Is This New Ranking Of MBA Programs Legit?

There’s a new ranking in town. WalletHub, a personal finance website, has compiled a list of nearly 100 MBA programs in the United States and ranked them according to three main categories: return on investment, student selectivity/program quality, and campus experience. Top marks in this new ranking go to Stanford Graduate School of Business; rounding out the top five are Harvard Business School, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

“Not all MBA programs are equal,” writes Adam McCann, WalletHub financial writer. “The ideal program provides the combination of a high return on investment, quality instruction, and a good personal experience.”

To determine the best MBA programs in the U.S., WalletHub used 10 metrics to compare 92 major programs that are members of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, including annual tuition for students and the average base salary for graduates, as well as gender diversity, ratings from professors, and average GMAT scores.

Source: WalletHub



The result is a list that has all the appearances of a legitimate ranking. But is it?

Using career stats for the Class of 2018 and incoming stats for the Class of 2020, WalletHub used the 10 metrics to construct the three dimensions, weighting some more than others. For ROI, with a total of 50 possible points, WalletHub gave triple weight (21-plus points) to average base salary and double weight (14-plus points) to employment rates, while giving full weight (7 points each) to average signing bonus and tuition/fees. For student selectivity and program quality, with a total of 40 possible points, it gave double weight (20 points) to ratings from professors from other schools and full weight (10 points each) to average GMAT score and average undergraduate GPA. And for campus experience, with 10 total possible points, WalletHub gave full weight (3.33 points each) to three metrics: gender diversity, share of international students, and average years of work experience.

WalletHub graded each metric on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing best MBA program. They then determined each school’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate an overall score, using the resulting scores to rank-order the sample. Stanford GSB, which comes out on top, has a total score of 83.91, including the top score in student selectivity/program quality and the second-best score in ROI. Stanford has the highest average base salary, $145,559, which WalletHub notes is 2.7 times higher than at Northern Arizona University (Franke), which has the lowest at $53,778.

Harvard is ranked second with a total score of 78.69, including second in student selectivity/program quality, and Wharton is third, including third place in that category. Stanford, Columbia Business School, the University of Miami, Wharton, and Northwestern Kellogg, all have the highest average GMAT score, 732, which WalletHub notes is 1.5 times higher than at Howard University, which has the lowest at 485. The top school for ROI is Washington Foster, ranked No. 12 overall; and the top school for campus experience is the University of Louisville College of Business, ranked No. 78 overall.


Unfortunately, WalletHub’s system results in some head-scratchers. USC Marshall, for example, lands in the top 10, with an overall score of 73.03, just below Northwestern Kellogg and just above Columbia Business School, a pair of M7 schools. Most major rankings have USC in or around the top 20: Forbesrecently released ranking puts the school at 21st, which required a jump of 12 places in one year; U.S. News ranks Marshall 17th, tied with Carnegie Mellon Tepper; The Financial Times, which includes schools around the world, ranks Marshall 46th; and Poets&Quants ranks the school 22nd. Conversely, WalletHub ranks Dartmouth very low. The Tuck School is widely viewed as a top-10 school, including a recent No. 6 ranking from Forbes and P&Q’s No. 9; yet here Dartmouth is relegated to No. 16, below Duke Fuqua, NYU Stern, and Virginia Darden. Likewise, should Wisconsin be a top-20 school? Should BYU’s Marriott School of Business be in the top 25?

As we know, the Internet is full of questionable or downright worthless rankings. WalletHub’s is not the worst of the lot — by far; even the major rankings have significant issues — but it is problematic in some key ways.

One problem is in WalletHub’s selectivity metrics and how it assigns double the weight to professors’ ratings of peer schools (on a scale of 1 for unremarkable to 5 for outstanding) than it assigns to GMAT scores and undergraduate GPAs. But ask any admissions officer and — after they give the standard disclaimer about the importance of many aspects of a candidate’s application — they will tell you that GMATs and GPAs are vital metrics reflective of the quality of incoming students. There’s a reason both are always prominently displayed on schools’ class profiles. Here they are secondary to the subjective views of professors who don’t necessarily know anything about the schools they are ranking. Another problem: For some schools, estimates were needed in three of the four metrics used to score ROI. Which schools? WalletHub doesn’t say, and it’s hard to trust the accuracy of the estimates — for base salaries, signing bonuses, and tuition and fees — without knowing. Nor does WalletHub take into account the quality of incoming students or their satisfaction with the MBA program when considering ROI.


Other key findings in WalletHub’s report accompanying its ranking:

  • Iowa State University and the University of Louisville both have the highest employment rate (share of class that accepted offers within three months after graduation), 100%, which is 1.7 times higher than at University of San Diego and University of Delaware (Lerner), which have the lowest at 60%.
  • Iowa State University has the lowest total tuition and fees, $12,914, which is 6.1 times lower than at Columbia University, which has the highest at $79,209.
  • CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College (Zicklin) has the highest gender diversity, which is 1.5 times higher than at Texas A&M University-College Station (Mays).
  • The University of Kentucky (Gatton) has the fewest average years of work experience, 1.2, which is 5.4 years fewer than at University of Maryland-College Park (Smith), which has the most at 6.6.

See the next pages for WalletHub’s complete ranking of 92 U.S. MBA programs. 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that WalletHub is owned by NerdWallet. The two companies have no affiliation. 


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