Most MBA applicants want a ‘name’ school on their resume. Who wouldn’t to be associated with brands like Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton? Such institutions convey expertise and leadership, confidence and connections, ingenuity, and results. After graduation, that branding will be tied to an alum – for life.
Open doors, instant credibility, immediate impact – that’s what investing in a big name brings, applicants think. Sometimes, they underestimate the experience, that sense of fit – the satisfaction that comes with finding the right place to learn and live. Many times, it isn’t the brand name programs that produce MBAs ready to embrace the world ahead.
BEYOND THE BRAND
That’s one takeaway from The Princeton Review’s annual Best Business Schools Ranking, which was released on January 31st. Unlike most MBA rankings, The Princeton Review doesn’t stuff a series of variables into one ranking, replete with weights that are easy to manipulate. Instead, it strips student responses apart into 18 categories. In doing so, one pattern emerges: M7 schools have some work ahead of them.
Take Faculty Excellence. Not one M7 program is found among the ten-highest averages scores. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School performed the best among historical powers at 7th, with the University of Michigan’s Ross School posting the highest marks. In Classroom Experience, Stanford GSB topped all comers, but the runners-up included University of Virginia’s Darden School and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College. Even a category like Administration – a measure of how well students believe a school is run – only includes one M7 school. Harvard Business School ranks 4th, but trails behind Michigan Ross, Vanderbilt Owen, and Cornell Johnson.
“The prestige of an academic program does not constitute the exclusive criterion by which a school should be (or is) judged,” The Princeton Review notes on its website. “Moreover, among other factors (such as location, cost, and size), the campus culture is very important, and this is something that varies considerably from one school to another.”
Since 2004, The Princeton Review has conducted surveys of on-campus MBA students and recent alumni to learn which programs are meeting expectations. This year, the survey tapped into 20,300 student respondents from 243 business programs over three school years (2021-2022, 2020-2021, and 2019-2020). On average, each ranked school produced 83 survey responses. According to The Princeton Review, the student survey is comprised of 90 questions, with students submitting answers through an online tool. To score their schools, survey respondents use a scale of 60-99, covering topics ranging from academics to campus life. In addition, The Princeton Review surveys business school administrators using a 300-question instrument that covers quantifiable data such as selectivity measures and career services. In many cases, the various category rankings are a mix of student surveys and school-supplied data. As a whole, The Princeton Review lists the 10 highest-ranked MBA programs in each category, only publicizing scores in a handful of categories across its school profiles.
STANFORD GSB LEADS THE PACK
Where do your favorite programs rank? One popular measure is industry performance. Here, The Princeton Review surveys students on how “well-prepared” they feel going in their career in a particular field. These qualitative responses are then combined with school data covering starting pay and placement in each field to supply index scores for each school in each field. In these exercises, The Princeton Review provides rankings in seven fields: Consulting, Finance, Management, Marketing, Operations, Non-Profit, and Human Resources.
Among these categories, Stanford GSB performed the best, producing the highest ratings in Management, Marketing, and Non-Profits. It also ranked 4th in Finance, making it only 1 in 3 programs to rank among the ten-best in four industry categories. For Stanford GSB, a top finish in Management is hardly surprising. After all, the school’s programming is geared towards leadership development, particularly in growing soft skills through regular practice, feedback, and reflection. This approach was appealing to Mohammad Jama, a GSB second-year who is sharpening his skills to improve as a partner and parent as much as a manager and board member.
“To be most impactful in these roles, I need to establish a leadership foundation that I can continually improve upon over my life. Hence, the experiential leadership development opportunities at the GSB through courses (e.g., Leadership Labs, Interpersonal Dynamics) and extracurricular opportunities (e.g., Personal Leadership Coaching, Arbuckle Leadership Fellows) were really appealing. I was particularly excited about the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows program. As a Fellow, I’d get the chance to apply my leadership style in group and individual contexts, receive feedback from MBA2s, MBA1s, and a leadership coach, and derive new learning about my leadership from those experiences.”
A FEW HEAD SCRATCHERS
Like Stanford GSB, Harvard Business School, and Virginia Darden also landed in the Top 10 in four industry categories. HBS’ best performance came in Non-Profits, where it finished in 6th. In contrast, Darden finished 3rd in Management and 4th in Consulting. Such results, however, represent a step back for both schools. Notably, Harvard Business School ranked in the Top 10 in five categories last year. The same was true for Darden, which had placed 1st and 2nd in Consulting and Management respectively in the 2022 ranking.
MIT Sloan, an Operations powerhouse, also doesn’t appear in this category – or any of the other six. The same can be said for UC Berkeley Haas, a consensus Top 10 MBA program. At the same time, Chicago Booth and the Wharton School only rank among the 10-best in one category each – fewer than American University and William & Mary. Overall, Yale SOM earned the highest rating in Consulting, while New York Stern edged out Columbia Business School as the Best MBA for Finance. American University’s Kogod School repeated as the top graduate business program for Human Resources, while Purdue Krannert replaced Arizona State in Operations.
One red flag: the rankings contain certain anomalies. Purdue Krannert, for one, shut down its full-time MBA program two years ago, making its spot in Operations dubious. Despite being universally regarded as the top MBA program for Marketing, Northwestern Kellogg doesn’t even crack the Top 10 in the field (after finishing 10th last year). Yale SOM finds itself in a similar predicament. While it has been consistently ranked as the top MBA program for the Non-Profit sector by U.S. News, it also finishes outside the Top 10 in this category according to survey results.
A LOOK AT STUDENT SURVEYS
The rankings also feature seven categories based exclusively on student survey results. They include the following areas:
Best Classroom Experience: “Professors’ teaching abilities, the integration of new business trends and practices in the curricula, the intellectual level of their classmates’ contributions in course discussions, and whether the business school is meeting their
Best Professors: “How good their professors are as teachers and how accessible they are outside the classroom.”
Most Competitive Students: “How competitive their classmates are, how heavy the workload is, and the perceived academic pressure.”
Most Family Friendly: “How happy married students are, how many students have children, how helpful the school is to students with children, and how much the school does for spouses of students.”
Best Campus Environment: “How happy students are and how they rate the town the school is located in and the campus community, the availability of school activities, and level of participation from fellow students.”
Best Administered: “How smoothly the school is run, and the ease with which students can get into required and popular courses.”
Most Green MBA: “How well their school is preparing them in environmental/sustainability and social responsibility issues, and for a career in a green job market.”
As noted earlier, between Classroom Experience and Best Professors, just one M7 school makes an appearance: Stanford GSB as the top program for experience. Considering that ‘experience’ covers the latest trends, best practices, and classmate quality, it does beg the question: Are top MBA programs investing enough in teaching excellence and curriculum development?
Next Page: Links to 18 business school rankings from The Princeton Review.
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