Poets Versus Quants: How U.S. News Ranks The Top B-Schools By MBA Specialization

Poets Versus Quants: How U.S. News Ranks The Top B-Schools By MBA SpecializationThe University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School doesn’t need to boast about being named the top business school for finance by U.S. News & World Report. It’s Wharton — it’s kind of a given. Not being named No. 1 in the category, one of 13 the magazine publishes as part of its newly released annual ranking, would spark more questions about the ranking than about the school.

The same goes for Harvard Business School for general management, Northwestern Kellogg School of Management for marketing, and MIT Sloan for business analytics. But it’s a different story for smaller schools, which spend more time off the media radar and therefore need to do more to appeal to the talent pool of potential applicants.

For smaller, lesser-known MBA programs, U.S. News’ specialization rankings are a goldmine of publicity, especially if those programs have managed to claw their way to the top of one of the lists. Four business schools in particular have a lot riding on their years-long (and in one astonishing case, decades-long) streaks at or near the top of the magazine’s baker’s dozen of mini-rankings. The good news for these four — Babson College Olin Graduate School of Business, Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, and Michigan State Broad College of Business — is that in 2023, their winning streaks remain intact.


Poets Versus Quants: How U.S. News Ranks The Top B-Schools By MBA Specialization

Texas McCombs School of Business Dean Lillian Mills, on her school’s top rank for Accounting: “Our courses in data analytics and research applications further distinguish our graduates, and I’m pleased that so many of them are on the cutting edge of global business decision-making.” Mills is an accounting professor. McCombs photo

U.S. News’ specialization rankings are based on surveys of deans and program directors. They are divided between the “Poet” disciplines — Entrepreneurship, International Business, Management, Marketing, Nonprofit, Project Management, and Real Estate — and the “Quants”: Accounting, Finance, Information Systems, Production & Operations, Supply Chain, and Business Analytics. The smallest rankings are Project Management, with nine schools ranked (down from 11 last year), and Nonprofit, also with nine (and also down from 11); the largest are Accounting, with 47 schools, and Business Analytics, with 45.

MIT Sloan led all schools this year with three No. 1 rankings, in Production/Operations, Business Analytics, and Project Management, all repeat wins; last year Sloan was also No. 1 in Information Systems, but it slipped to No. 2 this year, supplanted by last year’s No. 2 Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business. MIT this year was also No. 2 in Supply Chain and No. 3 in Entrepreneurship. Among its fellow M7 schools, The Wharton School was No. 1 in two categories, Finance and Real Estate; Harvard was first in Management and second in both International Business and Nonprofit; Stanford had no top rankings but was No. 2 in both Entrepreneurship and Management, No. 3 in Nonprofit, and No. 4 in Marketing. Chicago Booth — the top school in the overall ranking this year — finished second in Finance and no higher than sixth in any other category. Columbia was fourth in Finance and third in Real Estate.

Only one school ranked in every one of U.S. News‘ 13 specialization categories: Michigan Ross School of Business. It’s a feat the Ross School has now accomplished for three straight years. Top ranks for Michigan were a No. 2 in Project Management and Nos. 3 in Management and Marketing. Three schools came close to matching Michigan: UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business ranked in all but the Project Management category, and both MIT Sloan and Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business ranked in all but Nonprofit.


As far as U.S. News (and the rest of the graduate business education world) is concerned, Wharton has always been the top finance school, Kellogg the top marketing school, Harvard the top management school, and MIT the top business analytics and production/operations school. But the most impressive streak atop any of the rankings belongs to Babson College, whose Olin Graduate School of Business has become synonymous with entrepreneurship over the years. Babson in 2023 marks its 30th year as U.S. News’ No. 1 Entrepreneurship school — not bad for a small program that ranks 68th overall, down from 57th last year.

“This is a moment of immense pride and celebration for the Babson community,” says Stephen Spinelli Jr., president of Babson College and a 1992 MBA of the B-school. “The world needs entrepreneurial leaders in all fields to solve big and small problems. From startups to rapidly evolving larger businesses and even municipalities, Babson graduates are creating social and economic value.”

What makes Babson, No. 4 in P&Q‘s most recent entrepreneurship ranking, such a hotbed for startup founders? “It is a purposeful strategy for the business model at Babson,” Spinelli explained in a 2021 interview with Poets&Quants, pointing out that Babson is home to multiple institutes and centers focused on the marriage of thought and action — or the theory and practice to teach students an entrepreneurial mindset.

“That has created this more direct connection between what happens in the classroom and a student’s ability to self-curate their interaction with the marketplace at the same time. Those centers and institutes allow a student to do that with a greater degree of self-curation and freedom. You have to have finance, you have to have accounting, you have to have marketing. You have to have these integrated studies.” Then you can apply those in the different institutes and centers, he says. “That coordination and integration that is really led by the students is probably the single-most innovation that I’ve seen.”


Babson MBAs who don’t start their own businesses are in high demand. Within three months of graduation, 84% of Babson’s 2022 full-time MBA graduates seeking employment received a job offer, earning an average U.S.-based salary of $116,935. That’s a 14% increase from 2021, with many earning an additional signing bonus averaging $32,773.

“Our curriculum continues to push the boundaries of the traditional classroom and challenges students to learn through real world practice and the Entrepreneurial Thought & Action methodology,” says Sebastian Fixson, associate dean of graduate programs and innovation. “We prepare our learners to become ambitious, action-oriented problem solvers in any field, any industry.”

Babson’s graduate student body is represented by more than 50 countries, with 72% of students having backgrounds outside business management. The Olin School’s “distinctive learning model prepares our students to become ambitious, action-oriented innovators in any field and any industry,” a news release describes. “The education we provide pushes the traditional classroom boundaries, and challenges you to put your knowledge to practice and make impactful change in every community you’re a part of.”

Adds Donna Levin, CEO of Babson’s Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership: “Our mission is to develop entrepreneurial leaders who understand the state of the world, have a deep understanding of social responsibility, and know how to make lasting change.”


Another impressive streak is Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business’ 17th straight year atop the Accounting category. It’s the 31st year that McCombs has placed in the top five in the category.

“As dean, I’m proud to work among these exceptional scholars and educators who are committed to continuously innovating, both inside and outside our classrooms,” says McCombs Dean Lillian Mills, who is herself an award-winning scholar and educator, accounting professor, and former chair of the school’s Department of Accounting.

In fact, it was a banner year for the McCombs School, ranked 20th overall, which tied MIT Sloan and NYU Stern School of Business with seven top-10 specialization ranks, including No. 4 in Information Systems (the school’s 30th year in the top five), No. 4 in Project Management, No. 7 in Business Analytics, No. 9 in Entrepreneurship (27th year in the top 10)
, and No. 9 in Management (22nd year in the top 20)

“Our faculty members are deeply engaged with standard setters and regulators, which means our ESG, tax, audit, and financial education is best-in-class in complex areas,” Mills says. “Our courses in data analytics and research applications further distinguish our graduates, and I’m pleased that so many of them are on the cutting edge of global business decision-making.”


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