Business school rankings are all over the place. That’s largely the result of the motivations of the editor who created the methodology that determines how schools are ranked.
Regardless of which schools comes out on top or at the bottom, one lineup of elite MBA programs doesn’t really change. It’s the M7, widely considered to be the best MBA programs in the world.
It’s an arbitrary list as well—-a self-selected group of schools that are always at the top of most rankings. The deans of these institutions meet regularly to exchange ideas and share best practices. So do other members of their senior leadership teams, from the directors of admission to the heads of career management centers.
BREAKING DOWN THE FT RANKING BY THE M7 SCHOOLS
You can quibble whether a few other schools should be included in the M7, most notably Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, or perhaps Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
But it’s worth taking a peek at the M7 and how each of those schools fared in today’s Financial Times’ 2015 global MBA ranking. Say what you will about the credibility of this flawed list, but individual components of the ranking shed some rather entertaining insights in how the schools stack up against each other.
First, we’ll show you the overriding results of the FT ranking through recent years and then tear apart several component parts of the ranking to show how the M7 fare. The results are surprising for lots of reasons–but mainly for how they reveal the FT survey to consistently deliver contradictory and head-scratching results. You can start from the very top: Only four of the M7 schools–Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Columbia–even make the FT top 7. MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, and Northwestern Kellogg all fail to make the British newspaper’s top seven MBA programs. The FT’s 2015 survey actually places Kellogg 14th.
IF YOU THINK THE OVERALL RANKING IS A MESS, JUST TAKE A LOOK AT THE SUB-PARTS
Drill down further and the results are even more surprising. Although the “alumni recommendation rank” for each of the M7 schools is very high, for example, these elite schools score shockingly low on the FT’s “value for money” ranking or “aims achieved” list.
Exhibit one: Harvard Business School. HBS ranks first in “alumni recommendation,” but is ranked 66th in “value for money” and 84%, whatever that means, for “aims achieved.” The FT, by the way, changed its “aims achieved” numbers from a ranking last year to a percentage this year with no explanation or notice. A year ago, Harvard’s rank on this measure was 50th. Those counterintuitive results make little sense on the evidence. For one thing, Harvard doles out more scholarship money to MBA students than any other professional school in the world, so much so that its tuition is discounted by nearly 50%. Combine that fact with the FT’s own numbers which also show that HBS graduates are paid more than the MBAs of any other school in the world and you have to wonder how is it then possible that the school could rank so low on either value or aims achieved.
In fact, not one of the M7 schools rank higher than the 80s in “aims achieved.” Just ask any of the graduates of these schools if they think their MBA failed to meet or exceed their career expectations. Their answers will bear no relationship to the rank of their schools on this component of the FT list.
THE OVERRIDING LESSON: TAKE ALL RANKINGS WITH A VERY BIG GRAIN OF SALT
Much can be said for the rest of the M7 numbers in these tables. Take apart the FT metrics that make up its ranking and they show nearly non-sensical results. Here’s another one: The FT’s “placement success rank” for Wharton this year is 40, meaning that 39 other business schools in the world were more successful at placing their MBA graduates into jobs than Wharton. Yet, Wharton’s Class of 2014 was among the most successful in its history in both median starting pay and job placement.
So we present this breakdown less for the insight it provides and more for the entertainment and novelty value of the results. The overriding lesson in all of this: Take all business school rankings with a very large grain of salt, especially the ranking from The Financial Times.