The Questions BusinessWeek Asks MBAs

BWCOVERWhen I originally came up with the idea to rank the nation’s best business schools for BusinessWeek magazine in 1988, I wanted it to be little more than a report card to the schools from their most recent graduates. I wanted it to be a student satisfaction report card that answered the question: How satisfied were graduates with the MBA experience provided by their alma mater.

After all, MBA students came to graduate school with anywhere from two to five years of work experience. They were paying huge sums of money then and now to get the degree. And they were fairly discerning customers of the education they received. For two years, they had been graded by professors on their performance in class. It was not time for the tables to turn, for graduates to grade their professors, the school leadership, and the career placement function on their performance.


The first step was to devise a questionnaire that would appropriately measure the full “MBA experience.” I put together focus groups of current students from leading schools, grilling them on what they considered important: an up-to-date curriculum that taught practical skills, quality teaching in the classroom, the accessibility of the faculty outside class, superior classmates that they could learn from, a collaborative and supportive culture, and lastly support to ultimately find the job they wanted.

In all, there were 30 core questions, plus a few others to capture their views of their school’s efforts in such areas as international business, ethics, leadership, quality concepts (which were very hot at the time), diversity, and information technology. We also asked for data that had never been available before and never published: the size of the graduate’s outstanding educational loans, the number of job offers he or she received by graduation, their pay before business school and their first-year starting salary, signing bonus and other first-year compensation. At the time, some schools published salary and bonus data but not all did and they never disclosed what the pre-MBA salaries were.

The survey questions were based on a numerical scale of 1 to 10. On most questions, though not all, MBAs were asked to circle one to three if their satisfaction level was poor (in the bottom third) or seven if it was excellent (top 15%). A score of ten would indicated an unusually outstanding level of performance (the top 2%). We did not tell the graduates that the surveys would be used to rank their schools.

What did we discover? When we asked graduates to what extent their overall experience fulfilled or failed to meet their expectations of what a good business school should be, the highest scores (at 8.8 or above on the 10.0 scale) were awarded to the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School. The lowest scores (7.2 to 7.6) were given to New York University’s Stern School, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, Purdue University’s Krannert School, Columbia Business School, and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. For this question, the difference between the highest and lowest scoring schools was just a little more than 1.7 on the ten-point scale.

Other questions yielded larger gaps between the high and low scoring schools. One 1988 question that was later eliminated asked graduates what percentage of their classmates would they have liked to have as friends? Not surprisingly, smaller schools that at the time emphasized teamwork, group projects, and intimate relationships scored best with Yale University’s School of Management, Dartmouth’s Tuck School, UNC, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Stanford got the highest scores (between 6.5 and 7.2). Least desirable on the friendship index were larger schools in urban centers: Columbia, Chicago, NYU and Wharton (scoring between 4.3 and 4.7), a difference of nearly three full points on the ten-point scale between the best and the worst.


Our editor-in-chief Steve Shepard suggested that the ranking include another component. I suggested that we also survey the corporate recruiters who essentially make the MBA market. So we then compiled lists of the recruiting companies from all of the top business schools and then create a master list of every recruiting company. The firms with established histories of recruiting at business schools were selected from this master list. They also were selected on the basis of their ability to compare students at several schools so they had to recruit at a minimum number of schools to be included in the survey.

(See following page for the actual original questions)

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