How Business Schools Rank By Specialization

University of Pennsylvania Wharton School - Ethan Baron photo

University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. Ethan Baron photo


Technically, Wharton belongs alongside Stanford in terms of the totality of its curriculum. The school was ranked in the top 10 in nine of 10 categories. It was only excluded from fundraising, where it doesn’t offer a major. Even more, Wharton finished among the top three schools in five categories, one better than Stanford. Though Harvard Business School only appeared in seven categories, it ranked among the top three in five of them.

Like Wharton, MIT ranked in every specialization except fundraising. Sloan was deemed the top program in three categories, information systems, operations, and logistics — the only school to pull off the feat. Columbia Business School followed a similar pattern as Wharton and MIT, ranking in every category except information systems. CBS was led by fifth-place rankings in finance, marketing, and international business.

Such performance indicates a trend. Larger schools, by their nature, offer more options and resources to students. As a whole, their endowments are larger, too. Among the full-time MBA programs that were ranked in nine or more categories, all but one — Haas — had 800 or more students (Haas reported 502 in 2015-2016). Similarly, Kellogg boasts 1,272 full-time MBAs and appeared in eight categories, including first in marketing and fourth in management. Its cross-town rival, Booth, showed up in seven categories, including second in both accounting and finance. Yet Duke, which includes nearly 900 students, was ranked in just five categories, headed by sixth-place finishes in marketing and nonprofits.


To qualify for ranking, a school must receive seven votes in a particular specialization. Though U.S. News doesn’t disclose the number of voters who participated, the methodology is a bit of a popularity contest, with business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs nominating up to 10 schools for inclusion in each of the specializations.

That creates a number of inconsistencies. For one, U.S. News hasn’t set any parameters for these educators. For instance, it isn’t clear whether voters are choosing schools based on faculty caliber, scholarship, student quality, or simply reputation. This raises the question of personal bias. Second, votes are simply tabulated equally, without regard to whether certain schools are ranked 1-10 by respondents. As a result, it is difficult to gauge the intensity of selections. Even more, the voters themselves — academics from other schools — may not possess a deep understanding of these schools’ inner workings or unique wrinkles in particular specializations. Compare that to employers, for example, whose recruiters could draw from school track records in producing successful employees at their firms in formulating their votes.

Though U.S. News doesn’t release vote totals — making it impossible to know how esteemed certain programs are in comparison to peers — the rankings indicate a popular view of how an influential segment views particular programs. Taken together, these specializations can reflect how comprehensive and flexible some MBA programs truly are.


By this rubric, several schools fared poorly when the specialization rankings are viewed in their totality. The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, known for its fiercely loyal alumni, only received enough votes to be ranked in four categories. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, regarded as the South’s answer to Harvard Business School in terms of academic rigor, shared Tuck’s fate. The Yale School of Management was only ranked in five categories, though its first-place finish in nonprofits adds some sheen to their results.

However, Yale’s performance pales in comparison to several to other highly ranked programs that only managed to be ranked in one category. True to form, they tended to be smaller schools, where students generally receive intensive support but don’t always enjoy the same resources as those at larger MBA programs. They included Georgetown (16th in international business), Rice (14th in entrepreneurship), Minnesota (fourth in information systems), and Wisconsin (19th in marketing). In addition, three top 25 programs — Emory, Washington University, and Vanderbilt — weren’t ranked in any specialization.

Several lower-ranked and unranked schools, meanwhile, performed suspiciously well in the specialization rankings. Notably, Fordham University earned enough votes to rank in four categories. At the same time, St. Louis University, Loyola University (Maryland), Loyola University (Louisiana), and Loyola Marymount (California) each ranked in three categories. Despite being unranked overall, for example, Loyola Marymount’s entrepreneurship program is actually ranked higher than those from Booth, Kellogg, Darden, and UCLA Anderson. What is their common denominator? They are all affiliated, in some way, with the Jesuit order — further stoking the rumor that a certain cadre of administrators may be voting together to raise their overall bloc.

To see how your favorite MBA programs ranking in marketing, finance, management, and seven other specializations, go to the next two pages.