How MBA Students & Alumni Rank Their Business Schools

It’s not hard to attract a customer. Just cut a cute promo or pitch limited-time pricing. Who can resist clever and cheap, let alone unique and urgent? The real trick, though, is getting customers to come back…and bring their friends too.

That’s what business schools face. They supply expertise and experience, with a network tacked on for good measure. Their degrees act as a seal of approval – proof graduates possess the tools and mettle to perform and grow. Here’s the question most applicants are asking: How do I know a school will up to its promises?


For some, the truth is reflected in lavish alumni donations. To others, satisfaction is measured in how quickly and graciously their calls are returned. Of course, there are the tell-tale signs: alumni flock back to campus, participate in classes, and open doors to internships and jobs.

Sometimes, they even share their observations in surveys.

Alumni and students meet at the Mendoza College’s MBA orientation. Photo by Peter Ringenberg/University of Notre Dame

Those insights can influence MBA rankings like Bloomberg Businessweek. Released each fall, this ranking measures business schools based on Pay (37.3%), Networking (25.7%), Learning (21.3%), and Entrepreneurship (15.7%). Sure enough, survey results help shape the latter three categories. When it comes to student satisfaction – past and present – you’ll find Stanford GSB, Berkeley Haas, and Dartmouth Tuck leading the pack.


This week, Bloomberg Businessweek released select survey results from its annual MBA student and alumni survey. Conducted in 2019, the survey was completed by 9,016 MBA students and 5,175 alumni from 131 business schools worldwide. The survey targeted students who graduated from 2018-2019 and alumni who earned their MBAs from 2010-2013. As part of the survey, respondents were asked to score their business schools according to four criteria:

  • My education emphasized innovation and creativity.
  • My program offered superior training for starting and running a small business or startup.
  • My school’s alumni network has helped me build my career.
  • My school’s name and prestige have been beneficial to me.

Respondents answered these questions on a scale of 1-7, where 7 is the highest possible score. To qualify, a school needed completed surveys from 10 respondents.


Stanford Graduate School of Business. Stanford photo

This year, the people’s choice is unquestionably Stanford GSB. It ranked #1 in three categories (while finishing a respectable 3rd in Alumni Network). Not surprisingly, Stanford GSB earned one of the survey’s highest marks in Innovation and Creativity. After all, the program lives by a rather ambitious motto: “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” To spark this change, Stanford GSB starts with the individual and focuses on self-awareness. Employing coaching and self-reflection, MBAs delve into what matters to them – and how they can build and deepen relationships that spur change.

“A significant portion of the Stanford GSB curriculum and co-curricular programs is focused on developing the leader as a person, as opposed to the leader as an extension of the organization,” explains Olivia Sayvetz, who joined the Class of 2021 after working in private equity. “Interpersonal dynamics, empathy, integrity, coaching, feedback, deep listening, and connecting over common interests and differences are all central focuses of the program. It is not the accounting finance, or marketing classes that will be change agents in the future, but rather the classes and interactions that teach how to manage difficult conversations, understand diverse stakeholders, and put yourself on the same side of the table as others.”

The school’s innovative spirit, adds Annie Robertson Hockey, is only amplified by the types of students it selects. “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,” the 2018 grad and Bain consultant explains in an interview with P&Q. “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 Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island is just across the East River from the Queens location where Amazon plan s to build half of its second North America HQ. Cornell photo

Cornell University’s Johnson School ranked 2nd in Innovation and Creativity. The program’s 6.71 score (on a 7-point scale) fell just .03 of a point below Stanford GSB. Berkeley Haas (6.67), SDA Bocconi (6.60), and William & Mary’s Mason School (6.59) round out the Top 5. In a mild surprise, top programs like Harvard Business School, Wharton School, MIT Sloan, and INSEAD failed to crack the Top 12 – the number of school scores that Bloomberg Businessweek would release in each category.

Stanford GSB also beat out Cornell Johnson and IE Business School in training students for growing small businesses and launching startups. Positioning itself as “elite but egalitarian,” Cornell Johnson masterminded the launch of its one-year Cornell Tech program in New York City – recognized as P&Q’s Program of the Year in 2017. Here, students operate in a studio environment, partnering with tech firms and launching ventures. However, Cornell Tech isn’t restricted to its New York cohort. Instead, Johnson operates a two campuses model; faculty teach at both sites and full-time MBAs can take classes in New York City as well.

“To have a reimagined applied sciences campus within the borders of New York City is truly game-changing,” says Drew Pascarella, assistant dean for MBA programs, in a 2019 interview with P&Q. “Our Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program, which has more than doubled in size since inception, is deeply integrated with the technical community on campus, which allows for a seamless, cross-functional educational experience for our students. Students are engaged in a studio-based curriculum, which is a unique differentiator and includes participation in a product studio for business development, a startup studio for entrepreneurship, and a big company studio for innovating with industry leaders. MBA students collaborate with master’s degree students from engineering, computer science, and law, replicating the team structures they will need to navigate in their careers.”

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