10 Business Schools To Watch In 2017

MIT Sloan School of Management – Ethan Baron photo

MIT (Sloan): How do you measure your brand appeal? In the MBA market, you could say applications are a good gauge. Based on 2015-2016 numbers, it might be time for Sloan Admissions Director Dawna Levenson to ask for a pay raise.

35% — That’s how many more applications Sloan received for a seat in its 2018 Class. From 2011-2015, you could count on Sloan to receive 4,100-4,700 applications. Last year, that number spiked at 5,707. To put it another way, there were 14 applicants for every slot in Sloan’s Class of 2018. Not impressed? Just compare that number to the applications-to-openings ratio at Harvard and Kellogg (9.5-to-1), Wharton (8-to-1), and Booth (7-to-1). It also puts Sloan in the same conversation as Stanford (19.5-to-1) and Haas (16-to-1) as one of the most desirable and selective MBA programs in the world.

Sloan is renowned for its experiential and interdisciplinary curriculum. This forges a collaborative mindset that’s perfect for an increasingly tech-driven world that values communication and innovation. While pay and placement dipped slightly with the 2016 graduating class, the program’s popularity with employers — ranking 2nd in both of the 2016 recruiter surveys conducted by U.S. News and Bloomberg Businessweek — you can expect those numbers to rebound with a vengeance in 2017.

Arizona State University, W.P. Carey School of Business

Arizona State University (Carey): In an era of niche specialization, the conventional wisdom to “cast a wide net” almost seems passé. The result? Applying this maxim today can seem fresh and disruptive. The W.P. Carey School of Business is a case in point.

Let’s harken back to 2015, shall we? Back then, Carey had announced a game-changing proposition: The school would give every student accepted into its program a full ride scholarship. In essence, they made their MBA program free. In the process, they cut class size by 40% and booked an annual loss of $10-$20 million dollars. Bold? Yes. Risky? No question.  Sure, a free education boosts a school’s profile and re-channels demand…in theory, at least. In reality, doesn’t it also de-value the degree?

This approach almost conjures up an image of some Silicon huckster sage, drunk with angel cash, offering free software…hoping to make up the difference later. To be honest, that’s exactly the model being used by Carey, with Dean Amy Hillman optimistically noting,  in a 2015 interview with Poets&Quants, that the payoff would ultimately come when graduates “pay it forward” after they’ve become successful.

That could take some time, obviously, but the model is less batty than it sounds. Paid for through a generous “Forward Focus” endowment, the “Free MBA” represents an ingenious end-around from the so-called “scholarships arm race.” Now,  MBA students paying full sticker price are, in essence, footing the bill for their select few peers. Carey is simply removing the middle man, creating transparency, freeing students from tuition debt, and placing every student on equal footing. Rather than de-valuing the MBA degree, the free tuition should flood the admissions center with more applicants, enabling the school to cherry pick the high ceiling candidates most capable of becoming successful business leaders — and big time donors. Oh, and the model comes with a by-product. Better candidates equal higher rankings over time.

Sounds great in theory? Sure…but how has it worked out so far? Well, the numbers don’t lie. Applications soared from 443 in 2014-2015 to 1,160 in the latest cycle. At the same time, Carey’s acceptance rate plummeted from 31.4% to 14%, making the program as selective as Harvard, MIT, and Haas. Even more, nearly three-quarters of students who were accepted ultimately enrolled, a percentage that bests figures traditionally posted by stalwarts like Wharton and Fuqua. Even some applicants to Harvard now include Carey as a target school. Not surprisingly, GMAT scores rose 10 points. Even more, the program was also able to construct its most diverse cohort yet, with 43% of the class comprised of women. Along the way, the school doubled the number of countries represented in the class from 11 to 24.

That’s just the first year results, mind you. As word gets out, you can expect Carey to see even more applications. However, the “free MBA” may come at a price — to other schools — as applicants potentially use their Carey acceptance to leverage better deals from their target schools. In the meantime, expect Carey to crack the domestic top 25 in 2017. Question is, can they move the needle beyond that?

Here are some additional programs worth watching for 2017:

An artist’s rendering of Rowling Hall at the University of Texas

University of Texas (McCombs): The Longhorns are bullish on their 2017 prospects, particularly with the opening of the 458,000 square foot Robert B. Rowling Hall, the new home of the MBA graduate program. With Rowling set to rival Kellogg’s “Hub” and Yale’s Evans Hall as the most spacious and state-of the-art business school facility, McCombs can expect to build on a solid 2016, which included a 10% increase in applications and a six point rise in GMAT scores (with median GMATs now equaling those produced by Ross and Anderson).

London Business School: The second half of 2016 was kind to LBS. In July, the program enlisted François Ortalo-Magné, an architect behind the Wisconsin Business School’s revolutionary KDBIN teaching model, as its new dean. In December, the program nabbed the top spot in Bloomberg Businessweek’s international MBA ranking, thanks to high pay and placement and high survey grades from recruiters and students. In addition, the program’s incoming class’ average GMATs shot up eight points, while the graduating class’ starting salaries climbed 7.5%. In a further sign of health, the school achieved its $177 million dollar fund-raising goal two years early. Not only that, its endowment has experienced the second-highest growth of any business school in the past six years. Like Kellogg and McCombs, the school is gearing up for a move to its new digs at the Sammy Ofer Centre.

Dartmouth College (Tuck): By the numbers, it was a great year all around at Tuck. The school vaulted nine spots to rank fifth overall in the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking. This was their best performance ever and helped the school climb two spots in the Poets&Quants’ annual ranking. The Class of 2016 also continued to rake in the big bucks, with graduates pulling down a median $125,000 salary, with another 87% landing bonuses of $25,000 on average (with one student maxing out with a $250,000 base and another enjoying a $90,000 bonus). In addition, Tuck recruited a class with 44% women, tied with Wharton for highest among the top MBA programs (and an increase of 11 percentage points over the past three years).  Coupled with its signature culture and fund-raising prowess, Tuck has a lot to build from in 2017.

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