The M7: Still (Mostly) The Most Magnificent Of Them All

One thing hasn’t changed about graduating from an M7 school: It still gives you a huge boost in your career. Harvard photo

The M7. With every new trove of data comes a mountain of superlatives. Best talent. Best outcomes. Tops in the rankings.

So you have to ask: In what ways aren’t the M7 — the Magnificent Seven business schools, the elite of the elite — the finest in the world? And it’s hard to come up with an answer.

Not by admissions standards. The full-time MBA programs at Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Columbia Business School, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management are among the hardest in the world to get into. Not in terms of employment results — the all-important ROI. Starting salaries, signing bonuses, and performance bonuses for M7 grads rival or exceed those of any peer school’s MBAs. With the top faculty, pioneering research, constant curricular innovation, networking and employment opportunities, access to capital and influence, permanent hegemony atop the rankings — the M7 schools are where the action is, and everyone knows it.

Of course, it all comes at a huge price. An MBA from any of the M7 schools will set you back more than $200,000, not counting two years of lost income — among the priciest two-year educational experiences in the world. Which leads us to the one, main way in which the M7 are currently just as vulnerable as their peers and their mid-tier counterparts: their MBA programs, flagships of each school, are struggling with a shrinking talent pool. (Just as we noted last year.) With a shrinking pool comes side effects like a rising acceptance rate, a falling yield, and the plateauing of other metrics like average Graduate Management Admission Test scores and grade-point averages. All of this is underway now at the M7 schools, with no end in sight.


The M7 is not a formal designation. Many years ago, the deans of the seven schools decided to create their informal network to share information and to meet twice a year. Through the years, the group has been limited by the self-anointed seven institutions. But it’s not only the deans who get together. The M7 modality cascades down to meetings among vice deans, admission directors, career management directors, even PR, and marketing types.
At the private sessions, for which the schools rotate hosting duties, business school officials trade gossip, best practices, and whatever topical issues end up on the agenda.

There’s a good bit of jealousy about these meetings, especially from the deans of schools just outside the M7, who privately gripe about how elitist the whole exercise is. Poets&Quants plans to look “beyond the M7” in the new year — examining which schools might constitute a “Second M7” or an “International M7,” and which school or schools might rightfully be excluded from the M7 based on recent performance.

From an applicant’s point of view, the M7 continues to be the Holy Grail of the MBA kingdom. Every year, there’s a sizable number of applicants who will only apply to the M7 schools or a subset of them, even though there are many other business schools that are just as or nearly as good. Indeed, for some candidates, a case can easily be made why Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, or the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, or Yale School of Management, or one of several other elite B-schools might well be preferable to an M7 institution. After all, the cutoff at seven was arbitrary to begin with and was made at a very different time.

Still, the fascination with this mysterious group and these schools can turn into an obsession for any highly striving MBA candidate. Which is why we’ve put together this comparative look at the M7 players, comparing and contrasting them by everything from GMATs and GPAs to starting salaries and job offer rates.


As good as the M7 are, they only ever seem to get better — even in hard times. Just as the price to attend one of these esteemed programs only goes up (with some notable temporary exceptions), so too the quality only climbs, sometimes incrementally but always inexorably. Which is why comparisons are best employed between the seven schools and not between them and outsiders.

Within the M7, Stanford clearly had the best 2019, at least as far as rankings go. The Palo Alto, California school earned No. 1 status on three major lists, beginning the year atop the 2019 Financial Times Global MBA Ranking and finishing it with top honors from Bloomberg Businessweek and Poets&Quants. (See page 3 for links and a complete breakdown of M7 positions in all the major rankings.) Stanford also was second place in the Forbes and U.S. News rankings; in 10 sub-categories ranked by the latter, Stanford ranked no lower than ninth, except for failing to be ranked as an international business school (it was ranked ninth in the category last year). Chicago Booth, with top honors from The Economist and Forbes, also made its mark on the rankings this year; but Wharton took the biggest prize, earning sole possession of No. 1 in the U.S. News ranking. Wharton was top-six in every sub-category ranked by U.S. News except Nonprofit, where it was unranked, and Supply Chain Logistics, where it was 18th.

See more on the 2019 rankings on page 3. See cost-benefit comparisons on page 2, showing that while MIT Sloan ousted Stanford this year as the costliest MBA program, Stanford — at $187,760 — still has the highest median total compensation package of the seven schools. Also on page 2, you can examine what MBA students look like going in; and on page 4 you can see the jobs they accept as they leave the M7. Because the fact is, while the stats and standings don’t fluctuate much when you get into the upper echelons of graduate business education, what does change is student interest in certain industries, and therefore what each school becomes best known for. Kellogg is a marketing school, yes — but 25% of the school’s graduating Class of 2019 went into tech, and 19% went into finance, up 5 percentage points from last year. Stanford is a tech school, of course, being located in the heart of Silicon Valley — but tech fell 27% in this year’s class, to 24% from 33%. And while Stanford always leads the way in entrepreneurship, the 15% of grads starting their own businesses this year is down 1 point from 2018; meanwhile its rival in the startup wars, Harvard, saw skyrocketing interest in entrepreneurship, with 17% of its graduating class going their own way or joining a new venture, up from 9% last year (though that increase is at least partly due to a 2018 change in how HBS defines entrepreneurship; the actual number of startup founders in HBS’ Class of 2019 is 65 out of a class of 928, or 7%).

See the next pages for data on cost, salaries, rankings, and much more for the M7 schools.










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