Ten Biggest Surprises In U.S. News 2022 MBA Ranking

Another year, another ranking. And a new No. 1 MBA program: The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

But one thing never changes: There are tons of head-shaking surprises in the new 2022 MBA ranking from U.S. News & World Report. Some business schools are clearly moving up; others are sinking. MBA programs that typically occupy a share of mind as No. 1 and No. 2 are not in those positions.

No doubt, this latest MBA list of the best prompted quite a few OMG moments among deans, faculty, applicants, students and alumni.

Here’s our annual take on the ten biggest shocks and insights into U.S. News’ latest full-time MBA ranking.

Stanford loses its No. 1 ranking but remains the most highly selective prestige MBA program in the world

1) Stanford GSB and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

You wouldn’t have heard any champagne corks popping at the Knight Management Center. Streamers weren’t lining the hallways and “Back In Black” wasn’t blasting out of Dean Jon Levin’s office. Chances are, the mood was more somber — a jolt of bewilderment cushioned by a ‘We’ve been here before…and we’ll be back again’ defiance.

This year, Stanford GSB slipped from 1st to 3rd in the 2023 U.S. News MBA Ranking. Even worse, the GSB had to share the bronze with another school (Northwestern Kellogg). Make no mistake: In Palo Alto, there is small comfort in ranking ahead of Harvard Business School. 

Alas, there is precedent. Ranked #1 in 2016, Stanford GSB fell into a three-way tie for 2nd the next year — before dropping to 4th for two consecutive years. And that’s when the GSB made its comeback, ranking second in 2020 before claiming the top spot for the next two years.   

Yes, you could describe the GSB’s ranking as a yo-yo, see-saw, or rollercoaster, mostly running up-and-down and hot-and-cold. Of course, you could say the same for the Wharton School, which has seemingly ricocheted between 1st and 3rd in recent years.  Did I mention Harvard Business School has ranked 5th for two consecutive years…tied with cross-town rival MIT Sloan…after bottoming out at 6th just two years ago?

Yeah, the situation can always be worse. 

Then again, it’s not like Stanford GSB did anything wrong. Sure, their Recruiter Assessment Score dropped by .1 of a point — and that’s 15% of the ranking weight. Fact is, Chicago Booth and Northwestern Kellogg experienced the same dip — and Stanford GSB still tied for the highest average score in this dimension. And the GSB tied Wharton for the highest Peer Assessment Score too. 

Here are some more GSB numbers to consider:

Acceptance Rate: Dropped by 8.9% to 6.2%, making it nearly three times more selective than Wharton (18.2%) and Chicago Booth (22.6%) —1.25% of the weight.

GMAT Score: Rose from 733 to 738 — the highest score among the M7 and the highest ever reported for a U.S. business school — 16.25% of the weight.

Mean Starting MBA Pay and Bonus: Increased from $176,083 to $176,958, ranking the GSB just below NYU Stern, Wharton School, and Chicago Booth — 14% of the weight. If U.S. News included anticipated first-year performance bonuses and stock awards, Stanford would most likely be ahead of every school.

Three Month Placement Rate: Jumped from 85.3% to 91.5% — 14% of the weight.

With improvements like that, most deans would be furiously updating their resumes and keeping their eyes peeled for their next career jump to the presidency of a university. 

It’s also important to note what is not measured. Stanford is leading all business schools in developing the most concrete and transparent plan on diversity and inclusion. Its students are far more entrepreneurial than anyone in their peer group, with 18% of the latest graduating class doing startups. And the size of its student population allows it to provide an intimate yet large enough environment to nurture enduring relationships.

U.S. News knocked the GSB down a peg because the Wharton School and Chicago Booth both enjoyed a historic year, not just a great year. Both schools produced graduates who earned more (at least in base salary and signing bonuses) than GSB grads — a major difference from the 2022 U.S. News ranking. They also narrowed the gap with GSB on survey scores, while maintaining their historic advantage in placement despite the GSB’s serious improvements in this area. In other words, their rivals just improved a little more — and the GSB paid for it.

Question is, now that Chicago Booth and the Wharton School have grabbed the spotlight, can they hold onto it? Call P&Q skeptical considering Stanford GSB’s inherent advantages.  Reputation is one, as the school historically nabs roughly three-fourths of the applicants who receive an acceptance letter. Beyond getting their proverbial pick of the litter, the school is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, just a short jog from Sand Hill Road, home to maybe the world’s largest concentration of venture capitalists. That spells opportunity aplenty. And Palo Alto’s cool climate is a far cry from Chicago’s frigid blasts and Philadelphia’s drab winters. 

Still, if there is one variable that can put GSB back on top, it is the program’s culture. It is an approach, notes 2018 grad Robertson Hockey, that focuses on bringing talent together to amplify each other’s passions and strengths. 

“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,” she explains in a 2019 interview. “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.”

Moving into seventh place, the MBA program at Yale School of Management gains its highest U.S. News rank ever. Credit: Harold Shapiro

2) Yale SOM: The Cool School

Ted Snyder had a vision. The former dean of the Yale School of Management, Snyder wanted to create a distinctive experience for MBAs. Back in 2011, the program was known for its liberal arts-inspired, cross-curricular programming, not to mention its purpose-driven students who treated business as a force for good. In the process, Yale SOM had become the ‘social sector’ school — home to people you’d trust to run your foundation but not necessarily maximize your portfolio. 

Yale SOM may have been considered an outlier, but it was truly an innovator — a program whose tenor anticipated the values of Gen-Y students and the direction of business in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and George Floyd. And Snyder knew how to capitalize on its strengths. After all, he had previously doubled down on teaching excellence at Darden and data-driven decision-making at Booth — his last two stops as dean. At the SOM, he made a global perspective central to the program’s mission, picturing it as being the most global American business school someday, and he smartly leveraged the Yale brand halo of the business school.

And Snyder envisioned something else: Yale SOM consistently ranking as a Top Five program — a feat he had already achieved at Chicago Booth during his decade at the helm.

Snyder returned to the classroom in 2019 but the leadership of the MBA program remained stable under Deputy Dean Anjani Jain who had once ran Wharton’s MBA experience. By that time, Yale SOM had entered the Top 10 with U.S. News, unable to unseat Columbia Business, Berkeley Haas, or MIT Sloan. However, the school enjoyed a breakthrough this year, moving two spots to 7th after spending the past three years lodged at #9.  It is the highest U.S. News rank ever achieved by Yale’s MBA program and one we predicted back in 2017 (see How Yale Crashed The M7 Party).

Now, Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan only stand in the way…though the gap between these Boston behemoths and Yale SOM is actually wider than their distance from the #1 spot. Still, this two spot uptick brings some much-needed buzz — and disruption — to a usually-stodgy ranking.

What’s behind Yale SOM’s surge? Think the two P’s: Pay and Placement. In three month placement — which carries a 14% weight — Yale SOM rocketed from 85.9% to 94.1%. And the school’s graduation placement rate — 7% weight — rose by 9%. At the same time, starting pay increased from $162,856 to $165,214 for 2021 graduates.

And that’s not all…

Average GMATs —which make up a 16.25% share of the ranking — increased by 6 points to 726. This positions Yale SOM just a point behind MIT Sloan (727) and two points under Harvard Business School (728). The program’s acceptance rate also dropped from 29.7% to 23.6%, making it nearly as selective as #1 Chicago Booth (22.6%). When it comes to the Peer Assessment Survey — a measure carrying 25% of the ranking weight — Yale improved from 4.4 to 4.5.

Yet, the SOM’s improvement also carries a word of caution. The school is just one index point ahead of Columbia Business School and UC Berkeley Haas. Notably, Columbia grads earned nearly $9,000 more than their Yale SOM brethren on the back end, while scoring 6 points higher on average GMATs. And Columbia’s acceptance rate is 8.1 percentage points lower than the SOM too. When it comes to Snyder’s Top 5, Yale SOM has a ways to go, too. Just compare it to fellow Ivy Wharton in Peer Assessment (4.8 vs. 4.5), Recruiter Assessment (4.5 vs. 4.2), Average GMAT (733 vs. 726), Starting Pay ($178,692 vs. $165,214), and Three Month Placement (96.8% vs. 94.1%). 

Those are numbers that may take five to ten years to surmount.  In the end, rankings aren’t what fuels the SOM culture. Top-to-bottom, business comes with a mission here, one that brings students to New Haven and one they live every single day.

“For me, the biggest draw of Yale SOM was its mission: to educate leaders for business and society,” explains first year Caitlin Piccirillo-Stosser. “I thought that this was a unique mission compared to those of most other business schools—how the school puts the improvement of the whole of society at the forefront. Furthermore, every SOM student I spoke to during my admissions process seemed to embody that mission and truly think about how their actions and their goals would impact society.”

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