Schools That Meet MBA Expectations

The IMD campus in Lausanne, Switzerland

The IMD campus in Lausanne, Switzerland

Going into business school, every student has goal. Some are looking to land “the job” at a McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. Others hope to transition into another field. Of course, you’ll always find those romantics seeking that “transformative experience.”

“Experience” is crucial, no doubt. Looking back, graduates will savor those moments when they won a case competition or dined with a Fortune 500 CEO. They’ll reminisce about neighborhood pub crawls or trips to Shanghai with classmates. Ultimately, they’ll evaluate their experience based on whether they attain what they set out to achieve. Most times, that’s far more ambitious than just earning an MBA degree.


Call it customer satisfaction. By that measure, IMD (International Institute for Management Development) ranks atop the MBA world. In the 2015 Financial Times Global MBA Ranking, 88% of IMD MBAs surveyed agreed that they had achieved what they set out to do.

That should come as little surprise to those who follow the Swiss school. Hugging Lake Geneva in the “Olympic Capital” of Lausanne, IMD is encircled by wine vineyards and the Alps – and is just a 45-minute drive from Geneva itself. Despite the surplus of museums, galleries, and cafes in Lausanne, IMD’s real attraction is a vibrant 90-member class who are immersed in a hands-on, global program, with defining experiences like overseas missions and managing projects for chief executives. More than that, IMD’s framework stresses personal development and self-awareness as leadership cornerstones, adding a moral dimension to its demanding curriculum.

For IMD MBAs, the investment pays off. Graduates, on average, pull down some of the highest starting salaries in the world. Beyond that, alumni rank among the most satisfied graduates in Bloomberg Businessweek’s own MBA survey – a further indication that IMD is delivering on its promises.

Financial Times


And IMD Isn’t alone in that area. Each year, the Financial Times factors “Aims Achieved” into calculating its annual Global MBA ranking. As part of its annual survey, MBA graduates are asked about “the extent to which [they] fulfilled their stated goals or reasons for doing an MBA.” While the answer only accounts for 3% of a school rank, it does reflect a wide swatch of the B-school value proposition.

Notably, “Aims Achieved” addresses how well adcoms are choosing students who fit their capabilities and culture and whether the career center is offering the best support and attracting the relevant employers. Even more, it can be applied to the quality of the curriculum and teaching, if not the caliber and helpfulness of the alumni network.

In calculating “Aims Achieved” for the 2015 rankings, the Financial Times received survey responses from 9,700 MBAs from the 2011 Class in (with the survey also factoring in responses for “one or two preceding years where available” – which includes 10,986 responses from the Class of 2010). To be ranked, a school must draw 20 or more alumni responses.


Here’s the first big trend: The percentages are closely bunched together when it comes to “Aims Achieved.” Take American programs, for example. Here, Yale and the University of Minnesota (Carlson) paced the field at 87% — just a point below IMD. In other words, there is no statistical difference across these programs. However, among the 48 American programs ranked by Poets&Quants, another 10 finished at 85% and another 13 at 84%. In fact, the lowest percentage among American schools was 79% — just eight points below Yale and Carlson. That’s hardly a wide gap between the top and the bottom.

A similar dynamic plays out among overseas programs. Here, the London Business School notched the second-highest score in helping students achieve their goals at 87%, with ESADE and Cambridge University (Judge) trailing closely behind at 86%. From there, eight schools are clustered together between 84% and 85%, with Warwick and the University of Toronto (Rotman) finishing at the bottom with 79% — a respectable satisfaction rate as it is.

Of course, the survey respondents have been out of school for over four years. As a result, some might be tempted to view these numbers as lagging indicators. In reality, MBA graduates have been relatively consistent in achieving their aims to a large extent over the years. In the 2006 Financial Times rankings, for example, Michigan State reaped the highest “Aims Achieved” rate domestically at 88% — the same as IMD 10 years later. They were trailed by Dartmouth Tuck and Yale, each at 87%. The difference, however, is an uptick at the bottom. In 2006, there were 17 American programs at 78% or lower in this metric compared to zero in the 2016 rankings. Again, the dynamic repeats itself in the international arena, with ten schools polled by Poets&Quants scoring below 79% in 2006 (with 79% being the lowest percentage in the 2016 rankings).


The pattern repeats itself when “Aims Achieved” is revisited in the 2001 rankings. Here, 12 American schools had satisfaction rates below 75%, compared to three in 2006. Internationally in 2001, that ratio was 8:2, with 51% being the bottoming out point. Bottom line: There has been an upswing in MBAs achieving their goals, particularly below the proverbial Top 20 programs. That could mean that students are being more realistic, schools are doing more than ever to make their students happy, or more respondents are wise to the ranking game and are cheerleading for their alma maters.  Chances are, it is a combination of all three.

To see how the top American and international programs have fared in helping their graduates achieve their goals since 2001, go to the next pages.

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