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The Best MBA Programs In The United States—And How To Find The Right Fit

With the same business schools topping MBA rankings tables each year, we provide expert admissions advice on how to dive deeper into the rankings data

Fri Dec 15 2017

By Marco De Novellis

B20358510.210301235;sz=1x1;ord=[timestamp];dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=? This article is sponsored by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), maker of the GRE® General Test.

In November, Bloomberg Businessweek* ranked Harvard Business School’s MBA program the best in the United States for the third consecutive year.

Wharton and MIT Sloan took the second and third spots respectively, with Chicago Booth and Stanford making up the top five.

The same names are filling out the top tiers of MBA rankings tables year after year—nine out of Bloomberg’s 10 best graduate business schools of 2017 featured in 2016’s top 10.

But there are hundreds of MBA programs in the US, and thousands of MBA candidates are taking the GMAT® exam and the GRE® General Test to apply to business schools each year.

How can you make the most out of the MBA rankings?

Delve a little deeper

First, be assured that the top-10-ranked business schools (listed below) are not the be-all and end-all.

Bloomberg’s b-school ranking is based on surveys of recruiters, students, and alumni, as well as data on post-MBA job placement and starting salaries. These are all weighted in different ways—from the employer survey contributing 35% of the school’s overall score, to salary and job placement data, both at 10%.

When considering the top-ranked MBA programs, it’s important to look deeper into the rankings—into the methodologies and the data beneath—to find the right fit.

Based on Bloomberg’s research, the top three most popular US MBA programs among students are found outside the top 10—at UCLA Anderson, William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, and Johnson at Cornell.

But, at the same time, the Virginia-based Mason School of Business ranks outside Bloomberg’s top-50 for its reputation amongst employers, its job placement rate, and post-MBA salaries.

Similarly, the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business ranked number one for its job placement rate and 24th for post-MBA salaries—pretty good career prospects for Foster MBAs.

Rutgers Business School, New Jersey, has Bloomberg’s second-highest job placement rate, but its 51st position for post-MBA salaries means Rutgers MBA grads earn lower salaries than many of their counterparts.

It’s all relative of course. Rutgers’ full-time MBA grads can expect to earn up to $125,000 post-MBA. 2016’s average was just under $90,000.

MBA grads from Stanford—ranked first by Bloomberg for post-MBA pay—earn an average of $140,000 after graduation.

By delving deeper into MBA rankings data, applicants can discover more about the strengths and specialties of different b-schools.

For example, more MBAs from Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business in Utah go into tech than California-based Stanford or Berkeley Haas—the breeding grounds for Silicon Valley execs.

Columbia Business School produces the biggest share of MBAs that land jobs in finance. While, at the University of California at San Diego’s Rady School of Management, two in every five recent MBA grads have taken up jobs in Asia.

Getting accepted

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Finding the right business school is just the first step. MBA applicants need to write their application essays, source recommendation letters, and find funding and scholarships too.

Fortunately, there’s a variety of scholarships available. Nearly 50% of Harvard MBA students receive need-based fellowships which they don’t need to pay back. The average fellowship comes in at around $74,000 for the two years.

At Wharton, the total cost of the first MBA year alone—fees and living expenses included—can come close to $110,000. So, the school offers a host of scholarships for specific populations—MBAs of Hispanic descent, Indian students, and women in business.

One critical stage of the MBA admissions journey comes in the form of the admissions test—the GMAT exam or the GRE® General Test.

Nearly 1,300 business schools accept GRE® scores for their MBA programs, including 92 of the top institutions on the US News & World Report 2018 Best Business Schools Ranking, all of Bloomberg Businessweek’s Top 30 US MBA Programs, and 10 out of the top 10 institutions on The Financial Times 2017 Global MBA Ranking—including London Business School, IE Business School, and INSEAD.

Plus, for business school applicants, the GRE® General Test offers the added flexibility that the GMAT exam doesn’t. Candidates can use a GRE® score to apply for a wide range of master’s, specialized master’s, and PhD programs globally, which, on reflection, might prove a better fit than a full-time MBA.

After completing the GRE® General Test, a candidate’s score is valid for five years. Applicants can take the GRE® General Test multiple times—7 out of 10 GRE® General Test test-takers earned the same or better scores on the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections when they took the test a second time—and only choose to send their best scores to their selected business school.

Expert advice

Certainly, there’s more to MBA rankings than meets the eye. It’s crucial to investigate different programs in depth and consult experts in the industry as to how to get the most out of the rankings.

With this in mind, BusinessBecause caught up with Simone Pollard, senior director of business development at the Education Testing Service (ETS), maker of the GRE® General Test, to find out more.


Why do MBA rankings matter?

There are a number of stakeholder groups that are interested in MBA rankings. Institutions may use the rankings as one factor to compare their program to competing programs. Prospective students may review the rankings when they are exploring and researching MBA programs. Additionally, employers may consider MBA rankings when analyzing and selecting target MBA programs from which they will recruit. 

Still, it’s important to note that not everyone is a fan of rankings for a number of reasons, including how rankings influence decisions, their methodology, and the incomplete story that they can tell about a program.

What else should I think about when deciding on a business school?

You should consider the business school’s attributes and how those attributes align with your interests. You may also want to think about the type of students that the business school typically attracts and if those characteristics are similar to your profile and appealing to you. 

And, you should research the program and be aware of the curricular and extracurricular aspects of the program to determine if they are aligned with and support the reasons why you are interested in an MBA degree, and your post-MBA career plans and interests.

How can I stand out when applying to a school?

You can stand out to an MBA admissions committee by being a solid candidate. By that I mean, presenting your candidacy in a manner that will be appealing to the MBA admissions committee. 

You can do that by being authentic in your essay responses and interactions with the MBA admissions committee and by speaking about what you can add to the culture and environment, as well as the aspects of the program that are especially appealing to you.

How do Bloomberg Businessweek's top-ranked business schools view the GRE® General Test?

All of Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s top business schools accept GRE® scores and many of them are explicit about not having a preference for an admissions test score. 

We continue to hear that applicants who submit GRE® scores are strong candidates who also perform well in the classroom once enrolled.

*Bloomberg Businessweek Best Business Schools 2017

ETS and GRE are registered trademarks of Educational Testing Service (ETS). GMAT is a registered trademark of the Graduate Management Admission Council.