The Economist’s MBA Ranking: How To Parse A Ranking To Your Advantage

The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business has used social media to trumpet its new Economist ranking.

The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business is making active use of its social media accounts these days. That’s because the school’s full-time MBA program landed in the top 25 in the U.S. in The Economist’s recent 20021 global MBA ranking.

Quite an accomplishment, right? After all, the school’s Top 25 status is rare. Smith’s MBA program has never ranked in the Top 25 on any legitimate ranking. Not in U.S. News nor Bloomberg Businessweek. Not Forbes. And certainly not the Financial Times which will publish its new 2021 ranking on Feb. 8.

But wait, there’s more. Smith is also touting that its professors have been ranked eighth best in the world by The Economist, too.

With many of the world’s best schools boycotting The Economist ranking, Maryland touted its eighth place finish for the quality of its faculty. Two years ago, The Economist’s student and alumni surveys had ranked Maryland’s faculty 29th.


These are bold boasts for an MBA program that didn’t even make The Economist’s previous list of the top 100 full-time MBAs. And it’s no less bold because this year’s ranking faced a major business school boycott. Refusing to cooperate with The Economist are Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago Booth, Columbia, Northwestern Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Dartmouth Tuck, INSEAD, London, Cambridge, and Oxford. In fact, 15 of The Economist‘s Top 25 in its previous ranking refused to cooperate with the list this year.

No where in the social media posts by Maryland is there any mention that many of the best schools in the world decided to abandon the ranking. In fact, while Maryland is ranked 24th best in the U.S. that standing is only true if you subtract out all the international competition. Otherwise, the school’s MBA is ranked 35th behind schools in Monaco, Melbourne and Michigan. The last time the school appeared on The Economist ranking two years ago in 2018, its full-time MBA was actually ranked 81st out of 100. Its faculty ranking, instead of an impressive showing of eighth place in the magazine’s student and alumni surveys, was 29th.

Don’t blame Maryland for parsing the ranking to its advantage. The school is hardly alone in making the most out of what is one of the strangest MBA lists ever to appear from a major media brand. One business school after another has rushed out news releases and PR-produced articles touting their success in The Economist’s ranking from Rochester Simon and Michigan State to IESE and Arizona State. None of those publicity blasts ever mention the disappearance of major competition on the list.

Hult International Business School trumpeted the fact, yes fact, that its ranking has climbed 50 places in the past five years so that its one-year MBA program ranks 15th best in the world (see below). EDHEC Business School in France also had much to celebrate. The school’s MBA program not merely made the Top 10 for the first time ever. The school actually ranked seventh best globally, a rise of 25 places from its rank of 32nd a year earlier (see below). Not surprisingly, EDHEC rushed out animated tweets to tout its big success.

Hult International Business School rushed to publicize its rankings gain in The Economist in a Twitter post

The result of the boycott for the schools that stayed put? 41 of the top 50 schools watched their rank rise by 10 points or more (not counting the two newcomers). 24 of these programs boosted their rank by 20 spots or more (and you can tack on another 9 schools in the top 50 whose rank increased by 18 or 19 places). That’s good news for the schools that didn’t abandon the ranking and it’s worth spreading.

EDHEC Business School in France celebrates its Economist rank of seventh best in the world


Even the former head of admissions at IESE Business School, which was ranked first in the world this year, took no joy in his former employer’s success. “The satisfaction of my alma mater topping this year’s Economist MBA ranking is completely eclipsed by a list of SCHOOLS NOT PARTICIPATING that reads like a “Who’s Who” of business education,” wrote Pascal Michels in a Facebook post. Michels now works as an MBA admissions consultant for Menlo Coaching. 

“I have always had significant reservations about this ranking’s methodology and the erratic results it consistently produced over the years,” he added. “With the entire US top brass and heavy hitters like London Business School and INSEAD declining to participate, it seems that the industry is sending a clear message about rankings fatigue,”. His former employer’s MBA was ranked best in the world in this new ranking. I personally struggle to see how this resource could in any way be meaningful to applicants.”

In his post, Michels recreated in The Economist‘s inimitable chart style, a graphic to put an exclamation mark on his observations. His headline for the table? “Death of a Ranking.” He didn’t add a question to it, either.


The understandable publicity blitz by schools that suddenly find themselves with the best rankings they have ever had is obviously misleading to less-informed applicants in the marketplace. But it’s also an important reminder to consumers of these rankings.

As Matt Turner, a market researcher and close watcher of rankings at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, notes: “The Economist 2021 MBA ranking is a cogent reminder that rankings are by nature relative. They take their meaning only in relation to others in the pool to which they are being compared. So if you remove 22 schools from the pool, you can expect a different outlook, especially given that over half of those missing this year were previously at top-20 rank.”

If anything, this ranking proves what we have said many times over many years. Never consult a single ranking in a single year. Be an informed consumer of these flawed lists. That’s why we continue to believe that if you want to consult MBA rankings, the Poets&Quants‘ composite list can’t be beat. In a single glimpse, you’ll see where every top school is ranked across the five most influential lists and you’ll see when a given rank is a total aberration.

DON’T MISS: The 10 Biggest Surprises In The Economist’s Strange 2021 MBA Ranking 

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