How The Law School Boycott Is Creating Havoc For U.S. News’ MBA Rankings

After a major boycott of U.S. News’ rankings by the big brand law and medical schools, the U.S. News’ editors understandably went through a major introspection. After all, once Yale and Harvard walked, a stampede of other law and medical schools followed putting the organization’s money-making rankings at risk.

After consulting with more than 100 law and medical school deans, U.S. News revised the way it cranks out its graduate rankings to reflect the criticism it received. Even so, this year U.S. News was only able to cobble together law and med school rankings the year using other public data sources. 

But the boycott had a more meaningful impact on all of the organization’s graduate rankings, including its closely-followed ranking business school rankings that will be published on April 25th, a week later than expected.


Among other things, the ranking organization put more focus on student outcomes. Unwittingly, however, the changes have caused wild year-over-year variation in the rankings for business schools, particularly for smaller MBA programs that have larger international student populations.

In retrospect, it was the worst possible time to double down on student outcomes. That’s because last year’s graduating classes were severely impacted by the COVID pandemic. The Class of 2022, for which student outcome data is based,  was significantly disrupted. Many international students, showing up late for their studies due to visa, vaccine and travel restrictions, were unable to secure internships that would set them up for full-time jobs.

“Many international students lost out on their internships which hurt employment results and so you have just huge movement, and the employment data moves all over the place,” laments one dean who requested anonymity to speak freely with Poets&Quants.

The result: The big brand schools, which tend to have smaller international populations and more domestic students, show very little year-over-year changes in their rankings. In fact, in this year’s Top 30, which will now be published on March 25, there is not a single double-digit mover. But outside the Top 30, many schools were crushed. Of the business schools below a rank of 40, one third experienced a double-digit change in their ranking from last year.


Some of that volatility occurred because U.S. News put less weight on its highly controversial peer assessment surveys from deans and directors which added more stability to U.S. News’ rankings. U.S. News also decided for some unexplainable reason not to count the undergraduate grade point averages of international students. The effect of that decision meant that schools fighting hard for the fewer domestic students in the pipeline likely enrolled domestics with lower GPAs but did not get any credit for balancing that out with international students with higher undergraduate grades. Still, much of the year-over-year variation, however, is the result of putting greater emphasis on employment rates for the COVID class.

The upshot: The U.S. News ranking is less a reflection of a school’s quality and more a function of size, brand power, and the percentage of international students enrolled in a program. Significant year-over-year ranking changes in schools and programs that did not undergo new curriculum reforms only go to further undermine U.S. News’ already questionable credibility.

“These rankings are terrible,” grouses one business school dean. “They are getting a ton of negative feedback.”


The new business school ranking also shows another peculiar trend. Schools located in states that had more restrictive COVID policies were hurt more than schools in states with fewer restrictions. Obviously, those restrictions had a big impact on the educational experience as well as the ability of students to land internships and full-time jobs within the required timeframe of U.S. News’ employment metrics which capture placement at graduation and three months later.

Not surprisingly, the business schools that suffered the largest year-over-year drops are in states that had put in place severe COVID restrictions, including California. In most cases, international students were unable to start their programs on time so many missed internship opportunities. Of the Top Ten risers, seven were in states that had light COVID restrictions, such as Texas and North Carolina. Students in those schools had a more normal MBA experience and summer internships.

“Big state schools in the midwest had few COVID restrictions and low numbers of international students and they are going to do great,” one dean tells Poets&Quants. “Coastal schools with large internationals got crushed.”


Declines in domestic MBA applicants, moreover, have put more pressure on lower-ranked schools that have had to open their doors to larger percentages of international applicants. The big brand schools, however, have been more successful in holding on to more domestic applicants and are therefore not penalized by the changes in U.S. News’ methodology.

U.S. News, moreover, altered its methodology without notifying the business schools. “The new methodology penalizes smaller schools with large international pops,” the dean adds. “If you miss out on your internship, your likelihood of getting a job right away is lower. Three months later our employment numbers are much better but at graduation our employment numbers were a fraction of what they were because students didn’t show up until February or their second year. It is much harder to help those students.”

Chalk it all up to the law of unintended consequences. By trying to placate the law and medical schools that boycotted its rankings, U.S. News unwittingly made changes that ultimately make its MBA rankings far less credible, less relevant, and less valuable to prospective students. What an embarrassing irony.

DON’T MISS: Poets&Quants 2022-2023 MBA Ranking: A Surprising Change At The Top or A New Winner Tops Our 2022-2023 International MBA Ranking

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