Breaking Down the 2017 U.S. News Ranking of Top Business Schools: Let the Games Begin!

US News College RankingsJust three and a half months into 2016, U.S. News & World Report has already released its 2017 ranking of Top Business Schools, and there’s quite a bit to talk about. The U.S. News ranking is arguably the most influential among U.S. business schools, and for good reason.

Various stakeholders can (and do) haggle over percentages of weight given to this statistic or that, but we at Veritas Prep think it does a good job at quantifying broad characteristics that a typical business school applicant would care about, namely the school’s overall reputation (40% weight), the ability to place you in a good-paying job (35%), and the capabilities of your fellow students (25%). We won’t get into the nitty-gritty here, but you’re more than welcome to read about the rankings methodology on the U.S. News website.

Now, let’s get into the juicy stuff!

Chicago Booth moves to #2
For the first time in the poll’s history, Chicago Booth has entered the #2 spot, tied with Stanford Graduate School of Business. There’s a lot to talk about here. How can Booth, which admits one in every four applicants (24.4%), possibly rank equally to Stanford, which admits only 6.1%? The key is that Stanford graduates are pickier.

Let me explain: Stanford exceeds Booth (and pretty much every other program) in every category except job placement. In fact, on the surface, Stanford’s job placement numbers look absolutely abysmal: It ranks #52 in percentage of graduates employed at graduation (71.7%) and #74 in percentage of grads employed three months after graduation (86.2%).

But wait, shouldn’t recruiters be pounding down the door to hire Stanford grads? Indeed, they do. However, Stanford MBAs are known for being exceptionally picky, and they’re willing to wait to get the jobs they want. This year, 92% of Stanford MBAs had received a job offer within 3 months of graduation, but several of them chose not to accept those offers. MBAs from most other schools have a lower tolerance for risk, so once they near the three-month mark after graduation, few offers go unanswered.

In addition, far fewer Stanford graduates go into traditional MBA recruiting industries such as management, consulting and finance. These industries will hire whole classes of MBA recruits many months before graduation, so the schools that send more graduates into those industries tend to have stronger recruitment statistics than the programs that send more graduates into non-traditional positions. Remember, most companies will only hire someone when a position becomes available (just-in-time hiring), rather than hiring a whole slew of graduates at once.

Many Stanford grads tend to gravitate toward venture capital, private equity, or Bay Area startups, which are far smaller than the enormous banks and management consulting firms that many traditional MBAs are hired to. This depresses their statistics, but is also a key reason to attend Stanford GSB. Based on all other criteria, Stanford would be the clear #1 ranked program.

This isn’t to say that Chicago Booth isn’t deserving. The school has invested significantly in its career services resources and recruiting apparatus to ensure its graduates have stellar jobs upon graduation. Fully 95% of Booth graduates had accepted a job offer within three months of graduation, leading every school in the top-10 except the (much smaller) class at Tuck, which edged them out at 95.1%.

NYU Stern drops to #20, but ignore it
The biggest loser — by far — in this year’s ranking is NYU Stern, dropping from #11 last year to #20 this year. The school is furious, and we can’t blame them. Dean Peter Henry released a press release explaining the drop in ranking, which was due to inadvertently leaving one answer blank on a survey of 300 questions. The question asked for the number of admits that had submitted a GMAT score, which was not dramatically different from the previous year.

However, rather than simply reaching out and asking NYU Stern – perennially ranked in the top 10-12 programs – what the number should be, the ranking “estimated” the number, resulting in a drop of nine places. Clearly, their estimate was nowhere near realistic, and we at Veritas Prep believe this action by U.S. News to be in egregiously bad taste and downright punitive. We encourage all of our clients and readers to ignore this year’s ranking of NYU Stern, to not incorporate it into their school-selection decisions, and assume that had the data been reported correctly, the school would have remained in approximately the same rank.

Check out Part 2 of this article, in which we’ll take a deeper look at these rankings and what they might mean for you.

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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.