How MBA Students Rank Their Business Schools

Think high rankings correlate to the best MBA experience? Don’t tell that to recent graduates from USC Marshall, Cornell Johnson, and ESADE Business School. According to survey results released by Bloomberg Businessweek this week, these students are far more impressed with their professors and learning than their peers from the M7.

The results reflect a chasm between student opinion and data points traditionally used to assess MBA programs. GMATs and GREs? That’s the brainpower of prospective classmates – and top schools can afford to pay a premium for it. Placement and pay? Think of that as a school’s reach and respect within the marketplace. Both create a virtuous – well, vicious – cycle that rewards renown and resources.


Stanford topped the 2018 Bloomberg Businessweek MBA ranking followed by Wharton, Harvard, MIT Sloan & Chicago Booth

That’s where surveys come into play. Admittedly, they come with a bad rap. In part, that’s thanks to U.S. News giving a 25% weight to responses from deans and senior faculty – parties that simply rubber-stamp the status quo. If you want to know if a business school truly delivers on its promises, your best bet is to assess the students. They are the customers after all. Their scores reveal the quality of their experience and passion for their program…along with being a potential barometer of their willingness to help out as alums.

Bloomberg Businessweek has traditionally used student feedback as a differentiator. Established in 1988 by Poets&Quants’ John A. Byrne, the Businessweek ranking enabled readers to line student opinion against an overall ranking that includes traditional metrics. Alas, the ranking has now morphed into a convoluted set of weights and points, one that’d baffle your average statistics grad student. When school index scores are pegged to particular individual questions, they yield some stunning insights.

That’s exactly what Bloomberg Businessweek did this week, releasing school-by-school scores in seven dimensions:

  • My school’s name and prestige attract recruiters
  • Recruiters that work with the school represent a wide range of geographies
  • My instructors were inspiring and supportive
  • Courses were taught by the right mixture of academics and business professionals
  • I learned skills directly applicable to real-world business situations
  • Competition was healthy, not hostile, among students
  • My education inspired me to pursue an ethical career


Overall, the scores stem from surveys completed by 10,473 MBAs, who graduated between Oct. 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018. The respondents hail from 126 global full-time MBA programs, with each school required to submit a required number of completed surveys that were “normalized” relative to their size. In each dimension, Bloomberg Businessweek listed the schools with the 30 highest index scores.

Best of all, alumni responses – which included graduates from 2009-2012 – were eliminated from the tabulations. As a result, the satisfaction rates illustrate how programs are viewed in the present tense. Based on the responses, blue ribbon programs may want to re-evaluate their programs top-to-bottom.

MIT Sloan, Class of 2018 members

True to form, the top MBA programs enjoyed a serious advantage when it came to Prestige. Not surprisingly, Harvard Business School ranked 1st in attracting top-flight recruiters, trailed by the usual suspects (Wharton School, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, and Columbia Business School). The only outliers were Stanford GSB and Chicago Booth, which placed 8th and 11th respectively. That said, recruiters were far more bullish on Stanford than its students, ranking it 1st for Brand Value, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship in Bloomberg Businessweek’s March recruiter survey.


Beyond prestige, no Top 12 American MBA program ranked 1st in any other dimension according to their recent graduates. Michigan Ross placed 2nd for Diversity of Recruiters (with Northwestern Kellogg coming in at 4th). In terms of Healthy Competitiveness, U.C.-Berkeley Haas finished 3rd, while Harvard ranked 4th for Skills Being Applicable to the Real World. Stretching the lens globally, INSEAD’s best result stemmed from Diversity of Recruiters (8th).

Looking more closely across the seven dimensions, the news is even worse. Stanford GSB, Michigan Ross, and Dartmouth Tuck cracked the Top 30 schools in just four categories. That’s still a better showing than three – which is all that the Wharton School, Chicago Booth, U.C.-Berkeley Haas, and Duke Fuqua could muster. Then again, Yale SOM and the London Business School could only make the Top 30 in two dimensions, according to student surveys.

The best performer among “name” MBA programs? That would be Harvard Business School, which could be found in six of seven categories, ranking among the Top 10 in four of them. Recent grads were also relatively pleased with Northwestern Kellogg and MIT Sloan, which joined HBS in ranking on six dimensions.


However, these outcomes were a far cry from what USC Marshall achieved. The newly-minted members of the Trojan Network ranked their alma mater in the Top 10 in all seven of Bloomberg Businessweek’s dimensions. The results were headlined by earning the highest index score for Diversity of Recruiters, not to mention high finishes in Right Mix of Faculty (2nd), Skills Being Applicable (3rd), and Ethical Career Preparation (3rd). With enthusiasm like that, is there any wonder why Geoffrey Garrett is switching coasts to become Marshall’s dean? It is truly a program on the rise…in spite of itself.

Cornell University

Cornell University’s McGraw Tower

USC Marshall wasn’t alone in students deeming it excellent across the board. You can bet that Dean Josep Franch is beaming in Barcelona. Like USC Marshall, ESADE ranked in every category, ranging from 1st (Right Mix of Faculty) to 15th (Prestige). BYU Marriott can say the same. Ranked 32nd by Poets&Quants, Marriott’s low-debt model and purpose-driven programming have been a major hit with full-time MBAs. It ranked 1st in Ethical Career Preparation and 2nd in Inspiring Faculty (losing out to Virginia Darden, perhaps the top teaching program in the world).

Survey respondents also hailed Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. The program ranked among the Top 5 programs in four dimensions (Diversity of Recruiters, Inspiring Faculty, Right Mix of Faculty, and Ethical Career Preparation). Oh, and Johnson placed 6th in another dimension too (Skills Being Applicable in the Real World).


Do these results foreshadow a changing of the guard? The elite programs remain entrenched among the top-ranked MBA programs for reasons beyond sterling branding and deep pockets. Simply put, they boast proven formulas and rich global networks, a wide range of expertise and a wealth of experiences. From Columbia to Stanford, these programs are innovators, catalysts always looking to break barriers and open new opportunities. That’s why their inputs and outputs shine every year. Question is, have they taken the student experience for granted?

One area to start may be teaching according to the student surveys. When it comes to the Right Mix of Faculty, just 12 schools garnered a score above 85 on a 100 point index. Compare that to Applicable Skills, where 29 business schools reached 85 or better. By the same token, just 15 schools achieved an 85 or better when it comes to Inspiring Instructors. In other words, there is room for improvement here. The same could be said for the Geographic Diversity of Recruiters, where four schools fell below an 80 index, including the lowest Top 30 scores across all dimensions.

Wondering where your target schools rank? Click on the links below for all of the Bloomberg Businessweek Student Survey scores.   










DON’T MISS:Corporate Recruiters Rate The Brand Value Of Specific B-Schools

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