Inside the MBA Rankings: A Guide to the Big Four Rankings

Image of a person walking that stands as a metaphor for choosing the correct MBA Rankings to follow

How do you choose the best MBA program for you? You check out the rankings of course! But, wait a second. Which ranking should you use?

A school ranked in the top 10 by The Economist might barely make the top 20 in the Financial Times and could rank in the top five by the U.S. News and World Report. So, which ranking is correct?

It’s not a matter of correctness. It’s a matter of what you value.

Each MBA ranking has its own set of quantitative and qualitative measurements for determining the order of its list. They base their analyses on what they consider most valuable. Some rankings will focus on faculty research while others will focus on employer opinion, admission figures, or post-graduation salary.

So, if the rankings are so varied, do they really matter?

Do MBA Rankings Matter?

The short answer is, “YES!” Rankings do matter. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, as schools head up the rankings, they get their pick of better students, faculty, and even recruiters. Some top companies such as McKinsey & Co. only recruit from selective institutions. Also, “momentum in the rankings can have an impact on alumni sentiment and donations, deans say.”

The reality is that attending what is considered an elite or top-tier program will not only affect your experience but it will have an impact on the job you get after graduation, your starting salary, and your future business opportunities.

MBA Rankings: An Overview

So, how different are the MBA rankings, really? The table below looks at the latest results from the top 4 MBA rankings: U.S. News & World Report, Bloomberg Businessweek, Financial Times, and The Economist.

Immediately, you can see that while a few programs such as Harvard and Wharton always make it on the top of every list, schools such as UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business only appear on a single list.

U.S. News (2017)Businessweek (2015)Financial Times (2016) GlobalThe Economist (2015) Global
1. Harvard1. Harvard1. INSEAD1. Booth – Chicago
2. Stanford2. Booth – Chicago2. Harvard2. Darden – Virginia
3. Booth – Chicago3. Kellogg – Northwestern3. London Business3. Tuck – Dartmouth
4. Wharton4. MIT: Sloan4. Wharton4. Harvard
5. MIT: Sloan5. Wharton5. Stanford5. HEC – Paris
6. Kellogg – Northwestern6. Columbia6. Columbia6. Haas – Berkeley
7. Haas – Berkeley7. Stanford7. Haas – Berkeley7. Kellogg – Northwestern
8. Tuck – Dartmouth8. Fuqua – Duke8. Booth – Chicago8. INSEAD
9. Yale9. Haas – Berkeley9. MIT: Sloan9. Anderson – UCLA
10. Columbia10. Ross – Michigan10. Judge – Cambridge10. Wharton

Let’s break it down a little further.

U.S. News & World Report

The U.S. News & World Report ranks accredited U.S.-based schools. It began ranking in 1987 and has been relatively consistent since the beginning. The reason for its consistency is its focus on quantitative data as well as the opinions of deans and recruiters, which are harder to manipulate.

The U.S. News ranking places a high emphasis on survey results from deans, directors, and recruiters. Respondents were asked to rank schools on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). However, the other 60% of the ranking is made up of quantitative data.


  • Quality Assessment 40%: Includes a peer assessment score of deans and directors ranking MBA programs and a recruiter assessment score.
  • Placement Success 35%: Focused on mean starting salary and bonus and employment rates.
  • Student Selectivity 25%: Includes information on mean GMAT and GRE scores, mean undergraduate GPA, and acceptance rate.

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Businessweek rankings separate U.S.-based schools and International programs. The rankings began in 1988, and new rankings are published every two years. For the purpose of this article, we focused on the U.S.-based rankings. For its most recent, 2015 ranking, BusinessWeek overhauled its methodology to focus more on future career prospects.

Businessweek places it largest emphasis on surveys, with 80% of its score focused on how employers, alumni, and students feel about each school. The remaining 20% is based on quantitative data but does not include quantitative data on the class profile including GMAT score or GPA.


  • Employer Survey 35%: Recruiter feedback indicating which MBA programs best equip students with necessary skills.
  • Alumni Survey 30%: Alumni feedback indicating how their MBA affected their career, compensation over time, and job satisfaction.
  • Student Survey 15%: Survey of current students indicating their satisfaction with academics, career services, campus climate, and more.
  • Job Placement Rate 10%: Recent quantitative data on the number of MBAs who were placed in full-time jobs within three months of graduation.
  • Starting Salary 10%: Quantitative data on how much MBAs made after graduation (adjusted for industry and region).

Financial Times

The Financial Times is probably the most robust ranking system. It’s been published since 1999 and is globally focused, including schools from around the world on its list. The FT ranking places its greatest emphasis on salary, but also includes information about each program’s demographics, faculty, and alumni opinion.

Eleven criteria are calculated from quantitative school data, accounting for 31% of the total score, while alumni responses to eight criteria account for 59% of the ranking’s weight. Overall, the ranking is a relative listing where Schools are ranked against each other based on their Z-score for each criterion.


  • Weighted Salary 20%: Average alumni salary three years after graduation.
  • Salary Increase 20%: Average difference in alumni salary before and after the MBA.
  • Research 10%: The number of articles published by current full-time faculty in 45 select academic and practitioner journals.
  • Other 50%: There are 17 other criteria for ranking schools, each accounting for 6% or less of the total rank. Some of the criteria include international mobility, female faculty, placement success, career progress, and Ph.D. graduates.

For the purpose of this article, we focused only on the Global MBA rankings. The Financial Times also provides rankings on the Online MBA, Executive Education, EMBA, and European Business Schools.

The Economist

The Economist is another Global MBA ranking, however, unlike many of the other systems, 80% of its ranking is determined by quantitative data. For example, the methodology is focused on graduate salary, GMAT scores, registered alumni, and job placement. The other 20% of the score is qualitative survey data.

The Economist places a high emphasis on a School’s career services, as well as the experience that students have while in their MBA program including the diversity of their class and their rating of program electives.


  • New Career Opportunities 35%: Focused on the diversity of recruiters, the percent of graduates with a job three months after graduation, jobs found through career services, and student assessment of career services.
  • Personal Development/Education Experience 35%: Focused on faculty quality, student quality, student diversity, and education experience.
  • Increase in Salary 20%: The salary change from pre- and post-MBA.
  • Potential to Network 10%: Includes information such as ratio of MBA alumni to full-time MBA students, overseas alumni chapters, and student rating of alumni.

In Conclusion

For a global program, focus on The Financial Times or The Economist. Choose the FT list for a more salary-oriented ranking as well as a more subjective survey-focused ranking. Choose The Economist for a survey based mostly on quantitative information, and one that places a high priority of program experience.

For a U.S.-based program use either the U.S. News & World Report or Businessweek. The U.S. News ranking is more quantitative focused and a better choice for students more concerned about their program experience and job placement. Businessweek, on the other hand, is an arbitrary ranking mostly based on survey results from employers and alumni.

According to Dawn Iacobbuci, the Senior Associate Dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen School, who completed an in-depth study of the MBA rankings, the U.S. News ranking is the best.

“I would look at U.S. News as a result of this research,” she concludes, “partly due to objectivity of the measures and components that go into the ranking. They are less easily gamed. The Financial Times is pitched to favor the more international schools, and the Businessweek student poll has a good deal of variability to it. You don’t want to see schools slipping up and down and all over the place. If there is that much variance, what good can there possibly be to the ranking?”

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