MBA Rankings: Driving Factors & What They Mean

February 23, 2016

MBA Rankings Overview

Anyone who ever considered getting an MBA would have done one thing in common, i.e. searched for “MBA Rankings” or “MBA Ranking” on Google. In fact, that was most likely the first thing everyone, including me, did when researching which business schools to apply to. MBA rankings aim to create an objective evaluation of schools based on a set of criteria. It’s no secret then that business schools fight tooth and nail to outrank other schools year after year. I will cover the three main MBA rankings here: Financial Times, BusinessWeek, and US News. I’ve also shared my personal experience using or dealing with these MBA Rankings during my MBA application process in this article.

Factors Driving the MBA Rankings

Financial Times (FT) is probably the most popular MBA ranking among Indonesians. Being the first search result for the keyword “MBA Rankings” and its slight variation “MBA Ranking” probably explains its popularity. Another factor contributing to FT’s popularity is perhaps due to its worldwide business school coverage. FT heavily utilizes alumni’s survey response (59%) as the basis of its ranking. Of those 59%, 40% are allocated based on its student’s average post graduation salary and salary increase percentage compared to jobs the students held before starting their MBA. 31% of the ranking’s weight is based on diversity of the staff, board members, and students. The rest of the 10% comes from the school’s research strength.

Given FT’s ahodology, it’s easy to see why INSEAD tops FT’s ranking in 2016 and has always placed top five in FT’s rankings every year. INSEAD consistently has placed its graduates into top consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain every academic year. That certainly explains its graduates’ high average salary and salary raise percentage. INSEAD also boasts arguably the most diverse faculty and students compared to other schools. Assigning 40% of the rankings’ weight based on the graduates’ compensation however fails to take into consideration the various industries that different MBA candidates wish to go into post graduation. After all, people also take into account work-life balance when considering their post-graduation career and although management consulting pays well, it’s notorious for its long hours. A well-balanced male to female faculty ratio, one of FT’s criteria, may also be irrelevant to a school’s education quality or what many MBA applicants look for in a business school.

BusinessWeek (BW), which started in 1988, is the oldest MBA ranking. Since 45% of its weight is based on the survey of the schools’ graduating students however, its objectivity is questionable. Basically, no graduating student would say anything bad about his/her own school as a decrease in their alma mater’s ranking in the long term negatively impacts his/her own brand. BW obviously raised eyebrows everywhere when they put Duke Fuqua as the number one school in 2015 over Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB, and Wharton.

US News is considered the golden standard of MBA rankings by most deans from top US business schools. One reason is because it employs a set of criteria that are considered more relevant to what’s important for MBA candidates. Those criteria include peer assessment (25%), employers’ assessment score (15%), placement success (35%), and student selectivity (25%). US News’ major weakness however is that it only ranks US schools. This can however be very useful for someone like me who’s only interested in pursuing an MBA in the US.

An alternative ranking for those of you interested in pursuing an MBA outside the US is Poets & Quants (PQ). I find PQ’s ranking of non-US schools as the most objective because it creates a composite ranking based on four MBA rankings that have worldwide school coverage: FT, BW, Forbes, and The Economist. To see its latest ranking on international MBA programs, click on It’s worth nothing that although INSEAD currently tops this list, London Business School (LBS) has occupied the top spot in PQ’s rankings in four out of the last six years. I believe consistency is also something that should be taken into account. After all, what good is an MBA ranking if it fluctuates wildly all over the place every year.

Fit More Important than MBA Rankings

Although rankings are useful to gauge business schools’ statistical aspects, a business school is more than just that, as any top tier MBA alums can attest to. For example, for those of you who like me want to pursue a career in hi-tech after graduation, you may be better off going to Berkeley Haas than Wharton due to the former’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley, the world’s largest technology hub. There are also many MBA alums that regretted their decision of going to the school they went to because they realized in hindsight that the school wasn’t a good fit for them.

It’s safe to say that an MBA from Harvard Business School will serve you better than one from Monash, where I went for my undergraduate. But to pick Wharton over Berkeley Haas just because of the former’s higher ranking instead of the schools’ fit for you will only negatively impact your admission chances. Being able to demonstrate your fit to the school will go a long way in improving your chances. I know that certainly played a huge part in my acceptance to Cornell Tech’s MBA program, which aligns perfectly with my goal of one day launching my own FinTech startup. Had I been too hung up on MBA Rankings, I would have never considered applying to Cornell Tech, as it isn’t listed in any rankings due to the fact that it’s a relatively new program.

Click here for MBA Rankings data that Toga MBA Consulting has provided on their website.

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