10 Biggest Surprises In The 2024-2025 U.S. News MBA Ranking

U.S. News 2024 MBA ranking

The only thing not surprising about the new U.S. News 2024-2025 ranking of the best full-time MBA programs in the U.S. is that it’s full of surprises.

You can start from the very top of the list with Stanford and Wharton nudging aside Chicago Booth, last year’s winner, for first place. Or that Columbia Business School, Duke Fuqua, and Michigan Ross failed to make the Top Ten.

Yet, up and down the ranking, with roughly one in four schools experiencing a double-digit climb or fall, there are shocks galore. And many of the surprises have little to do with the actual ranking U.S. News assigns to a school. They are in the reams of data published with the list, the underlying metrics from current salary-and-bonus numbers to placement rates–that determine where a school lands on the pecking order of this ranking.

We attempt to break the ranking code in our look at the primary takeaways. Here are the ten biggest surprises on this year’s U.S. News MBA ranking:

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

1) Harvard Business School Can’t Catch A Break


That was Poet&Quants’ reaction to last year’s U.S. News ranking. Aren’t the business school rankings just a never-ending tussle between Stanford, Wharton, and Harvard for the top spot? Sure, Chicago Booth and Northwestern Kellogg are bound to break into the triumvirate on occasion –they’re remarkable schools! Still, the ‘Big Three’ are reflective of history and celebrity, rife with access and assets – the finishing schools for tomorrow’s innovators, influencers, and insiders.

You wouldn’t know it from last year’s U.S. News ranking. Stanford GSB finished 6th – and that’s just in the United States! The Wharton School tumbled to 3rd. To add insult to injury, Harvard Business School wasn’t even ranked as the best graduate business program in the Boston metro! In response, U.S. News borrowed a page from Sales Management 101. They changed the methodology to get a more credible result. By elevating the weight of pay, U.S. News probably figured it would extricate GSB from the masses. After all, the GSB has produced the highest-paid MBA graduates in recent years. In turn, by diluting the importance of placement, U.S. News was rectifying a wrong to Stanford and Harvard MBA grads, whose brand value enable them to be pickier with their choices.

In the end, U.S. News created a scenario reminiscent of a Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Thanks to pay, Stanford GSB rocketed to the top of the 2024-2025 ranking. Harvard? Their ACME kit blew up in their face as they dipped another spot to 6th.

Meep! Meep!

Call it the latest slap at Harvard, whose brand is increasingly associated with a university thought of as an evergreen playground for whiney wokes who are taught by cut-and-paste academics. While the business school continued to lag in rankings, however, it is a money-making machine. For the first time in the school’s history, total revenues surpassed $1 billion in fiscal 2023. This landmark reflected the expansion of core programs and higher MBA enrollment.

You can’t say HBS is pinching pennies. Over half of their students receive needs-based scholarships, with the average support coming to $46,000 a year according to the school. Problem is, the school is apparently struggling to get employers to pony up for their talent. This year, according to U.S. News, HBS grads attracted average starting pay and bonus of $193,201 – which ranked below 11 peer schools. Worse yet, it was actually a decrease from HBS graduates’ $198,180 haul from the previous year. Stranger still, the school boasted the second-highest score in the recruiter survey. In other words, employers remain bullish on the prospects of HBS hires.

When it comes to pay, reporting is one issue that dogs Harvard Business School. Out of 991 graduates, just 55.8% of graduates reported their salary – and the rate is 32.6% for sign-on bonus. That is a lower participation rate than higher-ranked programs like Northwestern Kellogg (68.6% pay and 56.8% bonus), Chicago Booth (71.8% pay and 55.9% bonus), and MIT Sloan (59.4% pay and 44.8% bonus). In other words, pay may be more reflective of participation than actual earnings – putting HBS at a decided disadvantage. Another pay anomaly: U.S. News added a Salary by Profession metric, which factors industry-based pay for schools in Consulting, Finance, General Management, Human Resources, Marketing, Information Technology, and Operations and Logistics. While HBS ranked 12th in Average Pay and Bonus, it somehow managed to finish 3rd in the new metric, which accounts for 10% of the ranking. Such a gap invites skepticism.

While the combined weights for graduation and three-month placement were reduced by a third, they still account for 20% of the ranking. Sure enough, HBS ranks second-last in placement metrics over the past two years among the 25-highest ranked MBA programs in 2024-2025.

Bottom line: Harvard Business School needs to boost pay (or produce a large sample) since it ranks among the very best in nearly every other measure. HBS may be a victim of methodology, but (as the saying goes), no one remembers the score…just the result.

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