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).


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

  • Louis

    Do you have anything to back that up? Because from what I’ve seen, they are pretty comparable, with Duke having an edge over Darden in terms of post-MBA salaries, MBB placements, etc. Don’t act like a fuck!ng fanboy. Get real here.

  • Louis

    A bunch of bullshit. Do some research, and stop being ignorant.

  • Agreed. You can’t measure a school solely by its outputs because schools get different inputs. But when you compare the difference between the inputs (incoming students) to the outputs (graduates) Darden blows Duke and just about everyone else out of the water. Duke is great but it isn’t Darden.

  • wahoo

    I second that the Duke-Darden smackdown request, though I feel Darden deserves to be compared to better!

  • Cathy

    The undergrad rankings of business schools seems highly manipulated, every program has a starting salary of $55,000. University of Richmond recruiter survey ranking is 95 yet they rank 15th ! Wake Forest ranks 81st among recruiters and has an average salary of $60,000 dollars, William & Mason 85th but ranked 25th. It does not add up (see below) !

  • Ken

    I think what is important here is to know what are the various salaries in ” MBA ” cities like NYC, Chicago, Boston, LA and SF, second tier being Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami. What one learns in an MBA as opposed to the new mini version is generally employed in a large company or consulting firm. Where are regional school like Iowa, BYU have their students working post graduation ? I think there is a huge manipulation of salary data by regional programs that are not placing their grads in the above 1st tier cities ! Furthermore there is a big discrepancy between salaries say in NYC vs Provo or the like, second tier cities pay less so how can regional programs have comparable salaries to say USC, UCLA, Berkeley or NYU ?

    I think there is massive manipulation of salary data going on outside of top 20 programs, example a BYU or Minnesota grad would have a tough time getting a job in NYC or even LA. Rankings are really about who is willing to manipulate the data the best. Programs for BW’s have their grads rate their program highly and the recruiter survey is somewhat vague. Just who recruits at the likes of BYU given the economy ? Startups outside of SF do not really give a hoot about an MBA so for regionals to say that is where their jobs are coming from is suspect.

  • WalterB


    It would be nice to see a New York MBA centric piece done. When you say NYU does not proactively do media/marketing could you explain , does Columbia ?

  • orang1

    John, you have mentioned this in the past and the funny thing is that their website says all the number of times they appear in business media on a given day. I think part of it is because they are so tied to Wall Street that maybe marketing and PR have not been high on their list. But with the financial sector having difficulties, they may need to take a second look at that.

  • Nels

    When can we expect a B-School Smackdown between Duke – Darden, Booth – Wharton, Marshall – Anderson etc John?

  • JohnAByrne

    We would love to do much more coverage of Stern. Frankly, we rarely if ever hear from the school. Many other schools are much more proactive with the media and spend more time on marketing than Stern.

  • TA

    Curious to know why Stern does not get a lot of facetime on P&Q?