How Recruiters, Alumni & Students Really Feel About Their B-Schools

There’s some of a hidden, if not alarming, surprise in Bloomberg Businessweek’s newest MBA ranking. The survey results from employers, alumni and students are all down from the year-earlier results. From one school after another, stakeholders appear slightly less satisfied with the business schools they’ve attended or recruit from.

Among the rankings, Bloomberg Businessweek may be the best–if still flawed–measure for how well MBA programs achieve their mission. Why? Some 80% of the ranking is based on survey results from employers, alumni, and students: These are the people who are closest to the programs – who aren’t drawing a paycheck from them, that is. And the very ones who make the greatest impact inside organizations. In each group, school scores are down in the 2017 ranking.

Take recruiters. Here, 39 programs finished with a lower ranking than two years ago. In fact, 22 schools fell by 10 spots or more, with just 15 programs boosting their rankings in that same range. In the alumni ranking, 40 schools lost ground compared to 26 schools whose rank improved. The results were no different with current students, as 17 programs dropped by 10 spots or more.

Members of the Class of 2016 celebrate Commencement Day at Harvard Business School


Yes, the people have spoken. Collectively, their data is a reflection that ranking volatility extends far beyond individual schools. Why is this? Well, that’s the rub with Bloomberg Businessweek, which releases a rank without providing context through underlying data. As a result, this “Take our word for it” ranking just illustrates school trends without explaining them. That doesn’t mean they don’t offer value, however. Instead, they act as a place for applicants to start their research – an indication of where programs are trending and a conversation starter that keeps schools honest.

Recruiters are considered the consumers of MBA talent. Their hiring preferences can tip applicants off on which programs provide the best overall education (or recruit the most promising MBA candidates).The results of the employer survey dictates 35% of a school’s rank in the Bloomberg Businessweek MBA ranking, making it the cornerstone of the process. To evaluate programs, recruiters pick their 10 strongest schools from their experience and score them on a variety of critical skills. Unfortunately, neither the criteria nor the scoring system is ever specified by Bloomberg Businessweek.

This year, recruiter sentiment aligned closely with overall rank. Harvard topped all comers, followed by MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, Wharton, and Columbia – all high enrollment, resource-rich, highly selective, urban programs. That’s just part of the story. 9 of the 10 programs ranked highest by recruiters were private institutions, with Michigan Ross being the lone exception. What’s more, MBA recruiters consistently give these programs the highest marks. Over the past two years, just two programs – Dartmouth Tuck and Carnegie Mellon Tepper – have managed to wiggle their way into the Top 10. Brand names have their privileges.


Still, you’re never quite sure what rubrics that recruiters are using to measure schools, just that the 2017 surveys covers hires from the 2015 and 2016 classes. Is it quantitative mastery? Soft skills? Who really knows? Undoubtedly, Bloomberg Businessweek could give Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot a run for their money! This lack of transparency isn’t the only issue with how recruiters evaluate schools. This year, 11,801 recruiters were invited to complete the MBA survey. However, just 686 respondents from 400 companies responded to the call. That was a steep drop off from 2016, which netted 1,055 recruiters from 500 companies, and 2015, where 1,461 respondents from 672 firms were included in compiling school scores.

Rice Business Students

On the negative side, this means that far fewer employers were given a voice in this year’s ranking. That said, less responses could also indicate a more selective and targeted survey, one with far fewer redundant companies. Again, you have to give Bloomberg Businessweek the benefit of the doubt with these surveys – assuming the scoring is coming from seasoned MBA employers like McKinsey and Amazon. Such differentials may also influence how to evaluate shifts in employer sentiment.

The 2017 ranking, as noted earlier, focuses on the previous two graduating class. In 2015, the Bloomberg Businessweek survey reached graduates from the 2014 and 2013 classes, meaning there is no overlap between the two rankings. As such, it is best to evaluate recruiter preferences between these two surveys. Over the past two years, Rice Jones has been the program that gained the most from recruiters. It has risen from 40th to 14th in that time. In turn, this coincides with a pay improvement – with the school’s rank here improving from 30th to 18th according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Rice wasn’t the only Top 10 program making waves, either. Dartmouth Tuck jumped 13 spots to 8th since 2015 – a move punctuated by a $9,000 starting pay increase over the past two years and a 98% placement rate for the 2016 Class.


If you’re looking for hidden gems, head to the Midwest – and public Big 10 programs, in particular. Purdue Krannert made the biggest jump in the recruiter rankings since 2015, rising 34 points from 50th to 16th. Although Krannert averages 75 students per class, its graduates land jobs with an impressive array of employers including Procter & Gamble, Amazon, Bank of America, Hershey, and Ford.  The University of Illinois was no slouch either, going from 65th to 32nd – a ranking that could push even higher once the program reaps the rewards of its new $150 million dollar naming gift. Although Iowa Tippie is shuttering its full-time MBA program, it had been gaining steam with employers in recent years, jumping 20 points to 40th. Oklahoma (+21), Penn State Smeal (+18), and Michigan State Broad (+15) also posted impressive gains.

With yang comes yin. Among recruiters, Berkeley Haas has lost a certain sheen. It has tumbled 14 spots over the past two years, ranking lower than Texas-Dallas Jindal and Michigan State Broad in appeal. However, Haas was hardly alone. Yale SOM – the darling of the MBA universe since Ted Snyder took the helm in 2011 – has fallen to 21st to rank behind Penn State Smeal and Texas A&M Mays. Humbling? The ranking may be hazy and subjective, but it does tap into what some recruiters are too cautious to share publicly: the top MBA students at second tier programs are every bit as good as their counterparts in the big name programs.

In addition, William & Mary, once a Top 20 player in 2015, crashed to 51st, a much rockier landing than those experienced by highly decorated private gems like Georgetown McDonough (-23), USC Marshall (-19), Notre Dame Mendoza (-18), and Emory Goizueta (-17). Perhaps the biggest shock is Stanford GSB, which punches well below its weight with recruiters compared to its overall ranking (20th vs. 5th). Then again, Stanford MBAs follow their own drum beat, often creating jobs for themselves or targeting more boutique firms who can afford to have the best candidates come to them. Don’t shed too many tears for Stanford, with Bloomberg Businessweek reporting that the 2016 and 2015 classes still earned the highest pay.

Go to next page to see how alumni rank MBA programs.

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