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Your Guide to Comparing MBA Rankings

It is no secret that rankings play a huge role in which schools MBA hopefuls seek admission to. With so many different rankings publications out there, however, it can be difficult to tell which ranking you should trust. To find the answer to this dilemma, you first need to learn how each publication comes to the decision of which schools to rank first - each publication uses different methodology and weighs different factors in determining their rankings. After you understand this, you will be able to better choose which rankings to trust based on your personal business school goals.

 

Rankings Across Publications

Before we get into the nitty gritty of publications, let’s first take a look at how the top 20 business schools are ranked, according to the six most popular business school ranking publications.

 

Most Recent Rankings of the Top 20 Business Schools

U.S. News and World Report Financial Times Poets & Quants Forbes Economist Bloomberg Businessweek
1 Harvard INSEAD Harvard Stanford Booth Harvard
2 Booth Stanford Stanford Harvard Kellogg Stanford
3 Stanford Wharton Booth Kellogg Darden Fuqua
4 Wharton Harvard Kellogg Columbia Harvard Booth
5 Kellogg Cambridge Wharton Tuck Stanford Tuck
6 Sloan London Business School Sloan Booth Tuck Wharton
7 Haas Columbia Tuck Wharton Haas Sloan
8 Yale IE Haas Haas IESE Rice (Jones)
9 Tuck Booth Columbia Sloan HEC Paris Kellogg
10 Columbia IESE Yale Johnson Queensland Haas
11 Darden CEIBS Fuqua Yale Columbia Columbia
12 Fuqua Kellogg Darden Fuqua Wharton Darden
13 Ross Sloan Ross Kenan-Flagler INSEAD Ross
14 Johnson Haas Johnson McCombs Anderson Yale
15 Anderson HKUST Anderson Ross Yale Tepper
16 Kenan-Flagler Yale Kenan-Flagler Darden IE Johnson
17 McCombs ESADE Stern Anderson Sloan Stern
18 Tepper Tuck McCombs Stern Fuqua Texas A&M
19 Goizueta Stern Teppern Tepper Stern Foster
20 Stern HEC Paris Goizueta Kelley Warwick Goizueta
 

Comparing Methodologies

U.S. News and World Report
Arguably the most widely-used MBA ranking for U.S. business schools, U.S. News and World Report has been churning out rankings every year since 1990 and is most valuable to MBA hopefuls in the United States.

The U.S. News methodology focuses heavily on the academic selectivity of a school, as well as the opinions of other business school leaders about that school in creating their rankings - each of these factors make up 25% of determining a school’s rank. The remaining 50% is divided up between the employment rate and employer opinion of graduates from each school, and the average salaries received by MBA graduates from these programs.

Year over year, the U.S. News ranking changes the least compared to the rankings of other publications. This implies that unless something drastically changes at a school, you probably won’t see a lot of movement when looking at how a school’s ranking changes from one year to the next.

Financial Times
Financial Times is considered to be the most influential ranking in almost every country in the world except for the United States (which is partial to its homegrown U.S. News rankings).

As the name of this publication might suggest, the Financial Times ranking strongly considers the financial implications of obtaining an MBA degree from a particular school, with a whopping 40% of its methodology based on the average salary an MBA will receive after they graduate from a particular school. This means Financial Times weights salary as the most important factor MBA hopefuls should consider in choosing a school.

Another thing that makes the Financial Times MBA ranking unique is that it also really has a global emphasis in positioning schools. 20% of its ranking methodology is based on the internationalization of a school, which other publications don’t seem to factor in as much. (The Economist comes in second - with about 7% of its ranking methodology based on the internationalization of a program.) With this in mind, if you are interested in pursuing your MBA to learn more about conducting business on a global scale, the Financial Times ranking will be an important one for you to consider.

Also unique to a business school ranking, Financial Times bases 20% of its ranking methodology on the quality of program’s faculty. They do this by examining the research that comes from a school’s faculty, as well as the number of faculty with doctorate degrees.

Forbes
Forbes is a financial publication, so it should come as no surprise that its MBA ranking focuses on the financial return on investment each MBA program gives its students. What is surprising, however, is that 100% of the Forbes ranking is based on an MBA’s ROI of attending a particular school - they do not factor in faculty, academics, employer opinion, or any other opinion-based factors. With such a singular factor determining which school is “best,” unless the only reason you plan to attend business school is to get a high salary after your education (which we always discourage applicants from doing, as attending business school is much more than simply a gateway to a higher salary), the Forbes ranking may not be the best one for you to consider on during your business school search.

The Economist
Similar to Forbes and Financial Times, The Economist is financially-focused - with a strong 20% of its rankings methodology based on salary of MBA graduates from each program. Unlike Forbes, however, The Economist focuses its rankings more on employability than on salary alone. 35% of its methodology is based on the reported opinions of employers who hire MBAs after graduation, 10% is based on the employment rate of graduates post-MBA, and another 10% is based on the reported career progress of MBAs after graduation.

Bloomberg Businessweek
Since 1988, Bloomberg BusinessWeek has been publishing MBA rankings, making it the oldest of the options shown here. More so than other rankings, the Bloomberg business school ranking is very concerned with the success of students post-graduation. Its methodology is mostly based on employer opinion of graduates that come from each program (35%), the salary of graduates from each MBA program (20%), and the employment rate of students after they graduate from a program (10%).

Poets & Quants
The Poets & Quants (P&Q) ranking is the newest business school ranking to come on the scene, but since its first publication in 2015, it has seen an explosion in popularity amongst applicants, as it is the only ranking list to take the rankings of other publications into consideration.

As a “meta ranking,” the P&Q ranking system is purely based on the rankings of other popular business school news publications, weighting its list on the decisions made by U.S. News (which makes up 35% of the weight of this decision), Forbes (25%), Bloomberg Businessweek (15%), the Financial Times (15%) and The Economist (10%). As such, these rankings take a comprehensive look at all of the various factors that these publications consider, making this ranking, arguably, the most well-rounded ranking out of the options presented.

One downside to the P&Q ranking is that because it takes so many other rankings into consideration, some factors of a school may end up being “ranked” more than once. For example, Bloomberg and The Economist both focus heavily on the hireability of MBA graduates, so “hireability” is measured more than once. This means it may not be the most accurate in determining what the best school is based on individual factors. If one factor of business school is more important to you than the rest (for example “hireability” or “post-graduate salary”), it may be in your best interests to stick to a publication that specializes in that particular factor.

 

Which ranking is the most popular?

Which ranking do MBA applicants use the most to influence their business school decisions? This question really depends on where you are in the world. According to a study done by mba.com, applicants in almost every region in the world except Asia and the United States say that the Financial Times ranking is the most influential to their decision making. Applicants in Asia tend to tout The Economist’s rankings as most influential, and applicants in the United States often go with U.S. News and World Report.

 

So, which ranking should you use?

This is question frequently asked by MBA applicants and is one where your personal post-MBA goals come into play. Ask yourself, “Why am I pursuing an MBA?” Is it because you want to…

… make more money? Then you should probably focus on the Forbes ranking, as it devotes the highest percentage of its methodology to return on investment.

… change careers? You can equally focus on Bloomberg and The Economist. Both Bloomberg and The Economist focus on the hireability of graduates that come from a school and employer opinion of graduates from each school, so if you’re considering moving into a new field post-graduation, these are the rankings you should consider.

… learn from the best? Go with the Financial Times ranking. They focus on the quality of a program’s faculty, so by using their rankings as a guide, you can be sure to attend the school that will have the best teachers in their respective fields.

… world for a global company? Here, Financial Times wins out again. With 20% of its ranking methodology based on the internationalization of schools, this is the ranking to use if you’re interested in a truly global program.

… have a top school on your resume? If you’re really looking for prestige on your resume, look at the U.S. World News rankings. They really value the selectivity and opinions of other business school leaders.

… have a little bit of everything? Poets & Quants is probably the ranking for you. Because P&Q takes the ranking of other publications into consideration, it has a relatively balanced viewpoint of which schools are the “best” based on a variety of different factors.

If you’re considering applying to any of these top MBA programs, Veritas Prep is here to help. Take a minute to fill out our free consultation form. After you answer a few questions about yourself, a Veritas Prep admissions expert will reach out to you within 3 business days to advise you on the strengths and weaknesses in your profile, as well as offer suggestions on what you can do to improve your chances of application success. And if you have additional questions about applying to a particular business school, or about the MBA application process in general, give us a call!