Ranking The Best MBA Alumni Networks

Alumni Network

Every business school hypes their alumni network. Adcoms will drop names of CEOs who once prowled the halls. And employment reports – without fail – index their top employers. They are allusions to the depth and vitality of the alumni base. Who could resist such a pitch? ‘This could be me in a few years,’ many applicants think. ‘These could be my business rolodex and social circle, the future bosses, partners, advocates, and experts who’ll open doors or take me with them.’

Indeed, the alumni network may be the biggest differentiator between MBA programs. Question is, how do you measure which networks truly produce results? Luckily, it is also a question asked by seemingly every business school ranking – with some subtle and telling differences.

CONTRAST FOUR DIFFERENT NETWORK RANKINGS – WITH VERY DIFFERENT AGENDAS

Recently, Poets&Quants evaluated the alumni network rankings produced by Bloomberg Businessweek, Financial Times, The Economist, and GraduatePrograms.com. And here’s a spoiler alert: Stanford and Harvard rank among the best MBA networks. No surprise there, as these schools enjoy a virtuous circle. Their robust brands draw talented faculty and copious resources. This, in turn, attracts the top students who ultimately emerge as the captains of industry. But would you believe that schools like Rice and Texas A&M outpoint Wharton in some alumni rankings? Despite Tuck’s reputation for having an unrivaled alumni support, the network rankings reflect that this caricature isn’t a slam dunk.

And that’s no surprise. While these rankings are based on alumni survey responses, they each target a different piece of the puzzle. Here is a breakdown on how they work:

Graduate Programs (Global Ranking): Evaluated “where students have strong peer, faculty, and alumni networking connections and opportunities, even after graduating.” Based on surveys from 13,000 business school alumni and students, school networks were scored on a scale of 1 (Poor) to 10 (Perfect).

Financial Times

Financial Times (Global Ranking): Based on survey responses back from 9,700 alumni (40% response rate), where they listed the three schools from which they would recruit MBA graduates.” To qualify, 20% of a school’s alumni base must respond to the survey. Overall, responses for the 2015 survey carried 50% of the ranking weight, with 2014 and 2013 results each accounting for 25%.

Bloomberg Businessweek (Separate U.S. and International Rankings): Includes surveys from 12,773 respondents who earned their MBAs in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Covering MBAs from 2,500 companies, the survey is divided into three equally-weighted parts: 1) Median Compensation Increase, 2) Job Satisfaction, and 3) MBA Feedback (i.e. “the specific impacts that respondents’ MBA programs have had on their careers, and whether they would recommend their program to other”).

The Economist: Features data from surveys submitted by “thousands” of current students and newly-minted MBAs. Here, an overall “Potential to Network” score is derived from three equally-weighted parts: 1) Number of Overseas Chapters (i.e. “How international are alumni?”); 2) Ratio of Alumni-To-Current Students (i.e. “Breadth of alumni network”); and 3) Student Rating of Alma Mater (“Alumni Efectiveness”).

In other words, The Economist targets the most recent students and alumni, while Bloomberg Businessweek focuses on respondents who are 6-8 years out of school. Conversely, the Financial Times offers a glimpse into how the marketplace views younger alumni from particular schools, with Graduate Programs bringing a broad overview. As a result, the rankings, like a Rorschach, sometimes mirror what readers bring to them.

HARVARD AND TUCK STILL DOMINATE…WITH SOME CAVEATS

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Naturally, Stanford and Harvard perform well across the rankings. It holds the #1 spot among respondents for Bloomberg Businessweek and Graduate Programs, along with sporting the #2 ranking with the Financial Times. Alas, Stanford places 16th with The Economist overall. However, this stems from the school being dragged down by a lower number of global chapters and international students (an enviable 40% for the Class of 2017) than peer programs, particularly overseas. When it comes to alumni effectiveness, however, Stanford ranks 2nd…just a shade below Tuck.

Harvard fares nearly as well, nabbing the top spot with the Financial Times, while ranking 2nd and 3rd with Bloomberg Businessweek and Graduate Programs respectively. Like Stanford, Harvard is hobbled by global chapters and percentage of international students (again, a respectable 34% for the newest class). More concerning is Harvard’s 11th place finish in The Economist’s alumni effectiveness rating, an indication that the new generation of HBS grads don’t view their predecessors as being as supportive as alumni from other leading programs. In fact, Harvard’s 19th place finish in Bloomberg Businessweek’s student survey may point to an increasing dissatisfaction with the program itself. And that can only hamper job hunting and mentoring for future Harvard MBAs.

Likewise, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business maintains enviable alumni support according to the rankings – but not necessarily at the level you might expect. Tuck pulled down the top spot in The Economist’s stand-alone alumni effectiveness ranking, meaning recent graduates were thrilled with the helpful guidance of past Tuckies. While this sentiment is strong across the board, it doesn’t sustain a fever pitch. The school’s alumni network lands the 8th spot with Bloomberg Businessweek and 12th with the Financial Times. A disturbing trend at Tuck? In the most recent Financial Times ranking, the school finished 81st in value for the money among all MBA programs. Not to mention, the program slumped to 17th in Bloomberg Businessweek’s student survey, all warning signs that some students may perceive the Tuck experience as a disappointment.

  • Sarath Chandran

    It’s “IIM Ahmedabad,” not “IIM Admedabad.”

  • David Wittenberg

    I’m an alumnus of Thunderbird, and I’m disappointed that our alumni network doesn’t feature on this list. We have over 40,000 alumni working in over 140 countries. We have monthly alumni gatherings in many cities around the globe and larger, regional gatherings several times a year. We have functioning systems for both business and social networking. In terms of benefits to alumni, I’d rank our network in the top echelon. Our omission from these rankings is glaring in my view, but it may be understandable due to the rules of the game.

    We’re an odd bird for several reasons. First, until this year, we were never attached to a university, so we can’t unite around a football or basketball team. Second, we just changed hands and ceased to offer an MBA (our new parent, Arizona State, offers an MBA through the Carey School, so Thunderbird now has changed to a Masters in Global Management). Third, largely due to the international composition of our student body and alumni community, the culture of giving to one’s alma mater is not as strong as it might be at a US institution with an overwhelmingly American make-up, so we don’t score as high in this category.

  • B. Wana Mia, IV

    Important caveat: strong undergrad alumni networks and fraternities “trump” professional school alumni networks.

  • aguirrestom@aol.com

    Normally I think the compiled rankings by P&Q are about as accurate as they come, but this more closely resembles the Economist’s MBA rankings. I have been visiting schools, chatting with students, and have asked at each school how open alumni are to students. Tuck by far most available. Harvard have the advantage of such a large network so you can throw a lot of darts and I guess you will eventually find someone who will help you out. Wharton was surprisingly did not register as a very involved alumni network– I was told that if you reach out to alumni you should definitely try reaching to people with low seniority. SOM alumni seem to be super willing to help (which makes sense to me considering their recent alumni donations). Haas I’m sure is helpful because of it’s size and close community. MIT, couldn’t really get a feel for it