Stanford, Harvard & Wharton Also-Rans In Topsy-Turvy U.S. News MBA Ranking

Stanford falls into a tie with Dartmouth Tuck in sixth place but remains the most highly selective prestige MBA program in the world


If you’re asking who would go to Chicago Booth over Stanford, you must know the answer. So regardless of Stanford’s ranking well behind Booth, Chicago would have to offer a full ride to an admitted MBA student who most likely would choose Stanford. Why? Because the school is the most selective prestige MBA program in the world, taking only 8.6% of its applicants vs. 30.1% at Booth. Stanford’s latest enrolled MBA class boasts a higher average GPA, 3.76 vs. 3.56; a higher median GMAT of 740 vs. 730, and higher starting salaries and sign-on bonuses: $198,180 vs. Booth’s $194,792.

What’s more, Stanford scored higher than Booth among corporate recruiters and deans and senior faculty. So how is it possible that Booth could be five places ahead of Stanford in this ranking? Stanford was especially disadvantaged because U.S. News put greater weight on placement statistics, Three months after graduation, 83.8% of Stanford MBA had jobs vs. a much more impressive 95.6% rate at Booth.

The stat does not reflect a preference for hiring companies for Booth MBAs. What it does reflect is that fewer Stanford grads go into jobs from mainstream MBA recruiters, preferring positions in venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, and startups, all of which recruit and hire very few newly minted MBAs and do not employ them on a typical MBA recruiting schedule. Stanford MBAs are so confident in their ability to land the jobs they really want that they are willing to hold out for them. Booth’s first-place standing is a quirk of U.S. News’ quirky methodology.


A bigger problem with U.S. News’ methodology this year is that it effectively penalizes schools with high percentages of international students. That’s because U.S. News does not factor the GPAs of international students whose undergraduate institutions are not on a 4.0 scale into its GPA calculation for its rankings. This gets a bit into the weeds so you’ll have to stick with it to completely understand it.

When schools report less than 50% of their entering students with GPAs, which is easy to do if you admit a lot of international students, U.S. News adjusts the value of those GPAs downward.  For example, if 25% of the entering class submitted undergraduate GPAs, the undergraduate GPAs were reduced in value in the ranking model by 25/50 or 50%. If Chicago Booth enrolled a class of 60% internationals whose GPAs were not on a 4.0 scale, the school’s adjusted GPA would fall to 2.83 from 3.54, even though it is highly likely that the international students who arrive on campus had equivalent or even better undergraduate grades.

This new rule impacts mid-tier schools in California, New York, Washington, and Florida, and other large metropolitan areas are going to have much larger percentages of international students than rural or non-coastal schools. “The incentives, therefore, will be for business schools to limit international acceptances,” explains one business school dean. “Put simply, it is antithetical to the mission of global serving universities and business schools to arbitrarily limit the share of its international students to impress a rankings entity. Business schools should be celebrated for attracting talented, diverse, and global student populations – not penalized.” 


Whatever you think of this ranking, it does unleash a fair amount of fresh data on the business schools. The admit rates at several leading schools went up as applications declined. Harvard Business School accepted 14.4% of its applicant pool this past year, up from 12.5% a year earlier. Wharton’s admit rate also rose to 22.8%, from 18.2%. And even though Dartmouth Tuck climbed in the ranking, its acceptance rate ballooned to 33.4%, the highest of any Top Ten School and up from 29.5% a year earlier.

Median GMAT scores reported by the schools, on the other hand, look stronger than ever. Wharton, Columbia, NYU Stern, and USC Marshall matched Stanford’s 740 median this past year, while Booth, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Berkeley, and Tuck were able to match Harvard Business School’s 730 median.

U.S. News salary and sign-on bonuses, with bonuses adjusted by the percentage of graduates who receive them, showed that Harvard just barely topped Stanford, $198,180 vs. $198,032, for the highest pay. NYU Stern grads reported an impressive average salary and bonus package of $196,143.


This year U.S. News placed numerical ranks on 149 MBA programs, up from 134 last year, though there were many ties, including 15 schools ranked “135-149.” In fact, there are ties again at 6, 8, 11, 15, 20, 22, 24, and 27. The ties are a reminder that in so many cases, the schools are so close together that there is no meaningful statistical difference among them.

Many of the programs ranked above 100 have fallen in and out of the Top 100 over the years, including No. 107 UC-San Diego, No. 110 UC-Riverside, No. 112 Rochester Institute of Technology, and No. 119 Willamette University.

Getting this set of graduate rankings out proved a difficult and trying gambit for U.S. News. After the law school revolt, the organization decided to make the most significant changes to its methodology in memory. Then, just days before the expected release of the rankings, U.S. News pulled them back a full week after an outpouring of complaints from schools that had received an early embargoed copy of the rankings.

Even now, U.S. News was unable to publish its law and medical school rankings because, it said, “due to an unprecedented number of inquiries from schools during the initial embargo period and verification of publicly available data.” No doubt, the organization’s reliance on other public data sources for law and medical schools that boycotted the ranking led to some challenges with data.

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(See the following pages to find out how the top 100 MBA programs rank)

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