QS MBA Ranking: Sober Assessment Or Bat-Crazy Boondoggle

You have to give the 2024 QS Global MBA Ranking credit. It starts out normal enough. That’s more than you can say for The Financial Times, which ranked IESE above Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB and SDA Bocconi over Chicago Booth and Northwestern Kellogg earlier this year. Historically, QS is also less volatile than the now-defunct global ranking from The Economist, whose sharp rises and falls resembled a vertigo-inducing roller coaster ride.

Beyond that, let’s just say the QS ranking, which was unveiled October 26th, is hit-and-miss.


Like the past two years – the only QS MBA rankings available to the public – Stanford GSB again claims the top spot in the Global MBA Ranking – notching a perfect 100 index score to boot. The Wharton School and Harvard Business School swapped the next two spots, with the former now ranking as the runner-up. By the same token, the London Business School and HEC Paris again round out the Top 5, as LBS leapfrogged their French rival to rank 4th.

Beyond these marquee names, the remainder of the QS Top 10 looks similar to the previous year’s ranking. MIT Sloan holds the 6th spot for the second consecutive year, while Columbia Business School (7th and IE Business School (8th) also traded spots. Cambridge Judge climbed three spots to 9th – the largest move in the Top 25 – while IESE Business School inched up a spot for a 9th-place tie, knocking INSEAD out of the Top 10 in the process.

In fact, Cambridge Judge is the only new entrant to the QS Top 10 over the past three years. In some quarters, that could be a testament to consistency – a methodology immune to minor data fluctuations. For others, the QS methodology represents the underpinnings of the U.S. News ranking strategy (until this year) – a tie-ridden straightjacket designed to maximize the advantages of the top brands. Notably, P&Q has criticized the QS methodology for being “vague” – along with lacking transparency for not publicizing its underlying data (a flaw it shares with Bloomberg Businessweek). In response, QS co-founder Nunzio Quacquarelli has defended the QS MBA ranking, lauding the meticulous collection, analysis, and validation of data used to produce the ranking.

Graduation celebration at London Business School


Overall, the QS ranking evaluates full-time MBA programs using five criteria (and accompanying weights):

Employability – 40%
Return on Investment – 20%
Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes – 15%
Thought Leadership – 15%
Class & Faculty Diversity – 10%

The largest weight (35%) is given to an employer survey, with schools able to nominate up to 400 employers who’ve recruited their graduates. In its methodology, QS notes that it includes surveys from “all sectors and industries” (which includes top employers like “Facebook, Google, Uber, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, etc.”). That said, QS does not disclose how many surveys were submitted, nor does it establish how many surveys are required for a program to be included. This approach raises questions, particularly when “more recent responses have been given the greatest weight.” In addition, QS tacks on an additional 5% weight in Employability for placement within three months of graduation.

Return on Investment also reflects QS’ refreshing emphasis on long-term outcomes. Notably, 10-Year ROI accounts for a 15% weight. Here, QS plots post-MBA salaries and pay increases against tuition, cost of living, and “foregone salary” – with the latter metric giving one-year programs an advantage. At the same time, QS confers “a graded bonus” to programs that produce more entrepreneurs – individuals described as offering a “slower, but potentially much higher return.” The remaining 5% is covered by Payment Month, with higher scores given to business schools where graduates pay back their tuition sooner.

The remaining 40% is divvyed up in three buckets. Using publicly-available sources, QS tracks Alumni Outcomes. Here MBA graduates are run against the ranks of 50,000 CEOs, executives, and board members at the world’s top companies (while using schools’ self-reported data to factor in entrepreneurs). Academic Reputation includes a survey of academics who list the programs “they believe are the strongest in their subject area.” In addition, this bucket includes research impact and the percentage of faculty with PhDs (with the latter two constituting a third of the total Academic Reputation weight). Finally, there is Class and Faculty Diversity, a murky mix of metrics that includes both the percentage of female students and faculty members and international students and faculty.

Aerial view from MIT Sloan


What sets Stanford GSB apart in the QS ranking? That starts with Employability, which carries the heaviest 40% weight. In this bucket, Stanford GSB ranked 2nd with a 98.4 score (out of 100). Even more, the GSB was just 0.1 of a point behind MIT Sloan. Stanford GSB also produced the top score in Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes at 99.9 – far above runners-up Harvard Business School (92.9) and London Business School (87.4). In a bit of a surprise, the school finished 11th in Thought Leadership. That ranked behind Bay Area rival UC-Berkeley…not to mention China’s Tsinghua University. More surprising? Stanford GSB placed 51st in ROI and 86th in Diversity – losing a point or more in each category over the previous year.

Technically, #2 Wharton School topped Stanford GSB in three of five categories, including Diversity (77.8 vs. 69.3), Thought Leadership (97.8 vs. 94.5), and Return on Investment (94.3 vs. 90.1). Problem is, Wharton lagged behind where it mattered most: Employability (97.8 vs. 98.4) – the 40% weight – and Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes (84.8% vs. 99.9%) – a 15% weight. That’s hard to overcome, though Wharton’s 99.6 overall score shows you how close it was to attaining the same perfect index as the GSB. At 99.3, Harvard Business School wasn’t far off of its HSW brethren. It bested Stanford GSB in Diversity (74.8 vs. 69.3) and Thought Leadership (97.2 vs. 94.5), though it was beaten out by the Wharton School in every measure except Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes (92.9 vs. 84.8).

Despite ranking 6th, MIT Sloan was the only MBA program to post the highest scores in two categories: Thought Leadership (98.9) and Employability (98.5). In the end, Sloan was sunk by ranking 54th in Return on Investment and a Stanford-eque 91st in Diversity. You could say 4th-ranked London Business School was Europe’s answer to MIT Sloan. Their scores nearly matched across the board, including a 53rd- and 66th-place finishes in Return on Investment and Diversity respectively. In fact, Diversity was the bane of the Top 25 programs in QS. Just one program earned a score above 80. That was IE Business School at 82.6 – good for 24th overall. Begs the question: Is QS punishing top programs for valuing excellence above equity or are the elite simply behind current expectations?

Meet The CEIBS MBA Class Of 2024

The CEIBS Information Centre (Library). Courtesy photo


In terms of Diversity, EU Business School ranked the highest with a 99.4 score. Thought Leadership was a European affair: Oxford Said and Cambridge Judge notched the 2nd- and 3rd-highest scores (not counting HEC Paris at 5th). The London Business School’s Employability score was good for 3rd, just two steps ahead of Northwestern Kellogg at 5th. When it comes to Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes, both CEIBS and UCLA Anderson cracked the Top 10. When it comes to Return on Investment, 9 of the 10-best schools were found in Europe, led by ESCP Europe and Mannheim Business School.

ESCP Europe also boasts the biggest improvement in this year’s QS ranking. It vaulted from 48th to 26th. Two schools also lost noticeable ground: Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School (39th to 43rd) and Boston University’s Questrom School (33rd to 39th). Otherwise, movement was nominal in the 2024 QS Global MBA Ranking. Singapore’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business and Australia’s University of Sydney returned to the Top 50, while IIM Ahmedabad and EDHEC Business School dropped out.

That said, the ranking contains some definite head-scratchers. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business – a Top 10 staple in most American rankings (and 15th in the newest The Financial Times Global Ranking – placed just 55th with QS. Similarly, the University of Virginia’s Darden School, renowned for its teaching excellence, ranked just 59th (after coming in at 17th in the FT ranking). In fact, there are several major discrepancies between QS and The Financial Times – considered the most respected of the global MBA rankings that dares to compare all programs side-by-side. In QS, there are several programs that rank far lower than expected against the top third of the FT’s Top 100. These include Georgetown McDonough (55th), Emory Goiuzeta (61st), Washington Foster (72nd), Washington Olin (79th), Rice Jones (86th), North Carolina Kenan-Flager (87th), and the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (somewhere between 151-200).

Despite these discrepancies, both QS and FT have ranked IESE as a Top 10 business school and Chicago Booth on the periphery of the elite. Begs another question: Are there methodologies off somehow – or are they picking up on something before popular opinion catches on?

To see the QS Global MBA ranking, go to the next page.

To see how the Top 50 QS ranking compares to The Financial Times, go to Page 3.

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