MBA Programs That Students Love Most

NYU Stern School of Business – Ethan Baron photo

You won’t hear many MBAs say, “I never want to leave.” Most come to business school to take that next step in their careers. When graduation rolls around, they’re ready to start making a difference — and collect a paycheck too. How do programs know if they did a good job? Simple: Their students will say, “I can’t wait to come back.”  They back it with high marks in student satisfaction surveys.

One such survey is conducted each year by The Economist. Using a five point scale, where higher numbers reflect greater satisfaction, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business repeated as the favorite among MBAs. Boasting a 4.76 average, Darden edged out the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business (4.74), New York University’s Stern School of Business (4.71), and IESE (4.71) for top honors.

This year’s Economist results could be described as a Rorschach. If your glass is half full, you could point to the high satisfaction rate, with less than 0.5 of a point separating Darden (4.76) from the Wharton School (4.27), the lowest performer among the top global MBA programs. Overall, 12 of the 26 schools reviewed by Poets&Quants received higher marks from their students than the previous year, headed by Stern (+.11) and HEC Paris (+.10). That said, several programs experienced a notable drop in satisfaction, including UCLA’s Anderson School of Management (-.22), MIT’s Sloan School of Management (-.11), and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School (-.11). Spain’s IE Business School, however, suffered the worst. Tied last year with Darden for the highest student satisfaction, IE’s average slipped by .10 of a point, dropping it to 6th with a 4.63.


Kellogg’s Matt Merrick

Numbers only tell a fraction of the story. What do some schools do to earn such high marks? To get the answers, P&Q recently sat down with Matthew Merrick, Associate Dean of MBA Operations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management (which scored a 4.63), and Raghu Sundaram, Vice Dean of MBA Programs at Stern. Both are big city programs that value experiential learning and students with high EQs. However, each leverages their strengths in unique ways to maximize their value to students.

If you asked MBAs for one word to describe their Kellogg experience, they would probably answer with “teamwork.” The school is devoted to simulating the modern business landscape, where co-workers from various backgrounds and locations must band together to devise plans and execute on deliverables. Such teams prepare students to patch together the best ideas, manage conflict and egos, and sell peers on the vision and process. Of course, team projects have become a staple in nearly every full-time MBA program. Make no mistake, Kellogg takes this deep commitment to team-based learning further than any other program.

“You’re not just in one study group a couple times a week at Kellogg,” Merrick explains. “You’re doing it two or three times a day, so there is a frequency in which you are engaging in small group discussion and problem-solving. You have more practice at it because it is across every single course that we do.”


This team learning approach didn’t just happen organically. Instead, it was a consciously chosen decades ago by Kellogg’s faculty and administration. In fact, this decision to rely so heavily on collaboration was considered bold at the time, Merrick notes that. Now, it is a core piece of the school’s cultural identity — and a key factor in decision-making.  “We screen on it,” Merrick shares. “We admit people for whom that’s Important. If they value it, they come here. There is a bit of self-selection with that.”

In a collaborative environment like Kellogg, there is little room for weak links who shy from the spotlight or pass their work onto others. This has created a dynamic in which Kellogg students are “all in.” For Merrick, a graduate of Harvard Business School and formerly the Executive Director of Wake Forest’s MBA program, the students’ involvement at all levels was an eye-opener when he arrived in Evanston in 2015. For him, it reflected the difference between a transactional and a transformational business school experience.

Kellogg students are defined by collaborating in teams.

“We have a really, really high engagement level for our students, Merrick says. “That’s true whether you want a very active classroom but also in the experience outside the classroom (like co-curricular and extracurricular activities) or if you’re interested in leadership positions, student government, and topics outside of the classroom (but directly or indirectly related to business). When we do events, they all show up in droves. They’re not just going to class and going home. They are not passive participants in the whole educational process. They are very active participants.”


Kellogg can accurately be labeled as a “big school” with roughly 1,300 first-and second-year full-time MBAs on campus. While big schools are not traditionally defined by tight-knit classes, Kellogg tends to break the mold thanks to this team-based, high engagement culture where students are bound to connect with everyone in one form or another. Merrick has found that these relationships are the biggest takeaways for Kellogg graduates when he conducts exit interviews with them.

“One of the questions I’ll ask is, “What was the best thing about Kellogg?” What students talk about, more than anything, is the relationships that they develop. I remember one student last year who was real emotional. She said she talked to students at other schools who talk about networking with their classmates. She said, “At Kellogg, we talk about making friends.” That just stuck with me so strongly even since.”

Merrick sees evidence how important these relationships are all of the time. For example, he cites his preparation for the school’s upcoming DAK (Day at Kellogg) admit weekend event. During this time, he sat down with one of the speakers, Michael Schwartz (’11), who manages analytics for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball club. Schwartz’s sentiments tend to be the rule, not the exception. “He was talking about the friendships that he developed here and how meaningful the experience was for him,” Merrick recalls. “He talked about how his best friends are Kellogg alums that he graduated with. So I can see that sort of connectivity that alums feel towards their classmates 10-15 years later. This happens at other schools too, but it seems exceptionally strong here.”

See Page 3 to see how your school was scored by students surveyed by The Economist.

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