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Top Ten Business School Rankings of 2015

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Everyone hates rankings. Critics claim they fail to measure the right data. Others say they’re simply rigged. And why stack anything up if you’re just going to knock it all down? However valid, such criticisms miss the point of the widely tracked lists that are the obsession of applicants, students, alumni and administrators. Rankings are simply starting points – a way to bring order and a means to save time.

That’s particularly true with the maddeningly inconsistent rankings of the world’s best business schools. 2015 gave observers plenty to complain about. It was a banner year for those who consult rankings, with all five of the most watched and most influential lists coming out, including the latest from Bloomberg Businessweek which trotted out a different methodology for the third time in a row. At the same time, you’ll find more rankings than ever, with everyone from Business Insider to the business school event company, QS, elbowing for more attention.

So what are ten best, or at least, most observed, MBA rankings this year? How do they differ? And what were some of the key takeaways? Here is Poets&Quants’ view on the rankings game.

Harvard Business School Baker Library - Ethan Baron photo

Harvard Business School Baker Library – Ethan Baron photo

1) Harvard Business School Tops New 2015 Poets&Quants MBA Ranking: Last year, Stanford pulled a major coup, topping Harvard for the first time since Poets&Quants debuted its full-time MBA ranking in 2010. This year, HBS climbed back into the top spot. The P&Q ranking is actually a composite of the top five business school rankings, with each receiving a different weight – U.S. News & World Report (35%), Forbes (25%), Bloomberg Businessweek (15%), The Financial Times (15%), and The Economist (10%). The benefit, of course, is that Poets&Quants’ ranking encompasses a wider range of metrics, while softening the weaknesses of each methodology.

So how did Harvard reclaim the #1 spot? Mainly, the school moved from 8th to 1st in Bloomberg Businessweek’s latest rankings. Just don’t credit BW’s revised metrics, which now gives a 10% weight to both starting salaries and job placement. Harvard finished behind Stanford in both metrics (2nd vs. 1st and 35th vs. 21st respectively). What’s more, Stanford also placed higher than Harvard in qualitative measures like alumni and student surveys. In fact, the only Businessweek metric where Harvard outpaced Stanford was the employer survey (4th vs. 14th). Of course, that accounts for 35% of BW’s ranking – giving Harvard a decided upper hand.

Stanford’s performance was also weighed down by an unwelcome albatross: The Economist’s rankings. Here, the school placed just 11th worldwide – with The Economist’s patchy data making it a tempting target for criticism. For example, is the Stanford faculty, ranked 48th by The Economist, really lower caliber than George Washington and the University of Florida? And how can Stanford rank 95th in percentage of increase on pre-MBA salary when it ranks 1st with Forbes in terms of five-year gain in earnings after graduation? That sounds fishy to us too.

Truth is, Yale was this year’s big winner in Poets&Quants 2015 ranking, jumping seven spots in two years – thanks mostly to big gains in five-year earnings for alumni. Notre Dame (Mendoza) and Michigan State (Broad) also made waves, rising 12 and 10 spots respectively into the Top 25. At the opposite end, Duke (Fuqua), ranked by Businessweek as their #1 program in 2014, tumbled out of the Top 10, just as Northwestern (Kellogg) leapfrogged Columbia and California-Berkeley (Hass) did the same to Dartmouth (Tuck). Even more, the University of Chicago (Booth) replaced Wharton in the Top Three, courtesy of high marks from Businessweek-surveyed recruiters and an eye-popping 97.2% placement rate in 2014 (which will rise to 97.4% with the 2015 Class).

INSEAD's campus in Fontainebleau, France

INSEAD’s campus in Fontainebleau, France

2) INSEAD Claims First in New 2015 Poets&Quants Ranking of International MBA Programs: In the United States, Harvard and Stanford are endlessly tussling for the top spot in business schools. Overseas, INSEAD and the London Business School carry a similar rivalry. For the most part, LBS has consistently edged out INSEAD. That is, until now.

Like our American methodology, P&Q’s international ranking is predicated on four MBA rankings receiving different weights based on the soundness of their methodologies: The Financial Times (30%), Forbes (30%), Bloomberg Businessweek (20%), and The Economist (20%). As with Stanford and Harvard, LBS dominated INSEAD collectively, but was done in by one ranking – The Economist, no less. Here, LBS ranked 9th among international programs, despite ranking first with the Financial Times and Forbes, and second with BW. In particular, LBS was faulted by Economist survey respondents for education experience (placing 79th overall despite ranking 7th internationally in Businessweek’s student survey) and faculty quality (94th – Really?), while being outranked by INSEAD in categories like diversity of recruiters, personal development and educational experience, potential to network, and alumni effectiveness.

Overall, IESE and IE Business School made the most significant moves in 2015, with IESE replacing IMD in the Top 3 and HEC Paris creeping into the Top 5. Notably, IMD dropped in three of four rankings, losing the top spot in Forbes and falling six spots each in The Economist and Financial Times rankings, with the school noticeably slipping in research and placement. That said, IMD still remains among the best international programs for earnings.

Not surprisingly, the Top 10 international programs are all based in Europe. Even more, every program that made Poets&Quants’ Top 10 in 2014 stayed there (with ESADE muscling up three spots to 7th). Of course, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and CEIBS are hovering just outside the Top 10 – and could easily slide in there next year. And watch out for Canada’s HEC Montreal and Queen’s University and Switzerland’s St. Gallen. Each made double digits jumps into the Top 25 this year.