10 Business Schools To Watch In 2018

Wharton students in procession during the school’s graduation ceremony.

Wharton School

This is a joke, right? Isn’t this list for up-and-comers? Yes, Wharton is the establishment – and the bar that many programs measure themselves against. Guess what? In 2017, the bar was raised higher.

Look no further than the major MBA rankings, where Wharton ranked 1st with three outlets (Poets&Quants, U.S. News, and Forbes) and 2nd with Bloomberg Businessweek and the Financial Times. Alas, the school only finished 4th in the ever-quirky Economist ranking. Even there, it still managed to climb five spots.

By all measures, it was a stellar year for Wharton, which vaulted Stanford in all but one ranking and displaced Harvard in three others. Yes, they hold bragging rights – and for good reason. During the 2015-2016 year, Wharton notched a 95.8% placement rate within three months of graduation, with students pulling down $155,058 in starting pay – both major jumps over the previous year. These improved outcomes were supplemented by higher incoming GMAT scores and average GPAs as well.  Think that’s impressive? How about this: Wharton grads from the 2012 Class were earning $225,000 on average. That’s three times more than they were earning before they entered business school – and a bigger gain than any top b-school over that period according to Forbes. Heck, Wharton’s undergrad business program even ranked #1 with P&Q. A historic year indeed!

This resurgence isn’t just based on inputs and outputs. Wharton made headway in both the Bloomberg Businessweek and Forbes student satisfaction surveys, even ranking 4th with Forbes in 2017 after eight years of placing outside the top 10 schools. Despite its excellence in finance, Wharton still manage to double the number of new alumni startup ventures in P&Q’s Top MBA startups of 2017 ranking. In fact, Deliveroo, a 2013 Wharton food delivery startup, has raised over $450 million dollars in funding, more than any other startup on the list! It has even emerged as the go-to destination for women, boasting a 44% female population for the second straight year.

Of course, consistency separates the great from the extraordinary. So can Wharton hold on? Rankings-wise, you can expect Wharton to get a run for its money from Stanford, whose average starting pay ($165,200 vs. $149,300) and average GMATs (737 vs. 730) both topped Wharton during the 2016-2017 cycle. Don’t feel too sorry for Wharton, whose size and scope enable it to offer perhaps the most diverse assortment of options anywhere.

“We’re a really big community and that makes it very easy to find like-minded classmates who are interested in similar things,” observes Karl Ulrich, the vice dean who operates the school’s west coast campus and its one-of-a-kind Semester in San Francisco program. “If you’re interested in something relatively specialized, Wharton would be a very good choice because you’re likely to find 20 other people who have similar interests.”

MBA students engaging outside USC Marshall.

USC (Marshall)

Like Wharton, USC was a rankings dynamo in 2017. With Bloomberg Businessweek, it jumped eight spots to 30th. It rose another seven spots in the U.S. News ranking. It cracked the top 50 globally with the Financial Times. It even rocketed 25 spots in the Economist ranking. The net result? The school now ranks 26th overall in the latest Poets&Quants ranking.

Marshall has always been blessed with a great brand. Over the past two years, it has garnered the metrics to take the next step. For one, the school’s average GMAT crept above 700 with the Class of 2019. In fact, it climbed from 692 to 703 in just one year, a sign that it is ready to play in the Top 20 with the likes of Emory and Texas. Marshall grads have also grown more attractive to employers. In 2016, median pay climbed nearly $9,000, which was accompanied by an 11% improvement in placement. This year, the numbers continued their upward trajectory, as median base and median bonus rose by $2,000 and $5,000 respectively.

MBA students are starting to take a second look at Marshall too. During the 2016-2017 cycle, Marshall received over 400 more applications than the year before. One reason? The school is beloved by students and alumni alike. It finished among the top 10 MBA programs in this year’s Bloomberg Businessweek student satisfaction survey. Yes, happy students make happy alumni. This sentiment is reflected in the growth of the vaunted “Trojan Network.” 75,000 alumni strong, Marshall graduates are celebrated for looking out for students who follow in their footsteps. This pay-it-forward tradition doesn’t mean just counseling or mentoring. More than that, Marshall grads are active – as in plugging Marshall MBAs into their networks and helping them land internships and jobs. This guardian angel ethos, coupled with a revamped career center led by placement phenom Mark Brostoff, means you can expect Marshall grads to increasingly clean up in the job market over the coming years.

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

Rice University (Jones)

After three consecutive appearances on this list, it might be time to retire Jones from appearing again. Then again, maybe peer schools should take notes and elevate their game like Dean Rodriguez has.

In recent years, Jones has garnered headlines for making the top 10 in Bloomberg Businessweek’s MBA ranking. It is a subjective instrument, no doubt, with 80% of its ranking hinging on survey sentiment. Here, Rice continues to excel, earning the fourth-best marks from alumni and ranking among the top 15 with recruiters and students. It’s hardly an anomaly, as the school ranked 6th in Forbes’ 2017 ‘Most Satisfied MBAs survey.  Notably, Jones has made impressive inroads with recruiters, going from 40th to 14th over the past two years. Employers are backing these positive vibes with cold hard cash, as 2016 Rice grads earned $12,000 more than the previous class.

Of course, Rice has always carried a certain advantage, with over 80% of their classes receiving financial aid. That, coupled with the program’s growing momentum, has invited MBA candidates to give it a second look. In 2016-2017, applications rose by 6.4%. More impressive, the Class of 2019’s GMAT jumped by 21 points to 711 – just two points lower than Virginia Darden (and a point higher than the state flagship Texas McCombs). With gains like that, Jones will inevitably emerge as a consistent Top 15 American program across all rankings regardless of methodology.

Just don’t expect the school to get too comfortable. This year, the school will launch an MBA@Rice online program, not to mention add a required global excursion. At the same time, Dean Rodriguez is laying the groundwork to boost the full-time MBA program by 20%. “Growth is a good and motivating reason for a lot of organizations to change things and to try new things,” Rodriguez told P&Q in 2017. “We’ll have to make some changes quickly to coordinate all of that growth while we do it. If we can manage that, we’ll be in a great position for Rice.”

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