It’s that time of year again, when we parse the massive trove of data that accompanies U.S. News’ annual ranking of the top MBA programs in the United States. First up: the 13 specialization rankings, ranging from the “poet” programs — Entrepreneurship, International Business, Management, Marketing, Real Estate, Project Management, and Nonprofit — to the “quant” offerings: Finance, Accounting, Operations, Supply Chain/Logistics, Business Analytics, and Information Systems. The rankings are entirely based on the votes of schools themselves, making them unique and uniquely faulty. More on that in a bit.
Nonetheless, among those who know what to look for, schools’ assessment of their peers’ competencies are almost as closely watched as U.S. News‘ main ranking. “Where are the top schools up or down?” is a fun annual question — almost as much fun as “Where is that?” and “How did they get ranked so high?” In these ways, this year’s group of rankings does not disappoint.
Last year, U.S. News added the three new categories of Analytics, Real Estate, and Project Management. This year there is no such drama. Just one school, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, hit the baker’s dozen, earning a ranking in every category, with its highest marks in Project Management (tied for second) and Production & Operations (tied for third). Last year Michigan Ross was one of two schools to rank in all but one category, its lone miss being Real Estate; this year Michigan tied for 18th in that specialty. Coming close to the full slate of rankings was MIT Sloan School of Management — the No. 5 overall school in the main ranking — came closest, ranking in every quant specialization but failing to make the Nonprofit list. The Sloan School also had the most No. 1 rankings this year, with three: Production & Operations, Business Analytics, and Project Management. But MIT missed out on a fourth No. 1, losing its Information Systems crown to Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business.
Perhaps the most newsworthy fact to emerge from this year’s U.S. News specialization rankings is what happened to one of MIT’s peers in the M7. Stanford Graduate School of Business fell out of four different rankings, dropping from sixth place last year to unranked in both Information Systems and Business Analytics, from 15th to unranked in International Business, and from second to unranked in Project Management. (The latter is less shocking when you consider that only five schools were ranked in Project Management last year, and only six this year.) But that had no bearing on Stanford’s performance in the overall ranking: U.S. News agreed with Poets&Quants by naming the GSB’s MBA best overall, a year after Stanford shared top honors with Wharton.
SMALLER SCHOOLS THAT KEPT THEIR CROWNS
MIT’s strong showing across the different specialty rankings comes with a big caveat. Like the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — which had No. 1 placements in Finance (for the umpteenth year) and Real Estate (for the second year) and also placed second in Marketing and third in both Accounting and Analytics, the latter a jump of two places from last year — MIT refused to fill out U.S. News‘ statistical survey, forcing the magazine to use 2019 data. MIT and Wharton were the only B-schools in the top-100 to refuse to provide their 2020 numbers. How this affected their performance is anyone’s guess, but both schools held serve in seven specialties and gained ground in three; Wharton was unranked in two specialties and only lost ground in one, while MIT lost ground in two and was unranked in only one. A pretty solid showing!
The table above has all of the M7 schools in this year’s specialty rankings and two previous years’ data for comparison. Averaging out all ranks for each school, we find HBS with an 8.7 in nine categories (slipping slightly from 8.5 last year), Wharton 5.4 in 11 specialties (improving from 5.8), Columbia 10.4 in nine (from 10.8 in 10), Chicago Booth 11.1 in seven (from 7.2 in five), Northwestern Kellogg 13.4 in 11 (from 12.8 in 11), Stanford 4.9 in eight (from 5.6 in 12), and MIT Sloan 9.2 in 12 (from 4.4 in nine).
Of course it’s not all about the M7. One of the cool things about U.S. News‘ specialty rankings is that smaller schools — sometimes much smaller — also shine. It’s a lot more important to the Babsons and Darla Moores out there that they get another year to boast about their special specialty. And for all four schools with long streaks atop individual rankings, there was nothing but good news this year.
- The University of South Carolina has gone from 74th to 62nd to 55th over the last three years in U.S. News’ overall ranking, but what the Darla Moore School of Business really does well is international business. U.S. News named the Moore School, home of the highly regarded Sonoco International Business Department, the top school for International Business again this year, the 21st year in a row it has owned that honor. Incredibly, Darla Moore has been in the top three for 31 straight rankings.
- Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business not only gained a spot in the overall ranking, rising to 39th, it also kept its grip on the top spot in the Supply Chain/Logistics specialty ranking, claiming first for the ninth consecutive year. MSU offers a bachelor’s and master’s in supply chain management and two related doctoral programs — in logistics as well as operations & sourcing management.
- The University of Texas at Austin stayed put at 18th place overall this year but was consoled with top honors in the Accounting specialty ranking, the 15th straight year the McCombs School of Business has owned the top spot. “Renowned for its innovative teachers and world-renowned researchers, who infuse the curriculum with cutting-edge ideas,” McCombs’ Department of Accounting also earns the highest marks from U.S. News for its undergraduate program.
- The longest streak atop any of the specialty rankings belongs to Babson College’s Olin Business School, long designed around the purpose of serving as an entrepreneurial support ecosystem. Babson earned the top spot in Entrepreneurship yet again from U.S. News, making it an amazing 28 years in a row. Babson also ranked 26th in International Business, 29th in Management, and 36th in Accounting.
A LARGE GRAIN OF SALT, PLEASE
Babson is among a handful of lower-ranked schools appearing in multiple rankings. Among the others making frequent appearances: The University of Scranton, whose unranked B-school landed 28th in Accounting, 36th in Finance, 20th in Information Systems, and 22nd in Production & Operations. Loyola Marymount, of Los Angeles, was also unranked but 33rd in Business Analytics, 25th in Management, 20th in Marketing, and 13th in Entrepreneurship. Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics was 30th in Finance, 19th in Analytics, and 15th in Accounting. The Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University in Connecticut is 21st in Analytics, 20th in Finance, and 14th in Accounting. The Chaifetz School of Business at Saint Louis University is 16th in Supply Chain, 14th in Entrepreneurship, and ninth in International Business.
After Babson, what do all these schools — and many others we could name, like Xavier Williams and Marquette and Gonzaga and Detroit Mercy — have in common? All are Jesuit schools!
Every year for this story we point out that the whole weight of U.S. News‘ specialization rankings lies in peer assessments, a system with obvious flaws — chiefly that business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs can nominate multiple schools for inclusion in each of the specializations, which makes the whole exercise a bit of a popularity contest. There is an ongoing and apparently unimpeded bloc-voting effort by a group of unranked schools with a Roman Catholic, Jesuit foundation that succeeds in putting Fairfield, Marquette, Seattle Albers, Loyola Marymount, and others beside elite schools — and in some cases, ahead of them. No one begrudges these small schools their moment in the sun, but it’s absurd to think that Saint Louis Chaifetz, with around 20 MBA students, is equal to Chicago Booth in Entrepreneurship; or that Scranton’s Kania School of Management is equal to Booth in Operations; or that Fairfield Dolan, which does not have a full-time MBA, is better for Marketing than either Cornell Johnson and Virginia Darden.
Yet looking across the specializations, one spots these schools again and again, mostly in clumps of ties at the lower end of each ranking. It’s a good reminder to take these rankings with an extra large grain of salt.
Is your school a “Poet” or a “Quant”? See the next pages for breakdowns of this year’s 13 U.S. News specialty rankings.