Breaking Down the 2017 U.S. News Ranking of Top Business Schools: Part 2

US News College Rankings

Make sure you check out Part 1 of this article before you begin reading more of our thoughts on the recently released U.S. News and World Report‘s 2017 ranking of Best Business Schools. Now let’s take a deeper look at some of the surprises this year’s rankings presented:


Ranking surprises 
We were quite surprised to see Columbia (#10) come behind Tuck and Yale this year (ranked #8 and #9 respectively). Columbia has a very high yield of admitted applicants who choose to attend the school, and it has been working hard to foster a more collaborative culture. However, Tuck’s employment statistics and remarkably high percentage of graduates receiving a signing bonus (87%!) play well to the U.S. News methodology. We shouldn’t sell Tuck short, though, as other intangibles at Tuck not included in this ranking — such as student satisfaction, alumni network, and tight-knit culture — also rate among the highest of any MBA program.

Yale snagged Dean Ted Snyder from Chicago Booth back in 2011 after he presided over its precipitous rise in the rankings. His magic potion seems to be working at Yale as well, and we’ve dubbed him the “Rankings Whisperer.” He thoroughly understands the drivers of rankings and pushes all levers to the max to improve the standings of his schools. Yale has begun to move away from its ties to the social and nonprofit sectors, driving up average starting salaries and recruitment percentages, but perhaps distancing the program from its roots.

University of Virginia’s Darden School always seems to be the sleeper success story, and this year is no exception. With its best placement in more than a decade, Darden came in at #11. Darden’s reputation amongst peer schools and recruiters is not as strong as most other programs ranked in the top 15, but it has a very strong starting salary/bonus and other statistics.

Be wary of average salary numbers
The U.S. News ranking incorporates average salary plus signing bonus in its rankings, which in theory, is not a bad thing. After all, many applicants desire to gain an MBA, at least in part, to improve their salary potential. However, we recommend that you look at salaries just like the rankings themselves—by using the numbers in a broader context. After all, the difference in average salary and bonus between Harvard (ranked #1 overall) and Cornell (ranked #14 overall), is less than $5,000 per year.

If you analyze the data industry-by-industry (as we have), you’ll find that there’s little difference in salaries coming out of the top 10 to 15 programs. The biggest difference is the percentage of graduates who are able to land positions in highly selective industries, such as private equity. But here’s the rub: most of these highly selective industries are looking for extremely qualified candidates who have pre-MBA experience that fits their needs. So even if you manage to squeeze into Harvard or Stanford, if you don’t have the pre-MBA experience that these firms are looking for, then you’re going to have a tough time getting an interview, much less landing a job, in the highest paying private equity or venture capital positions.

Also, some roles, such as in investment banking, do not have as high of base salaries or signing bonuses, but a high percentage of your income will come from performance-based quarterly and annual bonuses. Other roles simply pay less, such as marketing and product management, but remain very attractive to a significant number of MBA graduates. Schools with a higher percentage of graduates taking these roles, such as Kellogg, can have lower overall salary averages, when their graduates make as much or more than peers within their chosen industry. None of this information can be captured in the U.S. News ranking.

Bottom line: Are you likely to make more money coming out of a program ranked #5 than ranked #20? Yes. But should you let this number dictate your decision between #7 and #12? Not necessarily. There are many other factors to consider, such as whether your target companies, industries, and so forth.

A holistic approach
We’ve provided a bit of context and analysis around this year’s ranking, and we encourage you to use these lists as merely a starting point in your research process. We encourage you to take advantage of our Veritas Prep Essential Guide to Top Business Schools to assist in your process, as it’s now available for free on our website!

In addition, if you’re interested in finding out your chances of admission to the top schools, you can sign up for a free profile evaluation to explore your individual strengths and weaknesses. Veritas Prep has worked with thousands of successful applicants to the top business schools, and we look forward to assisting you on your own journey!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.