Ten Biggest Surprises In The 2023-2024 U.S. News MBA Ranking

U.S. News MBA ranking

Perhaps emboldened by the law and medical school boycott of U.S. News rankings, business school deans are being unusually vocal in their criticism of this year’s MBA ranking.

That’s especially true for schools that suffered big year-over-year drops, such as the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business which plunged 31 places to 86th from a rank of 55 last year. “When there’s a decline, and especially in the case of a steep drop like this one, it becomes all the more important to take a steely-eyed look at the underlying reasons and take appropriate action steps,” wrote Dean Gene Anderson in a message to the school’s Board of Visitors.

Kogod School of Business Dean David Marchick took issue with changes in the methodology that dings MBA programs with high percentages of international students. “As a school based in Washington DC, international students are part of Kogod’s DNA and central to our educational mission, notwithstanding the way the U.S. News rankings penalize schools with large numbers of international students,” he said in a statement.  Marchick notes that American University’s B-school has “extraordinary momentum.”  “Applications are up 100% year over year for all grad school applications; philanthropic support for our work exceeds four times last year’s totals; and our sustainability management program is receiving recognition as one of the strongest in the country.” Yet, the school’s MBA program sank a shocking 46 places to a rank of 122nd from 76th last year.


“The higher education community wants to empower potential students with reliable and logical information as they evaluate educational options that will significantly shape their careers and lives,” added Marchick. “U.S. News’ negative weighting toward international students not only ignores trends in the global market, it also raises questions about whether prospective students are getting the full picture about the schools they are considering.”

That has long been a perennial concern when it comes to rankings, whether they are from U.S. News & World Report or the Financial Times. It’s a reminder to treat all these lists with a very big grain of salt and recognize that behind each mindless methodology to crank out the ranking are editors who typically know little to nothing about business education.

That said, there are plenty of shocks and surprises in this year’s U.S. News. Here are the Top Ten surprises that raised our eyebrows the most.

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business was ranked first for the second year in a row, taking sole possession this year after being tied with Wharton in 2022

1) Chicago Moves To The Center Of the MBA Universe

The Windy City. The Heart of America. Chi-Town.

Chicago is known for many things: The Sears Tower and Wrigley Field, deep-dish pizza and foot-long dogs, lakefronts and riverwalks. Of course, there are the three C’s of Chicago: crime, corruption, and cold. In 2023, Chicago will known for something else altogether….

Business School Excellence!

It finally happened. Chicago Booth and Northwestern Kellogg ranked 1st and 2nd. Trendy Hyde Park vs. College Town Evanston. Finance vs. Marketing. The heart of it all vs. an escape from it all. Well, that’s the surface stereotype, at least. In reality, the schools are remarkably similar: a tradition of data-driven programming bolstered by a commitment to faculty excellence and a pay-it-forward support

So how did the business school universe pivot from the New York City to Boston to the Bay Area to the shores of Lake Michigan? Like any ranking, Booth and Kellogg excelled in the areas valued most by U.S. News.

Let’s start with Kellogg, which ranked 6th just four years ago. Their secret? All-around high performance. For inputs, Kellogg ranked 2nd for both average GMAT (730) and undergraduate GPA (3.70) – a combined 23% weight. While its 31.4% acceptance rate placed it 17th among the Top 25 schools, that measure accounts for just 2% of U.S. News’ full-time MBA ranking weight. Among outputs, Kellogg’s 97.3% placement after three month ranked 4th among Top 25 program, behind Michigan Ross, Emory Goizueta, and Washington Foster. In terms of first-year pay, Kellogg MBAs pulled in $189,342. While that ranked 9th among Top 25 programs, it still surpasses the packages received by rivals like MIT Sloan ($185,727), Michigan Ross ($182,966), and Yale SOM ($181,362) on a measure with a 20% weight. By the same token, Kellogg MBAs enjoyed the 6th-best peer assessment score and the 4th-best among recruiters, categories that combine for a 25% weight.

In other words, Kellogg scored among the best where it mattered. It topped #3 Wharton in placement and undergraduate GPA, while outperforming #4 MIT Sloan in both of those measures plus starting pay and bonus. On top of that, Kellogg has improved heavily over the past two years. For one, MBA pay has risen for $173,057 to $189,342. Peer and recruiter assessment scores have climbed by .1 and .2 of a point, respectively. Even more, three-month placement jumped by 4.8% over the past two years, a wider margin than Chicago Booth (+4.2%), Wharton School (+2.7%), MIT Sloan (+0.9%), and Stanford GSB (-1.5%).

So why didn’t Kellogg nab the top spot? Simple: Booth bested their northern rival in most measures. Pay? $194,792 vs. $189,342. Placement at graduation? 90.4% vs. 87.3%. Peer assessment score? 4.7 vs. 4.5. Recruiter assessment score? 4.6 vs. 4.5. Acceptance rate? 30.1% vs. 31.4%. That’s 57% of the weight right there for Booth, with GMAT (13%) being deadlocked at 730.

At the same time, Booth edged out the Wharton School – which tied Chicago Booth for 1st last year – in a couple of key measures. For one, Booth’s recruiter assessment score improved from 4.5 to 4.6, while the Wharton School repeated its 4.5 average. Conversely, the Wharton School’s peer assessment score slipped from 4.8 to 4.7, while Chicago Booth maintained its 4.7 average. Beyond that, Booth continued to hold an advantage over Wharton in first-year pay and bonus and graduation placement, while Wharton reinforced its advantages in GMAT average, undergraduate GPA, three-month placement, and acceptance rate. In other words, just minor improvements tipped the scales, ever so slightly, to Booth.

…and you can bet that minor upticks – or methodology modifications – could swing the advantage to the Wharton School. So don’t get too comfortable, Booth and Chicago. The Quakers are coming – and they don’t have much ground to make up.

U.S. News MBA ranking

2) The Crazy Difference A Week Can Make

Little more than a week before U.S. News was expected to release its newest 2023-2024 ranking of the best MBA programs in the U.S., business school deans got their usual sneak preview. As is always customary, the ranking organization sent an embargoed list to the schools so they would know how they placed on the closely watched ranking.

This is more than mere courtesy. U.S. News gives schools advance notice so they can draft news releases to promote the ranking to stakeholders and ensure it gets more attention than it frankly deserves. This time the sneak peek sparked outrage, largely because many second and third-tier schools were crushed, a function of the most significant changes to U.S. News’ methodology since the start of its MBA ranking in 1989. Law and medical schools led the complaints and their final rankings have yet to surface.

Abruptly, U.S. News decided to postpone the publication of the new MBA ranking by a week. And when the new ranking finally came out this week there were massive changes in the ranks from just a week ago–with no explanation ever given. What happened during the week to cause U.S. News to revise its ranking? No one knows. There is no mention of whatever altered the rankings in U.S. News’ published methodology.

But the changes were significant:

  • 84 schools saw rank changes by at least one position (up or down).
  • 30 schools saw their ranking go up by at least 5 positions.
  • Seven schools saw their ranking go down by more than 20 spots.
  • 16 schools saw their ranking go down by more than 5 spots.
  • The biggest climber was UMass Amherst from 97 to 86 (+11 spots)
  • The biggest decline occurred in the ranking for the New Jersey Institute of Technology which went from 81 to 112 (-31 spots).

Harvard Business School, originally ranked fourth, slipped back to fifth place. Columbia Business School also lost one spot, causing the school to fall out of the Top Ten into 11th place. Tulane and Northeastern each moved up six places to a tie at 81st from 87th. The University of Detroit Mercy, a newcomer to the MBA ranking, went from an initial rank of 64th to 86th, a difference of 22 places. Ditto for Clemson University which went from 76th to 99th.

And there is more, much more. Pacific Lutheran University lost 25 spots, going from 97 to 122. Drexel University in Philadelphia and Canisius College both dropped 21 places with the revision, plunging to 102 from 81. St. Louis University fell 22 positions from 79 to 101.

Given the massive data collection and analysis effort by U.S. News in publishing its graduate rankings, it is easy for mistakes to be made. The editors are entering and crunching tens of thousands of data points. A simple error can alter numerous rankings. But given the controversy around U.S. News rankings and the ongoing boycott of many law and medical schools, transparency on exactly what happened should be expected. Instead, the ranking organization chose to stay silent. It’s a big mistake.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.