The Ten Biggest Surprises In The Financial Times 2021 Global MBA Ranking

Washington University’s Olin Business School has seen the most dramatic rise in the past five years in the Financial Times ranking, rising from a rank of 80th best in 2016 to 25th this year. Olin’s revamped full-time MBA now ranks in the top 25 in the world for the first time ever.

6) At Long Last, Wash U’s Olin School Is Top 25

The full-time MBA program at Washington University’s Olin Business School has long been a hidden jewel in business education. Under-appreciated and overshadowed, it has been embraced by the St. Louis business community which truly knows its value. But the school’s MBA has never made a Top 25 list until now. Olin soared by 19 places in this year’s Financial Times ranking to edge its way into a 25th place finish in the world. Put another way, the ranking makes Olin making 12th best MBA program in the U.S. But this year’s advance is hardly an anomaly. In the past five years, the school has risen 55 places to earn its current rank from finishing 80th best in 2016.

That’s quite an achievement for a business school that has long been among the best in the world. Poets&Quants has acknowledged the school’s year-over-year momentum, naming Olin’s undergraduate business program the best in the U.S. in 2016, ranking Olin’s MBA program as the best for entrepreneurs in both 2019 and 2020, and awarding the school its MBA Program of the Year in 2019 after a major revamp.

The reimagining of Olin’s full-time MBA to include a three-continent global immersion and a massive increase in experiential learning–has been driven by a new dean, Mark Taylor, who came to Olin from Britain’s Warwick Business School. Olin’s new global focus led to the highest yield in a decade as 43% of admitted applicants enrolled. It also allowed the school to burnish its reputation for diversity and inclusiveness. The 2019 incoming class boasted the highest level of gender parity (49% women) in the world as recognized by the Forté Foundation, record-high levels of underrepresented minorities and, for the entire class, a rich representation of international students.

What really helped seal the deal for Olin this year was its superb ever-improving record of academic research. The Financial Times‘ calculations of published scholarly works by Olin’s faculty bested every other school in the world. The school went from ninth place last year in research to first. Not surprisingly, Dean Taylor has emphasized research in the school by raising research allowances, increasing the number of funded PhD places as well as raising PhD stipends, and rewarding research performance. Taylor smartly moved from the common practice of filling faculty vacancies solely with rookies and encouraged faculty to seek out mid-career established faculty to join us. The strategy has paid dividends, with faculty research output in quality journals at an all-time high, and many leading scholars joining the school, including a pair of full professors from UC Berkeley last year.

The school’s rankings improvement also was fueled by gains in average alumni salaries (up $11,133 to $142,340) , a 117% salary increase over pre-MBA pay (up five places in the past year), a slight increase in the school’s alumni recommendation rank, as well as increases in the percentage of international faculty, international board members,  and the school’s international mobility rank for its graduates.

The school’s relatively small MBA cohort of 90 students has always been tight-knit, putting a priority on community building. Taylor has wisely doubled down on reinforcing those bonds. He built a replica of an English pub for students in the school’s executive education center. He began a annual Shakespeare at Olin festival which went online for its fourth iteration last year. During the COVID-19 crisis, began hosting two weekly town hall meetings, distributes a weekly “managers’ bulletin” that allows managers to share similar updates with their teams, and encourages a biweekly Olin Half-Hour Happy Hour. He regularly drops into Zoom room staff meetings at the department level to praise staff on their commitment and listen to their concerns. , and he meets regularly with individual faculty members online.

Welcome to the Top 25!

Bocconi School of Management

7) SDA Bocconi Joins The Big Leagues

The first time it happens, you can write it off as a lucky break or an anomaly. When it happens twice – in under a month, no less – maybe it is time to take a deeper look.

That’s the case with the SDA Bocconi School of Management. In January, the school ranked #6 in The Economist’s 2001 Full-Time MBA ranking – climbing 7 spots, no less, to crack the Top 10. Of course, this achievement came with a caveat. After all, 7 of the Top 10 schools from the previous year had opted out of participating in The Economist ranking. Still, there were subtle signs that SDA Bocconi was surging among its peers. In the alumni surveys conducted by The Economist, the Milan Marvel received the 5th-highest collective scores in Personal Development and Educational Experience and 8th-best for Opening New Career Opportunities. At the same time, SDA Bocconi finished 11th globally for Post-MBA Salary, which was based on data submitted by alumni.

Maybe the most telling number: SDA Bocconi boasted the 5th-best Faculty score according to Economist survey respondents.

That momentum carried over in The Financial Times Ranking, which was released on February 7th.  Here, SDA Bocconi rose from 29th to 12th. Sure, the FT ranking was missing Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Columbia, and Berkeley Haas, and UCLA Anderson. Their absences don’t explain SDA Bocconi’s gains, especially considering the school only moved from 31st to 29th the year before. Notably, SDA Bocconi leapfrogged top-flight programs like NYU Stern, Oxford Saïd, IMD, and Cornell Johnson in 2021. That’s just one way to measure the school’s progress. Here’s another: Michigan Ross ranked 30th last year – just one spot below SDA Bocconi. This year, Michigan Ross’ ranking improved by an impressive 9 spots. Still that pales in comparison to SDA Bocconi’s 17 spot leap forward.

In other words, SDA Bocconi’s standing improved at a faster rate than its peers. Why? For one, the program ranked #3 for Value For Money, an FT calculation that compares graduate pay against variables like tuition and lost income. This was also up a whopping 19 spots since 2020. Translation: SDA Bocconi provides a faster ROI than most any other program. In terms of Student Satisfaction, the program scored higher among alumni than the top two programs in the FT ranking: INSEAD and the London Business School. SDA Bocconi’s 126% Salary Percentage Increase beat out all but four of the programs ranked above it. At the same time, the school’s 92% placement rate topped every program ranked higher than it.

Here’s the number to remember: SDA Bocconi ranked behind only #1 INSEAD among one-year MBA programs.

The school also advanced on other fronts. In Research, SDA Bocconi climbed 14 spots to 31st, while also making similar strides in Career Progress (66th to 57th) and Alumni Recommendation (43rd to 35th). At the same time, alumni remain lukewarm on the school’s Career Services (again 47th). In other words, SDA Bocconi still has a ways to go before solidifying itself as a Top 10 program worldwide. Make no mistake: 2021 represents a great start!

These are the hidden gems of full-time MBA programs in the U.S. from the Financial Times ranking

8) The Hidden Gems In The Ranking

While year-over-year changes can be meaningful, how a school’s MBA program performs over a five-year timeline can tell you a lot more about the school’s momentum. No less crucial, a longer-term look at performance sheds light on programs that tend to be under-appreciated and under-the-radar. It’s always important to remember that any ranking of the top 100 MBA programs in the world accounts for just a small percentage of all the MBA options. These schools are the best of the best, whether a program ranks 41st or 89th.

We already covered the remarkable rise of Washington University into the Top 25. But would-be applicants also would be wise to notice the big gains racked up by Babson, Penn State and Vanderbilt, all up 40 or more places in the past five years. Or Georgetown, Connecticut, and Rochester, all up by 25 or more spots since 2016. Or, for that matter, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Washington and Boston University, up by 20 or more places (see table below).

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