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What Makes A Top-Ranked MBA Program?

Researching MBA rankings? We list five traits that the top MBA programs have in common


By  Marco De Novellis

Thu Feb 27 2020

What are MBA rankings based on? Why do some schools outshine the rest? From sustainability to salaries, business school rankings are based on different things depending on the publisher behind them.

Like most of the mainstream rankings, the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking, out in January each year, focuses most on job placement rates and salaries of graduating students, but it also includes other criteria like course value for money, the diversity of students and faculty, a school’s commitment to CSR, and their research output.

To be included in the FT MBA rankings, schools must be accredited by AACSB or EQUIS. These are marks of quality reserved only for schools and top MBA programs that innovate to stay up-to-date and provide their students with the best opportunity for success.

When it comes down to it, there’s not much to separate the world’s top 40 schools, and different schools will perform better than others for different criteria.

Take the International MBA from Fudan University, in Shanghai, China, for example. The program, offered in partnership with MIT Sloan, came 33rd globally in the FT MBA ranking, sixth in the Asia-Pacific, and first among the business schools of mainland Chinese universities. It comes second globally for how much its graduates increase their salaries by after graduation.

To understand the true value of an MBA program, you need to delve deeper into a program, look beneath the surface, and see what makes it a good fit.

Here’s five things that make a top-ranked MBA program:

1. Great career outcomes

Great career outcomes means top jobs and high graduate salaries. Although some MBA rankings consider schools’ strength in areas like entrepreneurship, most still place the greatest impetus on post-MBA salary.

In the latest FT ranking, the Fudan MBA ranks second globally in terms of salary increase percentage, with graduates able to increase their earnings by a massive 203% three years after their MBA.

The Fudan MBA also ranks sixth for Career Progress—calculated by changes in students’ level of seniority and the size of the company they’re working for post-MBA—and among the best MBAs in mainland China for the average salary students can expect three years after graduation, at over $131,000.

Fudan MBA students are supported by The Fudan MBA Career Development Office, the first of its kind in China, which provides students with career planning services, CV and interview workshops, and personal counseling. 

2. Global reach

To work in almost any company today, you need to know how to work internationally; to deal with different cultures and ways of working. International experience is also credited in MBA rankings. At Fudan, where 30-to-40% of faculty are international, students benefit from the MIT partnership, working on international projects and gaining access to two international alumni networks.

Fudan offers overseas courses in collaboration with international schools like Yale University, London Business School, and Tel Aviv University, and MBA students can choose from international exchange programs from over 90 global business schools.

A global business school network helps when it comes to recruitment too. Fudan is highly-ranked by the FT for the number of alumni who say the school is somewhere they would hire MBA students from.

3. Real-life learning experiences

Learning today is not just about lectures in a classroom. Students and employers want to see experiential learning experiences, where theory can be put into practice. 

Fudan offers a host of Integrated Action Learning Projects (iLab), including the Fudan MBA Business Consultation Lab, where MBA students work as consultants for real-life companies, analyzing problems and providing solutions and ideas, with the goal of driving their development.

4. Focus on innovation

Even if you’re not starting your own business, most employers today value candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset. All top-ranked MBA programs will therefore focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.

The 2019 Fudan MBA startup competition saw 280 participants in 74 startups teams compete over six months, learning everything about how to build a company from idea conception to launch. The finalists’ startups focused on a variety of areas like artificial intelligence, e-commerce, pharma, consulting, and public welfare. 

5. Evolving curriculum

As technology disrupts industries and jobs change, so too must graduate management education. To stay relevant, and stay successful in MBA ranking tables, business schools must constantly update their curricula.

That means adding new topics and new ways of learning. Fudan, which has focus on incorporating more online learning into its MBA, introduced six majors in 2015, including trending topics like e-commerce and big data, as well as finance, marketing, innovative transformation, industrial analysis and investment management, and business decision-making and leadership.

Students on the MBA also choose from a series of unique humanities courses to diversify their learning and satisfy a growing demand from employers for candidates that know both how to do business and have strong emotional intelligence too.