Ten Biggest Surprises In U.S. News’ 2019 MBA Ranking

Harvard Business School in a wintry scene

3) Harvard Business School At No. 3? Really?

Most schools would be thrilled to round out the top three of any ranking. Not Harvard Business School. They are the ‘West Point of Capitalism,’ as the saying goes – the bar that many business schools set for themselves. HBS is influential and acclaimed – a billion-dollar brand with a Cheval Blanc network that open doors and confer authority for a lifetime. Despite this, HBS tied for 3rd with Chicago Booth and (gasp!) cross-town rival MIT Sloan in 2020. They may as well have ranked 5th!

Alas, HBS is accustomed to the disrespect. Sometimes, you wonder if methodologies are constructed to give them short shrift. Look no further than Bloomberg Businessweek, which revamped its ranking methodology in 2018 after HBS took home three straight first-place finishes. Sure enough, the school fell to 3rd when all was said-and-done.The counter-argument, however, is that HBS doesn’t rank atop any of the four disparate methodologies that measure graduate business schools. In other words, maybe the perception and the reality are at odds. Take the Financial Times. Here, HBS was runner-up to Stanford GSB in 2019, a marked improvement over its 4th place finish the year before. For the past two years, Harvard has ranked below Chicago Booth and Northwestern Kellogg according to The Economist.

In U.S. News, HBS was cursed by two factors. First, the school’s three-month placement stood at 89.3%, the third-lowest among Top 20 full-time MBA programs. However, this reflects a bit of a dilemma. HBS grads are coveted – they don’t need to scramble for jobs. In other words, this placement rate may reflect less on performance and more on confidence. Translation: HBS grads are better positioned to hold off and wait for perfect opportunities – ones that aren’t handed out en masse. That includes everything from private equity and hedge funds – industries that feature an inordinately large percentage of HBS alums – to early-stage firms that offer equity.

Bottom line: U.S. News’ methodology is geared to musical chairs, where the schools are punished if their students can’t land a spot after the music is cut. Problem is, many HBS (and Stanford) grads simply prefer to stand and observe over marching around in a never-ending circle.

That said, Bloomberg Businessweek’s recent release of raw recruiter scores should give HBS defenders some pause. When it comes to producing the “most creative” MBAs, HBS grads languished at 29th with a 3.66 score on a 5-point scale. In terms of diversity, HBS placed 24th at 3.74 for its average. Similarly, the school notched a 3.65 for “best trained,” good for 28th. More damning, HBS ranked 2nd for “Brand Value” – indicating that there is a serious gap between promise and performance among HBS MBAs according to recruiters. That may be a trend to watch in explaining why HBS has become an also-ran instead of an almighty in the MBA universe.

Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business slipped outside the top ten

4) Can Dartmouth Tuck Return To the Top 10?

What a difference a year makes! Last year, Dartmouth Tuck ranked in the Top 10 of every major ranking, topping out at 7th with Bloomberg Businessweek. This part year? Well, let’s just say the local vineyards have been keeping Tuck plenty stocked. 

It started with The Economist, which dropped Tuck to 12th. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the school 19th. An anomaly? Not when Tuck plummeted to 15th with the Financial Times. If that wasn’t enough Tuck slid from 8th to 12th on the 2020 U.S. News ranking – the gold standard for MBA rankings in many corners. 

Talk about a bad year – especially for a program that has traditionally yo-yoed from 6th to 9th in the U.S. News ranking. Even worse, it shares the 12th sport with NYU Stern and Virginia Darden, meaning they could’ve very easily been 14th had U.S. News tinkered with their weights this year. 

What’s behind Tuck’s fall from grace in U.S. News? Nothing, really – and that’s the problem. With the Class of 2020, the average GMAT held steady at 722 from the year before, much like the 717 average posted the two years previous to that. The average undergraduate GPA dipped…but just by .02 of a point! The same is true of acceptance rate, which inched up from 23% to 23.3%. When it comes to average starting pay and bonus, Tuck’s $157,821 number tops every Top 10 program except Stanford GSB. In fact, the only real difference with Tuck involves placement, which bottomed out at 91.9% in 2020 after consistently running at an above average 95% clip in recent years.  

Another area that haunts Tuck is the peer and recruiter assessment scores. Here, Tuck scored a respectable 4.3 among academic colleagues and a 4.0 among recruiters. Problem is, the schools that moved ahead of Tuck – Duke Fuqua and Yale SOM, in particular – scored 4.4 in the peer category and 4.2 among recruiters. Even more, Tuck has seemingly been locked into these scores for a stretch (though it was scoring 4.3 among recruiters a decade ago). In other words, Tuck isn’t doing anything wrong. Problem is, the schools around them are making strong moves. NYU Stern, for example, passed Tuck in both pay and placement, enabling them to pull into a tie. 

With an Ivy League pedigree and a loyal network of legendary proportions, Tuck has the foundation to be a perennial Top 10 program. Its tight-knit community and transformative experience are cultural elements that simply cannot be duplicated in other programs. Can Tuck generate more buzz among recruiters – who are already paying a premium for their talent? That’ll be one of the big questions for Tuck to answer in 2019. If they can’t, they will become the Ivy’s answer to Virginia Darden: a program always on the outside looking in, never able to make that final and difficult step into the Top 10.  

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