Do MBA Rankings Matter?


Applying to business school? You might be wondering how the MBA programs you’re applying to compare to each other. If so, you’re not alone. Many applicants consider MBA rankings when deciding which schools to apply to. But how much do rankings really matter?

While MBA rankings are often a useful tool for deciding which business schools to apply to, how much the rankings matter depends on your goals and needs as a student. Read on to find out how MBA rankings are determined, what the best business schools are, and how you can use this information as an applicant.


How Are MBA Rankings Determined?

There are a number of different factors that go into determining MBA rankings. The ranking indicators change a bit depending on which ranking you’re looking at (for instance, US News rankings versus Bloomberg rankings), but every ranking system considers at least these four basic qualities.


#1: Selectivity

In general, the harder a business school is to get into, the higher its rank will be. Acceptance rates, therefore, play a large role in determining a business school’s ranking. But a school’s selectivity score depends on more than just its acceptance rate.

How admitted applicants score on standardized tests like the GRE and GMAT also influences a school’s selectivity ranking. The higher the average GMAT score of admitted applicants, the higher a school’s ranking tends to be. Though most ranking systems only look at GMAT scores, highly ranked schools will generally also have high average GRE scores.

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A similar rule applies to the GPAs of admitted applicants. The higher the GPA of admitted applicants, the higher the school’s ranking will be.


#2: Program Outcomes

Another important factor that affects a school’s rankings are its program outcomes, which measure how many students graduate from the program, how many go on to find employment, and the salary students earn upon graduation. These factors are all extremely important for applicants – after all, you want to make sure you’re going to a business school that can help you find a quality job after graduation!

Graduation rates help you as an applicant see how students are progressing through the business school program. If you notice that students aren’t graduating in a typical amount of time (e.g., one to two years) that may be a red flag that the program isn’t adequately preparing students to graduate.

Rates of employment and salary after graduation are also extremely important. As an applicant, you want to make sure that students are finding jobs after graduation and that those jobs pay well. After all, your MBA degree will likely cost a decent amount of money!


#3: Academic Quality

MBA rankings also consider the academic quality of the program. There are a number of factors that go into determining academic quality, including faculty quality and student-faculty ratio.

Faculty quality rankings take into account a number of factors. First, they look at the background of faculty members – what are their professional background and experience? Have the faculty members won awards or achieved other notable accomplishments? Faculty ratings may also take into account student surveys, which ask current and former students how faculty members were in terms of supporting and nurturing academic growth.

Student-faculty ratio is an important factor in academic quality rankings, as well. Schools with a lower ratio of students per faculty members are ranked higher than schools with a higher ratio of students per faculty member. Low student-faculty ratios generally mean that students will have more one-on-one interaction and personal attention from professors.




#4: Prestige

The final quality that business school rankings take into account is prestige, which is basically how the world perceives the strength of a particular business school. Prestige can be hard to measure, but business school rankings generally conduct prestige assessments by interviewing and surveying employers in the field to see how they view the value of a particular degree or by interviewing and surveying peers in other business schools. An employer’s or a peer’s perception of a school’s prestige is often based on his or her direct experience with graduates of a particular program: were they hard working, successful, etc.

Obviously, prestige is more nebulous, qualitative factor than something like average GMAT scores. However, prestige can be extremely important – a school’s reputation can help you secure a well-paying job after completing your degree. I’ll talk more about how prestige can affect your choice of school in a later section.


The Top 20 Best Business Schools

Now that we know more about the basics of how business schools are ranked, let’s check out the top 20 business school rankings according to three trusted sources: US News & World Report, Bloomberg Business, and Forbes. First, I’ll show you the top 20 best business schools for each source; then, I’ll discuss the differences in each.

Ranking US News & World Report Bloomberg Forbes
1 Harvard University

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

Harvard University Stanford University
2 Stanford University Harvard University
3 University of Chicago (Booth) Duke University (Fuqua) Northwestern University (Kellogg)
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Stanford University

University of Chicago (Booth) Columbia University
5 Dartmouth (Tuck) Dartmouth (Tuck)
6 University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) University of Chicago (Booth)
7 University of California – Berkeley (Haas) MIT (Sloan) University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
8 Dartmouth College (Tuck) Rice (Jones) University of California – Berkeley (Haas)
9 Columbia University

Yale University

Northwestern University (Kellogg) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
10 University of California – Berkeley (Haas) Cornell University (Johnson)
11 University of Michigan – Ann Arbor Columbia University Yale University
12 Duke University (Fuqua)

New York University (Stern)

University of Virginia (Darden) Duke University (Fuqua)
13 Tie for twelfth University of Michigan (Ross) University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)
14 University of Virginia (Darden) Yale University University of Texas – Austin (McCombs)
15 University of California – Los Angeles (Anderson) Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
16 Cornell University (Johnson) Cornell University (Johnson) University of Virginia (Darden)
17 University of Texas – Austin (McCombs) New York University (Stern) University of California – Los Angeles (Anderson)
18 University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) Texas A&M (Mays) New York University (Stern)
19 Carnegie Mellon University Washington (Foster) Carnegie Mellon University
20 Emory University Emory University Indiana University (Kelley)

All three of these sources have well-respected MBA rankings. Ultimately, you can see that there’s not a big difference between the three lists. While the order of the schools changes, the same business programs have made the top 20 for each list, with a few exceptions.

The differences lie in how each publication determines rankings. US News & World Report puts more of an emphasis on selectivity of applicants, meaning it focuses more on admissions rates and the academic performance of admitted applicants. Bloomberg, on the other hand, puts a greater emphasis on program outcomes for students, focusing more heavily on employment rates and salaries for recent graduates. Forbes focuses on selectivity, the quality of academic experience, and career prospects.

As an applicant, you can assume that higher ranked business schools have a higher level of prestige than those that are ranked lower. The level of prestige associated with a degree from Yale University is higher than the level of prestige associated with a degree from a school that’s not on the list of top 20 business schools. Attending a school with a high level of prestige may mean that it’s easier for you to get a job after graduation, because many of the highest ranked business schools have established relationships with companies to recruit their graduates. It also means that your chances of admissions are likely worse – the higher the school’s rank, the more selective it likely is.

You’ve got to decide for yourself how much a business school’s ranking affects your decision to apply to and attend that school. We’ll look a bit more closely at that idea in the next section.




How to Use Business School Rankings When Applying to Business School

As an applicant to MBA programs, you should be concerned with how business school rankings affect your application process.

Ultimately, you want to make sure that the business school you attend will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. Schools that rank in the top 20 business programs all offer high quality academic and professional programs to their attendees.

If you attend a top 20 business school, you’ll be learning from experienced professors alongside peers that have achieved academic, personal, and professional success. You can also count on getting more opportunities after graduation. A school with a high level of prestige will likely have relationships with employers and organizations that you can leverage into finding a job.

However, schools with higher levels of prestige are often harder to get into. They may also offer fewer scholarships or financial aid packages, while having higher tuition. You need to decide whether the name of the school is worth the extra work to get in and the potentially higher price tag.

Personal fit is ultimately a more important factor than prestige. Do your research into business schools to find the programs that fit what you’re looking for. While rankings are a good place to start, you won’t get a full picture of a business school simply by looking at its ranking on a long list. You need to learn much more about the actual experience of the school itself to determine if it’s right for you.

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What’s Next?

Getting ready to apply to business school? Our guide for how to prepare for an MBA teaches you everything you need to know to have your application in tip-top shape for admissions committees.

Wondering which MBA entrance exams you should take to get into business school? In our complete guide to MBA entrance exams, we break down the content covered on each exam and who should take what exam to get into the business school of their dreams.

If you’re getting ready to send your GMAT scores to prospective MBA programs, make sure you read our complete guide to sending GMAT scores to learn the ins and outs of the process. You’ll also learn how far in advance you should plan to take the GMAT so that your scores will arrive in time.

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Author: Hayley Milliman

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.