What Google Trends Tell You About B-School

INSEAD shows up surprisingly well in worldwide searches on Google

INSEAD shows up surprisingly well in worldwide searches on Google

What business schools get the most Google search love?

Hands down, the answer is Harvard Business School, often the first school that comes to mind when people think about the MBA degree. At least that’s what Google Trends data clearly shows. In fact, HBS is getting nearly eight times the volume of Google search than Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and roughly ten times MIT’s Sloan School of Management or Columbia Business School.

Moreover, that trend has pretty much been true over the past dozen years. Go back to February of 2004 and people using Google search entered the term “Harvard Business School” eight times as often as they entered the term “Stanford Graduate School of Business” (see below table).

At first glance, Google Trends reveals another potentially significant trend: a steady decline of interest in Harvard Business School. People searching for Harvard Business School fell to an index level of just 31 this month from a high of 100 in February of 2004, a drop of two-thirds. How to interpret that data? The decline is the result of the increased volume of overall searches on Google search over the past 12 years, rather than a reflection of the total searches for Harvard Business School or any other school.

This is largely because Google Trends displays the popularity of a search term relative to all other searches on Google from Donald Trump to Pokémon GO. A search term can experience a relative decline on Google Trends but the number of nominal searches for the term could have actually risen. This is possible because of the exponential growth of Google search queries, and the continually expanding topics covered by web content. Google Trends is most helpful in comparing relative interest over time.


That said, the second most popular business school in Google search will surprise many. It wasn’t Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, often viewed as neck-and-neck with HBS in many MBA rankings. Instead, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is just behind Harvard, a beneficiary perhaps of interest in its large undergraduate business program and its leadership role in producing more MOOC courses in business than any of its prestige rivals. Yet Wharton also has seen a significant drop when compared to Google’s overall search volume, falling from an index level of 81 in February of 2004 to only 18 this month.

Another unexpected result: INSEAD garners the third most Google search interest of any business school in the world. The school, with campuses in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, gets nearly three times the amount of Google search action as Stanford GSB (which has fallen from an index of 13 in February of 2004 to only four this month). Of course, one reason for that difference may have to do with INSEAD’s size. The school now enrolls more than 1,000 students a year, over twice as many as Stanford.

But there’s another explanation for INSEAD’s strong showing. People who use Google search to find the school are unlikely to use many variations of the school’s name because there are none. London Business School, on the other hand, could be searched under LBS or London B-School in the same way that people use HBS, Harvard B-School, or Harvard MBA to search for Harvard Business School. The upshot: There are many other search terms that also indicate the popularity of a school or program that are not captured by a single search term. Google Trends does not aggregate search terms, or measuring aggregate interest in a school or program.


And what about the MBA degree versus the law degree? Google Trends shows that interest in the MBA peaked in June of 2008 (with an index score of 100) and has since fallen to just 32 this month–again based on the overall volume of Google searches. But in comparison to a JD, which is essentially flatlined, searches on the MBA degree are 32 times larger than those on the law degree (see below chart).

CORRECTION: This story was updated and corrected to reflect the fact that the rise or fall of a search term over time is based on the overall volume of Google searches.



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