By The Numbers: The Most Recommended MBAs By Business School Alumni

On Harvard Business School's sprawling campus

On Harvard Business School’s sprawling campus

It’s the ultimate question in consumer satisfaction. Would you recommend the product or service you’ve bought and used to others? You could hardly receive a better endorsement than gaining the unqualified vote of confidence that comes from a user’s recommendation.

And the equivalent of that in the business school world plays out each year when the Financial Times surveys MBAs to name three schools where they would recruit. Which schools live up to their reputations and consistently deliver the goods? According to the Financial Times, that honor is reserved for Harvard Business School. Masters of the case method, Harvard MBAs generated the most votes among the 9,700 MBAs from the 2011 Class who completed the survey (with the British newspaper also factoring in responses for “one or two preceding years where available” – which includes 10,986 responses from the Class of 2010).

That said, the Financial Times doesn’t release the number of votes each school receives – numbers illustrating the reach and passion associated with particular schools. However, the Financial Times does make rankings available back to 1999. As a result, Poets&Quants chose a different path: Examining how schools have risen (or depreciated) in the eyes of their MBA peers over the past 10 to 15 years.


It’s no secret why Harvard tops the 2015 list. They have the most recognizable and touted brand. They’re represented in nearly every major industry and brand. Plus, they enroll more full-time MBAs than any other top-ranked MBA program.

That said, HBS wasn’t always the most recommended program in the Financial Times’ alumni survey. Ten years ago, Wharton grads were actually the most trusted graduates among their peers. In recent years, Wharton has slipped to 4th, offering fuel to the Cassandras who point the school’s slides in both the Financial Times (3rd to 4th) and Bloomberg Businessweek (2nd to 5th) rankings. One source for this decline could be alumni themselves. In Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2015 survey, for example, Wharton received only the 14th-best scores among its alumni – a key source of financial support for the school and networking opportunities for students (a theory reinforced by Wharton students ranking alumni 16th-best in The Economist’s MBA student survey).

MIT Sloan has trended in the opposite direction. In the Financial Times’ 2006 rankings, Sloan ranked 9th overall, below either Booth and Kellogg (let alone INSEAD and the London Business School). Since then, the program has vaulted to 3rd, behind just HBS and Stanford. One reason: The school’s emphasis on hands-on, team-based learning, which drives home both a technical expertise and a “we” mentality sure to make Sloanies popular among their peers.


So how much has really changed over the past 10-15 years? The first observation: Whether the survey results are rooted in quality or reputation, the top schools truly have staying power. How deeply embedded is this principle? Take Poets&Quants’ 2015 ranking for American programs. Eight of the top ten American schools with P&Q also made the Financial Times’ recommenders top ten. The other two schools prized by MBAs in the Financial Times survey were INSEAD and the London Business School – which ranked #1 and #2 in P&Q’s 2015 international ranking.

It goes beyond that. Nine of the ten most recommended programs of 2016 also repeated the feat in 2006 – with only Michigan Ross replacing Berkeley Haas. What’s more, you’ll find the same schools from 2006 ranked in the Top 10 in 2001.

That isn’t to say there haven’t been some shifts in MBA perception about specific schools. Among the top programs, however, they’ve been relatively minor. Booth and Kellogg, for example, have each lost three spots over the past decade, with Darden surprisingly dropping six places since the 2001 rankings. At the same time, consistent with other rankings, Yale has gained substantial ground. 15 years ago, it ranked 31st among MBAs surveyed by the Financial Times – lower than programs like UK’s Warwick or Western Ontario Ivey. In 2015, Yale placed 16th, positioning it alongside natural rivals like Darden and Stern – a testament to the school’s interdisciplinary, value-based approach.


Like Yale, IE Business School and HEC Paris have enjoyed strong momentum in recent years, with the former emerging as an entrepreneurial Mecca and the latter as a global tour de force. Since the 2006 rankings, HEC Paris has jumped 25 spots to rank 25th among their MBA peers.  That pales in comparison to the change of perception about IE Business School, which has skyrocketed an astounding 60 spots since the 2001 rankings. Indicative of the world’s pivot to East Asia, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and the National University of Singapore have also disrupted the status quo, leaping 46 and 43 spots respectively over the past decade to rank among the top 40 schools among MBA recommenders.

One caveat in looking at these numbers. Inevitably, respondents will include their own alma maters among the three recommended schools from which they would recruit MBAs. Call it the cheerleading factor in these surveys. After all, every respondent knows their answers reflect on the stature of their school and the credential they’ve received. Nonetheless, that is a bias that is offset because it would largely occur across the entire sample. So treat alumni recommendations, which only account for 2% of the weight in the FT’s ranking, as just another data point but one with some real value.

To see how the top American and international programs have fared in MBA perception, go to the next pages.