LinkedIn’s Debut MBA Ranking: Shrewd Concept, Botched Execution

There’s nothing like the first time. No precedents or rules – just the exhilarating rush that comes with breaking new ground. That’s true whether you’re launching a venture or rolling out a ranking. In both cases, the worst mistakes involve misunderstanding your value proposition.

LinkedIn today (Nov. 14) released its inaugural Top MBA Programs 2023, which ranked the best 50 American business schools for career growth. Call it a missed opportunity – a good idea that squanders its credibility by overlooking the most fundamental part of any comparison: transparency.

Despite this, the LinkedIn MBA ranking actually fits conventional wisdom. Forget the roller-coaster analogy typically tagged to other rankings. LinkedIn’s results place Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB at 1st and 2nd, while pegging the Wharton School at 4th. Each aligns with precedent. Stanford GSB, for one, had been ranked 1st by U.S. News from 2020-2021, while Wharton has seesawed between 1st and 3rd since 2019 in the same ranking. Dartmouth Tuck nabbed the 3rd spot with LinkedIn – the same place it held in this fall’s Bloomberg Businessweek ranking. MIT Sloan rounds out the Top 5, a spot ahead of its U.S. News finish.


How did LinkedIn compile its ranking? Well, that’s the big mystery. The methodology didn’t include any weights for each measure, nor did LinkedIn supply any underlying data alongside the ranking. In other words, they leave it up to their readers’ imagination on how business schools ranked where they did. This lack of transparency only raises questions about how trustworthy the LinkedIn ranking really is.

As a whole, the methodology is based on “five pillars” with data culled from LinkedIn itself.

Hiring and Demand: Tracks job placement rates and labor market demand, focusing on recent graduate cohorts from 2018 to 2022. This assessment is based on LinkedIn hiring data and recruiter InMail outreach data.

Ability to Advance: Tracks promotions among recent cohorts. It also tracks how quickly all past alumni have reached director or VP-level leadership roles. This assessment is based on standardized job titles.

Network Strength: Tracks network depth, or how connected alumni of the same program are to each other; network quality of the recent cohorts (2018-2022), measured by average connections alumni have with individuals in director-level positions or above; and network growth rate of the recent cohort before and after graduation. This assessment is based on member connection data.

Leadership Potential: Tracks the percentage of alumni with post-MBA entrepreneurship or C-suite experience.

Gender Diversity: Measures gender parity within recent graduate cohorts.

Notably, to be included in the ranking LinkedIn requires a business school to have 2,000 alumni by August 31, 2023 – and “no fewer than 500 alumni having graduated between 2018-2022.” Even more, LinkedIn took pains to target the ranking to full-time MBA programs, removing executive, part-time, mini, and certificate-driven MBAs from the data. As a whole, the data encompasses alumni who graduated between 2018-2022.


What is the first thing that sticks out about the LinkedIn MBA ranking? Big picture, it aligns with the business school rankings from U.S. News & World Report and Bloomberg Businessweek, which also share LinkedIn’s American-centric approach. When compared to U.S. News’ Top 20, LinkedIn matches up across 20 schools. In fact, the only program missing from LinkedIn’s Top 20 list is Washington Foster (which tied for 20th in U.S. News, but ranked 33rd in LinkedIn). At the same time, LinkedIn and Bloomberg Businessweek match up in 24 out of 25 schools in their Top 25. Washington Olin – which ranked 30th in LinkedIn and 25th in Bloomberg Businessweek – is the only outlier.

There are several differences between the rankings, however. Chicago Booth ranked 9th in LinkedIn, despite being recognized by U.S. News as its #1 program. While Michigan Ross finished 8th and 9th with U.S. News and Bloomberg Businessweek respectively, it placed 18th in the LinkedIn MBA ranking. While Columbia Business School was listed as the top MBA program in the world by The Financial Times, it mustered just an 11th-place finish with LinkedIn (a ranking CBS shared with U.S. News, ironically).

Lower down, LinkedIn also deviated from its counterparts. It placed Babson College at 29th, far higher than either U.S. News (68th) or Bloomberg Businessweek (Unranked). The same is true of Boston University’s Questrom School, ranked 30th by LinkedIn and 51st by both U.S. News and Bloomberg Businessweek. At the same time, Johns Hopkins’ Carey School made it to 31st in LinkedIn while being unranked elsewhere. By the same token, LinkedIn lists Washington Foster, Indiana Kelley, SMU Cox, and Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School 10 or more spots lower than its peers. Conversely, UC Irvine, Colorado Leeds, Rutgers, and Pepperdine University placed much higher with LinkedIn. In addition, several “name” MBA programs failed to make the LinkedIn ranking: UT-Dallas Jindal, Wisconsin, Maryland Smith, Texas A&M Mays, and UC Davis.

Stanford MBA students gather outdoors. Photo Credit: Elena Zhukova


Every ranking has a point of view. Make no mistake: LinkedIn has staked its claim on outputs. Aside from Gender Diversity, the ranking is truly results-driven, rewarding programs for higher placement, alumni promotions, executive experience, and alumni achievement. More than that, it tracks performance over a five-year period. In other words, it steers clear of more easily managed inputs like GMATs and acceptance rates. As a result, the LinkedIn ranking is more than just a snapshot of short-term performance. Instead, it delivers a more panoramic view of how MBAs are performing in their early years after graduation.

That’s not easy to find – and it’s incredibly valuable to have.

Still, LinkedIn’s approach features some major gaps. For one, it fails to even supply index scores to show the numerical differences between business schools. Compare that to Bloomberg Businessweek, where five measures (Compensation, Learning, Networking, Entrepreneurship, Diversity) combine for a 100-point index. Here, the difference between #1 Stanford (86.8) and #12 NYU Stern (83.8) is just three points. While this tiny difference reflects poor weighting, it – theoretically – gives readers an inkling of just how much space separates business schools in quality. The LinkedIn ranking includes no such indexing, so readers can’t even decipher whether a ranking’s weighting is flawed.

At the same time, Bloomberg Businessweek burrows down to provide index scores for each of its measures. As a result, readers can identify how different programs perform against each other in different areas. For example, Stanford GSB may be the top MBA program overall with Bloomberg Businessweek, but it finishes 6th in post-graduation compensation – behind Dartmouth Tuck, Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, Virginia Darden, and the Wharton School. Compare that to the LinkedIn MBA ranking. How would Harvard Business School and Michigan Ross compare on Ability To Advance? How many more VP or above jobs have 2018-2022 HBS grads snapped up compared to their Michigan Ross counterparts? How does LinkedIn factor in HBS graduating over twice the number of MBAs as Michigan Ross over that five-year period? Another factor: Does HBS and Michigan Ross have the same percentage of 2018-2023 MBA graduates with LinkedIn profiles? If not, how are these gaps addressed in the methodology? Here’s a final question: Does LinkedIn treat schools equally when it comes to company size and prestige? In other words, does a VP title at Fifth Third Bank carry the same weight as one from Goldman Sachs?

These are questions that MBAs ask – and LinkedIn doesn’t answer.

Page 3: See how the Linkedin Ranking compares to its counterparts at U.S. News and Bloomberg Businessweek.



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