How MBA Alumni Rank Business Schools

hand giving bachelor hat to student on gray background

Sometimes, you just need some distance. For many graduates, business school was transformational. It was the great awakening, a time where they found clarity and purpose. After returning to the real world, some hard realities can set in for alumni.

Sure, they discovered their potential and tapped into their grit as MBA students. As their careers progress, many begin to recognize certain limitations. Maybe they’ll struggle with technical nuances they should’ve learned in class. Others may grow uncomfortable when their success increasingly hinges on their interpersonal skills. Sure, their classmates were a delight during pub crawls and holiday treks, but now can they get them an audience with unavailable decision-makers?


Experience matters…but so do outcomes. Together, they help to determine the value of an MBA degree. That’s one reason why Bloomberg Businessweek surveys alumni as part of its annual MBA ranking. This year, alumni from 126 global, full-time MBA programs were surveyed in five dimensions:

1) “My school’s alumni network has helped me build my career.”

2) “I would recommend my school to a friend because of the quality of its academic program.”

3) “My school’s name and prestige have been beneficial to me.”

4) “I would recommend my program to a friend who is interested in entrepreneurship.”

5) “My education emphasized innovation and creativity.”

Overall, the scores – with a 100 index being the best possible score – stem from surveys completed by 15,050 MBA alums. To qualify, each program is required to submit a required number of completed surveys, which are “normalized” relative to school size. In each dimension, Bloomberg Businessweek listed the schools with the 30 highest index scores.

Stanford Graduate School of Business students. GSB photo


Which schools earned the highest marks from alumni? Stanford GSB ranked 1st in the overall ranking – and alumni surveys are one reason why. In four out of five categories, Stanford GSB notched perfect 100 index scores. One area where Stanford GSB thrived was fostering innovation and creativity. According to Annie Robertson Hockey, a 2018 MBA grad and Bain & Company consultant, this strength stems from the school’s ability to develop talent.

“Stanford is excellent at finding people who have extreme passion and bringing them to campus to challenge them, to fuel that passion and channel it into industries, companies, and jobs that can make the world better,” she explains in a 2019 interview with Poets & Quants. “They’re also putting them into a situation where they can meet other people who are on working on those same things, which is magical. What you find is that people who have an extreme passion for something non-academic are able to bring that into their professional lives. That’s where true innovation and true disruption happen because that’s where people think outside the box. They can envision a future that is not necessarily constrained by the way things are done now but the way things should be done.”

The only blemish on Stanford GSB’s near-perfect record with Bloomberg Businessweek? The program scored a 97.07 – good for 9th overall – in academic quality. In this area, the University of Chicago’s Booth School topped all comers with a perfect 100 score among alumni. That’s hardly a surprise for an MBA program that prides itself for teaching excellence and academic rigor. In fact, this approach is exactly what attracts MBA candidates to the program.


“There is a self-selection, no question about that,” admits Stacey Kole, Booth’s deputy dean for MBA programs, in a 2019 interview with P&Q. “The students who come to Chicago are attracted by the fact that we have these incredible thought leaders who believe their role is to share these ideas with the next generation of leaders. It’s not just research for research sake. They want to change the world and that happens both through their research papers and through teaching their ideas to really talented people who then put those ideas into practice.”

While Booth takes a more traditional approach, the program is hardly dogmatic. “We try things out,” Kole adds. “If they don’t work, we let them go. We’re very data-driven.”

Booth may have finished #1 in academic excellence, but that doesn’t mean it earned plaudits across the board from alumni. The school ranked among the Top 10 programs in just one other category (Prestige). That was a common trend among the highest-ranked programs. While Stanford GSB achieved Top 10 scores in all five dimensions, Harvard Business School could only match that feat in two categories: career development (2nd) and prestige (2nd). The Wharton School and Northwestern Kellogg each placed among the Top 10 in three categories. Michigan Ross and Virginia Darden popped up twice, while Columbia Business School, Berkeley Haas, Dartmouth Tuck, and Yale SOM managed just one Top 10 appearance. In fact, MIT Sloan was the only MBA program that was remotely able to compete with Stanford across the board. The program ranked among the Top 10 schools in four categories, including the 2nd-highest score for entrepreneurship and the 3rd-highest for innovation and creativity.

Imperial College Business School runs its MBA creative workshop in LT3 (lecturer Chris Downs), 29th June 2018
Photography by Fergus Burnett
Accreditation required with all use – ‘


The survey also included several surprises. Exhibit A: Imperial College of London, which ranked 2nd for innovation and creativity and 4th in entrepreneurship. Babson College excelled in the same dimensions, with its best performance (3rd) coming in entrepreneurship. The same was true for the University of Maryland and the University of California-San Diego, with the former ranking 7th in entrepreneurship and the latter placing 7th in innovation and creativity.

Those weren’t the only unexpected – and possibly dubious – results from alumni respondents. For one, the University of Texas-Dallas ranked 6th in academic excellence, ahead of Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and Yale. Although Harvard Business School MBAs launched 21 of the highest-funded startups over the past five years, the program earned just the 15th-highest score among alumni in entrepreneurship. Even worse, HBS’ 93.45 score in academics was good for just 18th.

The alumni survey also featured some intriguing deviations from the student survey, which Bloomberg Businessweek released during the spring. Among students, Stanford GSB ranked 8th for prestige with a 95.50 index score, 4.5 points lower how alumni scored the school – reflecting potential unrest among new grads. In contrast, USC Marshall ranked 6th at 95.94 with students, a score that’s 12.82 points below the alumni assessment. While SDA Bocconi ranked 9th in prestige among students, the school’s alumni score didn’t even crack the Top 30.

As a whole, MBA alumni respondents gave their highest marks to their alma maters’ academic quality. 28 schools scored a 90 or above in this dimension. Combined, career development and school prestige produced just 26 schools in this range. At the opposite end, alumni sent a message by delivering their lowest scores in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation and creativity. Just four schools hit 90 mark in entrepreneurship. At the same time, 20 of 30 schools scored in the 70 range or lower in innovation and creativity. This may be a harbinger than graduate business education isn’t keeping pace with the pace of change – and the problem-solving needed to capitalize on opportunities ranging from artificial intelligence to business analytics.

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

Career Development

Academic Excellence

School Prestige


Innovation and Creativity

How Top Schools Compare


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