In a typical year, more than 10,000 alumni of the world’s leading business schools fill out the survey sent to them by The Financial Times for its annual ranking of the best full-time MBA programs. Among other things, they’re asked to recommend a trio of schools that they think so highly of they would recruit their graduates.
Yet, their perspective on this subject only accounts for a measly 2% of the British newspaper’s ranking methodology. That’s a shame because those recommendations are among the most valuable pieces of information any applicant can receive. After all, you’re getting the opportunity to hear from people who quit their full-time jobs, paid out more than $100,000 in tuition and fees, endured the sometimes grueling pace of MBA study, and then worked for three years, often with graduates from other schools. They know firsthand what the MBA experience is all about–and they know what to expect from MBAs elsewhere. Their recommendations are the ultimate seal of approval.
This year, some 10,986 alumni completed the survey – a response rate of 47%. But The Financial Times says that it also added the views of respondents from one or two preceding years when available. In other words, these recommendations are the basis of tens of thousands of alumni over several years.
FOR THE TOP 25 SCHOOLS THERE WAS SURPRISING CONSISTENCY OVER FIVE YEARS
Which schools consistently are most highly recommended? Rather than look at one-year results, we crunched the numbers on the last five years from 2014 to 2010 to give a far more reliable look at the best and the worst. By taking that longer view, applicants can also see schools that may be trending up or down in satisfaction. Yale University’s School of Management is definitely doing better, improving its recommendation rank to 17 this year from 23 in 2010. UCLA’s Anderson School is going the other way, ranking 24th this year from 17 five years ago.
Surprisingly, though, there was remarkable consistency for the best schools over the five-year period. Many schools stayed within a range of two to three places over the entire span. This was less true for the schools in the bottom 10% where MBA programs are far more likely to pop in and out of the FT’s ranking of the Top 100 schools. It’s relatively rare for a school near the bottom to have a full five-year data set.
What we especially like about the results is that they are intuitive which suggests a high degree of reliability. After all, if a school like Hult International was ahead of a school like INSEAD you would have to scratch your head. That’s certainly not the case here. In fact, the top five schools scoring the best recommendations from their alumni are all familiar prestige names: No. 1 Harvard Business School, which has been ranked first for each of the past five years, No. 2 Stanford Graduate School of Business, No. 3 UPenn’s Wharton School, No. 4 London Business School, and No. 5 Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
U.S. business schools dominate the top quartile of these highly recommended schools, with 19 of the top 25 based in America. Five European schools make the list. After London, it’s INSEAD in France and Singapore, IMD in Switzerland, IESE Business School in Spain, and HEC Paris in France. Only one Canadian school makes the cut: The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
AT THE BOTTOM? TILBURG UNIVERSITY IN THE NETHERLANDS
And the schools at the bottom? They’re led by Tilburg University in The Netherlands which this year was ranked dead last in recommendations at 100th. Portugal’s Lisbon MBA is next, followed by University College Dublin’s Smurfit School, Hult International, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School in the bottom 10%.
John Delaney, the dean of Katz, acknowledges the disappointing survey results for his school but notes that he and his staff have been working especially hard in the past two to three years to improve things. The school has made a concerted effort to focus on processes that make it easier for students to change courses and to get into high-demand classes as well as processes related to careers and employment. He says that Katz’s internal surveys show improvement in student satisfaction which he expects to be reflected in future surveys of alumni.
To be fair, it’s worth pointing out that these schools are among the top 1% in the world. Otherwise, they would even be ranked among the top 100 by The Financial Times. So even those that are scoring at the bottom of the recommendation file are very good programs. Against this peer set, however, the competition is extremely tough and unrelenting.
For the best of the bunch, we imposed one rule: That each school received a recommendation rank in each of the five years studied. That rule brings a greater degree of confidence that these MBA programs are the most recommended in the world. For the group of schools in the bottom 10%, we insured that every MBA program had at least two years worth of rankings data. Obviously, these schools tend to move on and off the FT’s radar screen, a natural consequence of being near the bottom of the list.