher at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. “So, if you are interested anything other than consulting, what does a school’s high average starting salary really tell you? It’s pretty irrelevant.”

Related Stories:

U.S. News & World Report’s Historical MBA Rankings — 2012 to 2001

BusinessWeek’s Historical MBA Rankings — 2010 to 1988

Financial Times’ Historical MBA Rankings — 2012 to 2001

Ranking The Rankings

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.