How Business Schools Rank By Specialization

The MBA is, by design, an all-inclusive degree — granted. But some schools always have been, and always will be, known for certain specializations. Want to go into finance? Top of the heap is either the Wharton School or Chicago Booth. Operations? MIT’s Sloan School of Management is your target. For marketing you go to Northwestern Kellogg, for general management you aim for Harvard. And so on. Now, with the release of the 2019 U.S. News & World Report MBA rankings, we once again have a snapshot of the specialization landscape, and whether the leading schools are still leading in a set of specializations — or whether some upstarts are inching closer to upsetting the natural order of things.

In addition to its overall MBA ranking, U.S. News ranks 10 specializations, from Finance to Supply Chain/Logistics, and once again in the 2019 version, most of the top-ranked schools in each category are ones you’d expect. Wharton is tops in Finance, with Chicago Booth close behind. Harvard takes top honors in Management, while MIT’s Sloan School is king of Production/Operations. The natural order preserved. But the plaudits are spread evenly. Only two schools merited a rank in each of the 10 categories: the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, not coincidentally the main ranking’s biggest surprise at No. 7 overall, and perennial powerhouse Stanford Graduate School of Business. Everyone else had at least one “NR” to its name.

Only one school, MIT Sloan, earned more than one No. 1, in Information Systems and Operations. Harvard had two No. 2’s, in International Business and Nonprofits, while Stanford achieved three: in Entrepreneurship, Management, and Nonprofits. In no category did Stanford rank lower than ninth (International Business), making it the clear top school in specialization terms.

Some lesser-known schools, meanwhile, kept their edge in a single chosen field. The University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business (ranked No. 65 overall) was again named No. 1 in International Business, where it has remained for the better part of two decades thanks in large part to the highly regarded efforts of its Sonoco International Business Department; and Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business (No. 37) found itself atop the Supply Chain/Logistics rankings for a sixth consecutive year, in no small measure because of its wide array of offerings in the field: a bachelor’s and master’s in supply chain management and two distinct doctoral programs, in logistics and operations & sourcing management. The University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business took top honors in Accounting once more, while Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business was once again crowned the best destination for the entrepreneurially minded.


Peter Johnson

While only two schools were ranked in every category, several were ranked in all but one category, including Harvard, Wharton, and Northwestern Kellogg. A fourth member of this small group was UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which ranked highest in International Business and Nonprofit (No. 4 in each) and Entrepreneurship (No. 5), while missing out only in Information Systems.

Berkeley, ranked No. 7 overall by U.S. News, is a general management program at its core, says Peter Johnson, assistant dean for the full-time MBA program and admissions at Haas. But, he adds, it’s also a maverick program that blazes its own trail in most specializations, with an emphasis on the experiential. In terms of the three areas where Berkeley ranked highest, that experiential learning comes in the form of Haas’ Applied Innovation electives, the International Business Development program, and, in the case of nonprofit-oriented students, the Social Sector Solutions program.

“The rankings are a reflection of our sustained commitment to these areas over time, and the success of our students in them,” Johnson tells Poets&Quants. “That has generated the level of awareness that leads peer schools to vote for us in this particular set of rankings. In each of those specific areas (International, Nonprofit, Entrepreneurship) we have a lot of opportunities for students, and those three areas are areas where I think we are particularly strong in experiential learning opportunities.”


While it’s expected that Berkeley Haas would rank well in Entrepreneurship and Management (where the school earned a No. 5 sand a No. 7, respectively), it was the school’s No. 8 ranking in Finance that Johnson says he is perhaps proudest of. “Clearly we have excellent faculty who are teaching in finance, but we have kind of followed our own path. More of our students at Haas than ever before are interested in newer areas of finance,” he says. “Fintech, for example, venture finance, and so on. We have some students interested in taking the traditional investment banking path, but fewer are going in that direction and a lot more are going into some of the newer areas of finance.”

While Berkeley Haas remains a strong general management program — a fact that has earned it the No. 7 overall rank by U.S. News each of the last four yearsthe school can point to strong performances at the specialization level as evidence of a multifaceted, evolving, innovative approach to business education. “I’m glad for the recognition of Berkeley as a top-10 school,” Johnson says. “I think one of the things that enables us to stay there is that at the same time that we’re providing all these opportunities in some of the specialization areas, we’re constantly evolving the curriculum to reflect the latest innovations in business. At the point in time, for example, we’re offering electives in blockchain and AI and we’re launching a new certificate program in data analytics. But at the same time, the core of the program is a strong general management foundation — and we haven’t lost sight of that.

“We’re always happy to be recognize for some of the hard work we’re doing, even though you never know how that comes out in rankings,” Johnson adds. “There are all kinds of things that we’re doing both in the curriculum and on a co-curricular level that get our students out into the world, and I think that’s helpful.”


As Johnson says, U.S. News‘ specialization rankings are unlike the greater rankings in that the whole weight of the ranking lies in peer assessments. This has obvious flaws, among them that business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs can nominate up to 10 schools for inclusion in each of the specializations — making the whole exercise a bit of a popularity contest. One result of this has been the apparent ongoing bloc-voting effort of a group of unranked Jesuit schools that puts names like Xavier and Fairfield and Rockhurst beside elite schools — and in some cases, ahead of them.

For example, U.S. News ranks 38 schools in the Accounting specialization, most of any category. Of those, 11 are schools that appear nowhere in the main ranking: schools like Gonzaga University (13th in Accounting), Seattle University (15th), Loyola Marymount (16th), Marquette (19th), Fairfield University (21st), Xavier University (23rd), Saint Louis University (28th), and Loyola Maryland (35th). What do these schools all have in common? A Roman Catholic, Jesuit foundation, and apparently a strong fan base among deans and counterpart officials.

In fact, some of these unknown schools pop up in several of the specializations. If you take the U.S. News specialization rankings at face value, Fairfield’s Dolan School of Business in Connecticut, with 65 enrolled students, is also a great destination for those looking to study Finance (ranked 12th, above Duke Fuqua, CMU Tepper, and Yale SOM), Information Systems (15th), and Marketing (15th). Xavier University’s Williams College of Business in Cincinnati, Ohio is ranked in six categories: Accounting (23rd), Supply Chain/Logistics (21st), Marketing (19th), Entrepreneurship (19th), Management (22nd), and Finance, where its No. 15 showing is tied with CMU Tepper and higher than Yale SOM at No. 22. Neither Fairfield nor Xavier found their way onto U.S. News‘ overall ranking. Other unranked schools to make appearances in the specialization rankings: Loyola Marymount, St. Joseph’s, Fordham, Rockhurst, Saint Louis, Detroit Mercy, Seattle. All are Jesuit schools.

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