Guide to MBA Rankings

Are you looking for a pay hike or a stimulating graduate programme? The rankings can help you find the right school

Rankings, rankings,’s the buzz word when it comes to choosing an MBA. There are so many potential MBA students who rely heavily on the rankings of schools to make their decisions on where to study.

And it’s not just the students – the schools themselves find themselves having to fill out a myriad of surveys and questionnaires to try and ensure they ‘make the cut’ this year, or be ‘just above’ their main competitors, so as to keep the stakeholders happy.

But do they matter that much? In a word, yes. There’s no getting around it, rankings are the shop window for MBAs, and they are here to stay – whether we like it or not. But which rankings to choose from? All have their own merits (and potential pitfalls), but here are a select few which carry the most weight, having spoken with current MBA students and listened to their views.

The Global MBA magazine ranks the top 100 schools each January, of which three main areas are analysed in their methodology: alumni salaries and career development, the diversity and international reach of the school and its MBA, and the research capabilities of each school.

Salary plays the largest part in this, where 40% of the rank for each school is based on ‘weighted salary’ and ‘salary percentage increase’, which one could argue can skew the results somewhat, and favour the larger institutions with bigger cohorts. Over 21,000 people responded to the survey in 2011. In addition, they rank Executive MBA and Executive Education programmes as well as European Business Schools.

Like the FT, 100 schools make up this annual ranking in October. The methodology is made up of four main criteria: ‘open new career opportunities’ (35%), ‘personal development/educational experience’ (35%), ‘salary’ (20%) and ‘potential to network’ (10%). A similarly large number of alumni are surveyed - over 18,000 in 2011. The main difference is the weighting in salary, which is half that of the FT rankings. It makes a distinction between an MBA that will increase your salary post-graduation, and an MBA that is worth doing in its own right, irrespective of salaries generated post-graduation.

The BBW Full-time MBA rankings are published every two years, and differ from the FT and the Economist in that they separate US and non-US Business Schools; the last rankings, published in late October 2010, ranked 87 US schools (57 ranked, of which 30 are ‘top ranked’ and 27 are ‘second tier’), and 18 non-US (10 top ranked, 8 second tier). It also lists schools that were not ranked, and interestingly those not considered for ranking.

In terms of methodology, student surveys (45%), recruiter surveys (45%) and intellectual capital (10%) are the key factors in the rankings. Like the FT, they rank Exec MBA and Executive Education programmes, as well as part-time MBA.

There are of course many factors which go into making the decision to take an MBA, such as job opportunities, networking, internationalisation, potential salary increase, career change...the list goes on. But rankings will always – rightly or wrongly – play a large part in the decision making process.

Rob is MD of Media Minds Global, an international media planning and buying agency that represents Business Schools and educational institutions on a global scale. He is also guest a lecturer and speaker at Business Schools, fairs and seminars.


Wednesday 18th January 2012, 22.26 (UTC)


I think it was Disraeli who said there are lies, damn lies and statistics. It's important to bear this in mind when looking at business school league tables. Typically 35-40 percent of schools' ratings are driven by post-MBA salary uplifts. Establishments that admit a high proportion of younger students are more likely to achieve good scores here, due to their pre-MBA salaries being lower than those of more experienced applicants - even though the latter may have more interesting experiences to share with the cohort. Likewise, schools in developed economies that recruit heavily from emerging economies with the expectation that students will stay after graduation can see spectacular uplifts, even if alumni salaries are low in absolute terms. Another contributor to the rankings that doesn't necessarily reflect students' priorities is diversity. Some schools admit a high proportion of applicants from one country, with the rest coming from the home nation. Since the data gatherers just monitor the proportion of overseas students, such establishments will appear to be very diverse, whereas in fact they are dominated by two business cultures - only one of them non-indigenous. Finally, schools are also scored in several of the league tables on the proportion of faculty with PhDs. Few lecturers are able to earn these while also achieving senior roles in industry. While the ideal MBA program would include a number of faculty members who generate respected original research, I think having a mix of people with heavyweight business experience is also valuable - but, sadly, it is discouraged by the rankings. So, in conclusion, I think the rankings are of limited value and should not be relied upon too heavily.

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