Many years ago, The Rolling Stones rose to fame on a song that resonates with many whose lives somehow fail to meet expectations. Though “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” was largely an attack on modern culture and commercialism, it captured the frustration of many who failed to gain a sense of fulfillment with their personal and professional aspirations.
Business school can sometimes be that way. Though the ROI from an MBA degree is pretty much a no-brainer, money doesn’t necessarily equal happiness or satisfaction. So when it comes to delvering real satisfaction, which business school graduates believe their MBAs have actually made them happy?
As an offshoot to its biennial MBA rankings, Forbes has been measuring satisfaction since at least 2009 through each of its past five lists of the best full-time MBA programs. This year, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business came out on top, followed by the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, MIT Sloan, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School.
ONLY MBA ALUMS FROM THREE U.S. BUSINESS SCHOOLS HAVE MADE THE LIST EVERY TIME
The list of the most satisfied is culled from Forbes survey of alumni five years out of school and looks at satisfaction from three angles: An alum’s MBA education, current job, and sense of how well prepared they are versus their perception of other MBA alumni. Unlike its more expansive U.S. and international rankings, Forbes only disclosed the top ten schools with the most satisfied MBA grads.
Of course, in any one year, in surveys of alumni who know their answers will result in how their alma maters will utlimately be ranked, it’s possible for biased cheerleading to creep into the outcomes. It’s also possible for the sample size of alums from any given school to have an outsized impact on annual results, in either a positive or a negative sense. And then there is the reality that scores on alumni surveys tend to cluster so closely together as to be statistically meaningless. In fact, the most probable reason why Forbes only ranks ten schools on satisfaction has to do with this very issue. The further one goes down the list, the less meaningful it likely becomes. Besides this is one of those clickbait features with a gallery of photos on the Forbes website.
That’s why it’s more important to look at the results over a longer timeframe to get a better handle on what schools can truly claim to have the most satisfied MBA graduates. Over the past five rankings, only three of the 22 schools have appeared on everyone of the most satisfied lists: Stanford, Dartmouth Tuck, and Chicago Booth. That’s a pretty solid endorsement that those three U.S. schools have mastered the MBA experience and delivered great value to their graduates.
UVA DARDEN AND MICHIGAN STATE ALSO HIGHLY RANKED ON SATISFACTION
Only one other school has cracked the top ten list on four occasions: The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, which came in second this year after a first place showing in 2015. Michigan State University’s Broad School just missed that honor, disappearing from this year’s list for the first time in four years.
And then there are another three schools that have made the list a majority of the time in the past five rankings: Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Carnegie Mellon, and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
For all the schools that made the list since Forbes began publishing this breakout in 2009, we created an index based on both the number of times a school appears on the ranking along with the actual numerical rank of the school. While we concede that this is putting more of a scientific slant on the data than it probably deserves, it is nonetheless a somewhat telling analysis of satisfaction at top business schools.
HOW THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS LINE UP ON SATISFACTION
Based on the index scores, the top five come out to be Stanford, Tuck, Booth, Darden and Broad. The biggest surprise in this group is clearly Michigan State, a school that doesn’t have the resources of the other four schools yet has managed to deliver a level of satisfaction that is among the best in the world. That’s a real tribute to the school, the MBA program, and the administrators and faculty who make this all possible.
What about the international business schools? For at least two of the five times Forbes published its most satisfied rankings, it included a separate list of non-U.S. schools in 2011 and 2009. Given the sparse data set, the results aren’t nearly as satisfying. But the top five international schools are IESE in Spain, a three-way tie for second with INSEAD, London Business School and Oxford, and then IMD and IE Business School.
Over the pair of available rankings, 13 different schools made the list, with seven doing a repeat showing. Cranfield Business School was the only other two-timer on the list, just narrowly missing the top five based on index scores. But Cranfield was number one the last time Forbes took a stab at doing a most satisfied ranking for international MBA programs in 2011. The other schools that made the list at least once: IPADE in Mexico, HEC Paris, ESADE in Spain, Bocconi in Italy, and Cambridge.
For the MBA grads of at least these eight schools, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction is more of a old hit record than it is an every day reality.
(See following page for the full record of Forbes’ most satisfied MBA alumni rankings)