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HEC Paris Tops New FT Ranking Of Best Master’s In Finance Programs

HEC Paris' campus

HEC Paris’ campus

The leading business schools in the U.S. with master’s in finance programs yet again ironed the annual Financial Times ranking of the world’s top programs. The new FT rankings came out today with HEC Paris leading the pre-experience list of 55 different programs, while London Business School topped the slim ranking of just four post-experience programs. It is the ninth time in the past ten rankings that HEC Paris has ruled the roost.

Missing in action, however, are MIT Sloan, UC-Berkeley Haas, UCLA Anderson, and Notre Dame Mendoza among many of the other stellar master in finance programs at U.S. schools. Last year, in 2020, at least Sloan was in the mix, coming in at eighth place, its lowest rank in five years. In 2016 and 2017, MIT’s program ranked fifth.  That rather mediocre rating inevitably caused Sloan administrators to walk from the ranking, using the pandemic as justification.

This year, only four U.S. programs made the pre-experience ranking: the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, ranked 43rd, George Washington University (47), Bentley University (54), and UC-San Diego’s Rady School of Business (dead last in 55th place). The reason for the poor showing? U.S. schools refuse to cooperate with the ranking.

U.S. PROGAMS ON THE PRE-EXPERIENCE RANKING CUT IN HALF SINCE LAST YEAR

Last year, in fact, there were twice as many U.S. schools on the FT‘s pre-experience ranking. They included No. 44 University of Rochester, No. 45 University of Maryland, No. 46 Brandeis International Business School,  No. 53 University of Utah, and No. 54 Ohio State University.

Without Sloan in the game, McCombs alumni earned the highest salaries among the U.S. programs in the ranking: $96,952 on average. Surveyed graduates praised the school for providing a robust immersion in business and finance. The school rose five places from 48th a year earlier. Bentley slid a dozen places from its rank of 42nd last year. George Washington and UC-San Diego weren’t on last year’s list.

Three of the four post-experience programs are all in Europe as well. After LBS, there’s No. 2 Cambridge Judge Business School, Amsterdam Business School in the Netherlands, and the Singapore Management University. Not a single U.S. school among the tiny group.

RANKING MOSTLY HELPFUL TO APPLICANTS WHO WANT TO ATTEND SCHOOL IN EUROPE

Their absence makes the Financial Times list useless for applicants who want to earn a master's degree in finance from the U.S. But the FT list can be a good guide largely for those who want to study in Europe. Some 30 European business schools dominate the ranking, with all top five positions held by schools in France, though the largest chunk of programs, 14 in all, are based in the United Kingdom. After No. 1 HEC Paris, there's ESCP Business School in second place, Skema Business School next, with Essec and Edhec Business Schools placing fourth and fifth, respectively. This is a total repeat of last year's ranking when the same five schools were in exactly the same ranks.

Another French program, EMLyon Business School, saw the biggest single rise in the ranking, improving by 12 places to finish 15th. The Financial Times noted that EMLyon had more female and international students than last year, improving its diversity metrics in the ranking.

The accompanying analysis by the FT also includes this misstep. The newspaper reports that McGill University's Desautels School of Faculty is this year's highest new entrant, placing 36th. In fact, London Business School's pre-experience program, which was not included in the ranking in 2020, ranks eighth this year, replacing MIT Sloan's position last year.

The biggest surprise may be little surprise at all. It's HEC Paris' number one position yet again.  "Part of HEC Paris’s continued success can be attributed to its alumni earning the second-highest average annual salary, at $156,583 — a rise of 92% three years on from the first salary after graduation," explains the FT.  "The school is also rated highly for career progress and international mobility, measured by changes of country of employment between graduation and today."

THE RANKING EXCLUDES SOME OF THE WORLD'S BEST FINANCE PROGRAMS

Yet, when the newspaper adjusted salaries to account for purchasing parity, the Asian schools tended to dominate that portion of the ranking. "Analysis of the past five years’ data shows that HEC alumni salaries are typically higher than those from other European schools," according to the Financial Times. "But an alumnus from an Asian school is more likely to earn a higher salary three years after graduation when adjusted for purchasing power parity between countries."

The FT‘s Europe-centric ranking excludes some of the best business schools in the U.S. that offer master’s of finance programs, including Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Washington University’s Olin School of Business, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. However, many of the U.S. schools best known for finance, including Wharton, Columbia, and Chicago Booth, do not offer specialized master’s programs in the subject (see The P&Q Directory of Specialized Master’s Programs).

As rankings go, this is one of the more curious and quirky exercises by The Financial Times. The pre-experience ranking often has many schools with little reputational capital or standing beating out other more established business schools with brands that extend beyond a region or country.

EMPLOYMENT RATE THREE MONTHS AFTER GRADUATION GETS A MEASLY 5% OF THE RANKING'S WEIGHT

As is often the case in business school rankings, salary looms large, accounting for nearly a third of the FT’s methodology. The newspaper puts a 20% weight on the average salaries reported by alums three years after graduation, adjusting the numbers of purchasing power parity. Another 10% of the weight is devoted to the average increase in salary between graduation and pre-program pay. All told, there are 17 metrics that make up the ranking, ranging from the percentage of women in a program to the mobility of international students, but none are given as much importance as the two salary measurements.

Anyone examining the methodology is almost certain to have issues with it. The FT, for example, puts a mere 5% of the ranking weight on job placement within three months of graduation, the same weight it puts on the percentage of female faculty. It could easily be argued that a program's ability to get graduates jobs is the single most important criteria for a professional degree. Yet salaries receive six times the weighing in this ranking than employment. As a result, there are schools whose programs rank in the Top 25 that have abysmal placement rates. At Grenoble Ecole de Management in France, a program ranked as high as 19th, slightly more than four of every ten graduates (42%) were without jobs three months after they received their degrees. At the Stockholm School of Economics, one in four (28%) lacked a job in that same timeframe.

The worst employment rate of the bunch belongs to George Washington University where more than half the graduates still weren't able to land a job three months after graduation. In fact, 58% of the graduating class was jobless, even though the school's program is ranked in the Top 50 in 47th place. What's more, it's not an aberration. A year earlier, 59% of the master's in finance grads at GW were still unemployed three months after they received their degrees.

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