When you hear the phrase “best business school”, the usual suspects include Harvard, Stanford and Yale. These three names often come up in conversations and debates on what the top business schools in the United States are – and even globally – are.

But you’ll be surprised to find other names on the list of top ranked business schools and universities, with some of them even adjudged to be better than the three mentioned. In the following discussion, we will be taking a look at business school rankings and identify the leading universities when it comes to their business programs.

Before that, however, it would be a good idea to have a bit of a background on these rankings, and how they are formulated.

RANKING BUSINESS SCHOOLS

There are several websites, organizations and agencies that release their own rankings, using their own sets of criteria as a guideline or basis for coming up with the ranks. The most trusted “rankers” include:

Forbes

According to Forbes, their ranking is based solely on the return on investment of the graduates of the business schools in the 5 years since they completed or earned their MBA. This means they consider parameters such as average base salary, signing bonus and employment rate, among others.

They basically make a comparison of the earnings of the alumni within the 5-year period and the total compensation that they have foregone while attending business school, combined with the cost of tuition and other fees paid during the period of attendance.

Currently, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business tops Forbes’ list of best business schools, followed closely by Harvard Business School and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Bloomberg Businessweek

The ranking index used by Bloomberg Businessweek is comprised of the evaluation from surveys done with employers (35%), alumni (30%) and students (15%). The remaining 20% is split evenly between Salary and Job Placement.

The 2016 ranking of Bloomberg Businessweek named Harvard as its best business school in the US. Stanford comes in second, followed by Duke (Fuqua) in third place.

The Financial Times

The Financial Times comes out with its rankings every year, covering not just universities in the US but in other countries all over the world. In its ranking model, it considers the weighted salary of alumni three years after graduation and the salary percentage increase, or the difference in the alumnus’ salary pre- and post-MBA.

In its Global MBA 2017 Special Report, the best business school with an MBA program in the world is INSEAD, which has campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. In the US, the leading university is the Stanford Graduate School of Business, followed by the University of Pennsylvania: Wharton and Harvard.

The Economist

If you compare the rankings, you might notice that The Economist’s list differs slightly from the others. That is because their ranking draws heavily on student satisfaction, and how it permeates each criterion. Ranking is done based on career opportunities, educational experience, salary boost and networking opportunities.

The Economist also comes out with its MBA rankings every year. For 2016, the top three names on their list are the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

US News

Included in the criteria used by US News in its ranking model are enrollment rate, the average GMAT score, the acceptance rate into the university’s MBA program, salary of graduates, and employment statistics. It also takes financial aid information on the business schools into account.

US News lists Harvard University at the top. The top three is rounded out by Stanford University and Chicago’s Booth.

FACTORS CONSIDERED IN RANKING BUSINESS SCHOOLS

The differences in rankings of best business schools stem from the corresponding differences in the factors or criteria that these rankers use in evaluating the schools and their programs.

Usually, ranking methodologies involve the conduct of surveys, and the most common respondents include employers, alumni of the business school being ranked, and its current students. This makes for a very comprehensive ranking model, particularly when the following factors are also put into play.

Career Opportunities

Rankers put a lot of weight on employment rates and job placement success. Often, the employment rates used in ranking methodologies are those that cover the period before and during graduation, and several months after graduation. Naturally, to get a more accurate picture, the data gathered does not include the graduates who are not seeking employment.

A university will have higher points in the ranking model if it manages to demonstrate having high employment and placement rates among its graduates.

Usually, this is partly down to the quality and performance of the career assistance and placement services of the school, which means that universities with dedicated career service centers providing aid to its students and graduates when it comes to employment will have greater chances of getting a higher rank than the universities without them.

Educational Experience

Alumni and students are also often asked about their experience while in the institution. What did they think of their overall experience in the business school? What is their opinion of the teaching quality? Do they think they made the right decision in picking that university for their MBA?

To some extent, this will also be affected by the quality of the teaching staff and faculty of the program. If a prominent name or authority figure is attached to the program, it’s bound to attract many prospective business school enrollees, thus increasing the application rate into that university.

This affiliation also lends greater credibility to the MBA program as a whole, so that anyone that eventually becomes associated with it – in this case, the graduate or alumnus – will also benefit.

Quality of Education

Often, this entails the conduct of peer and recruiter assessments to evaluate quality of education provided by the business schools. Peer assessments involve the deans, directors and other high-ranking officials of business schools with MBA programs. Students and alumni are also tapped for their opinion.

Respondents also sometimes include recruiters, corporations and companies that have firsthand information and experience recruiting and hiring graduates from the different business schools. Basically, they will be asked to evaluate the schools’ business programs.

Starting Salary and Salary Increase

This refers to the average starting salary of business graduates. Graduates provide information on their salaries right after completing their stint at the business school. This also includes any signing bonuses they get once they start employment.

Aside from the mean starting salary and other incentives and bonuses, some ranking methodologies also take salary boosts into account. This refers to the difference in the salary of the alumnus before he graduated in business school and after he has earned his business school credentials.

Student Selection

Specifically, this ultimately refers to the quality of graduates that will be produced by the business school. Schools that focus greatly on student selectively have greater chances of producing the best business graduates.

Usually, many gripe about the difficulty of getting into this or that business school. For example, the university may require applicants to their graduate program to be able to meet a minimum GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) and GRE test scores, as well as a specific GPA (Grade-Point Average) when they were still in their undergraduate levels.

There is a general perception that the harder it is to get admitted to a business school, the higher its standards and, ergo, quality, are. If universities set high criteria in selecting its students that only a few are able to get in, there is a greater chance that the quality of the graduates will also be higher. It is for this reason that student selectivity is often a factor considered in ranking models.

Networking Opportunities

How does the university aid the graduate in terms of networking? There are business schools that provide a lot of opportunities for its students to expand their “reach”, whether through the conduct of networking events or sponsorship of workshops and programs that specifically aid in their networking.

Business schools also greatly invest a lot in providing their students access to a wealth of opportunities for their professional and business networks. The best part is that this extends even after they have graduated. This means they keep in touch with their alumni, closely monitoring their progress.

Reputation

Let’s face it: there are simply some business schools that have established a solid and outstanding reputation when it comes to its MBA program. It takes years – dozens of decades, even – for some universities to build and nurture such a reputation, and it is a given that this should factor into the rankings.

LEADING UNIVERSITIES AND BUSINESS SCHOOLS

Not surprisingly, the lists of top business schools and universities of the various ranking authorities don’t have much difference, especially in their top five rankings.

Their places on the lists may be different, and there are some names on a couple of lists that are not present in the others, and vice versa. However, overall, their lists are pretty consistent with each other.

Below are ten of the top ranked universities cited on the most authoritative lists discussed earlier.

Harvard Business School, Harvard University

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Average GMAT: 730

Annual Enrollment: 935

Acceptance Rate: 12%

Employment Rate: 89%

Harvard is famous for its many programs, including Law and Medicine, but its business school is definitely one of the reasons why it is considered to be one of the most prestigious and esteemed business schools in the world. If you look at some of the biggest names in business, there is a very high likelihood that they are graduates – or have attended – HBS.

Annually, HBS accepts an average of 935 applicants. What makes HBS alumni more marketable is the fact that they are highly likely to be holders of dual degrees: business and any of the other degrees offered by Harvard. They are mostly in demand in the fields of accounting and finance, consulting, marketing/sales and general management.

Businessweek ranks Harvard at #1, giving it a ranking index score of 100%. It ranks at the top in surveys conducted among employers, and 2nd only to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business on the basis of salary or compensation rates received by its graduates.

Forbes’ ranking indicated that the gain or return for 5 years after graduation is $83,500. The average base salary and signing bonus of a HBS graduate are $125,000 and $25,000, respectively.

Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University

Location: Palo Alto, California

Average GMAT: 730

Annual Enrollment: 410

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Employment Rate: 92%

This business school in Palo Alto, California boasts an acceptance percentage of 7%, the lowest in the country, and even in the world. This makes Stanford Graduate School of Business the most difficult business school to get into in the United States, and this point is driven home by its annual enrollment, which is tagged at 410 students.

Stanford GSB graduates become even more attractive to employers because of this stringent selection process. Its program also requires its students to spend some time abroad, further expanding their entrepreneurial horizons and gaining useful experience in the process. Job placement of GSB graduates are distributed primarily in the fields of accounting and finance (29%), consulting (25%), and marketing/sales (24%).

Bloomberg’s ranking methodologies revealed that GSU topped the survey among alumni and in terms of salary, only narrowly beating Harvard University’s HBS.

Statistics also show that 92% of Stanford GSB graduates get employed, with anaverage base salary of $125,000 and average signing bonus of $25,000. The total cost of getting an MBA in Stanford is around $126,600. Over a 5-year period, the gain amounts to $89,100, but it will only take 4.2 years to payback.

In The Financial Times ranking, it was obvious how, among US institutions, Stanford GSB graduates had the highest weighted salary, which it estimated at $195,322. This is probably one of the most compelling reasons that it beat HBS in the ranking, with the latter registering a lower weighted annual salary of $178,113.

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Average GMAT: 730

Annual Enrollment: 583

Acceptance Rate: 24%

Employment Rate: 97%

Part of the prestige accorded the University of Chicago is the fact that it is one of the oldest universities in the country. However, that reputation is cemented by its solid offerings, and one of its greatest strengths is, undoubtedly, the Booth School of Business.

Booth has been the consistent topnotcher in The Economist’s ranking of the best business schools in the world, having remained at #1 for the fifth year. It cited how Booth excels in providing new career opportunities to its graduates, as well as promoting personal development and an outstanding overall educational experience.

If you look at Booth’s curriculum, it is easy to see that this business school is focused on shaping leaders. At the same time, looking over the list of faculty members, professors and some notable alumni will reveal Booth’s history of having awardees of the Nobel Prize in economics.

Booth also boasts a very high employment rate, with the graduates getting hired in less than 3 months from graduation, by the likes of Accenture, Bain, Credit Suisse, McKinsey, and the Boston Consulting Group. That means they excel the best in Accounting, Finance and Consulting. A study of 2010 graduates of Booth showed that, on average, they earn $200,000 annually.

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, Illinois

Average GMAT: 720

Annual Enrollment: 544

Employment Rate: 90%

If you are a graduate of Kellogg, you will have a great chance of being hired by employers such as McKinsey, Bain, Deloitte, and the Boston Consulting Group.

This is because the business school of Northwestern has established itself to be one of the best producers of managers with superior knowledge, skills and competencies in finance, marketing, operations and strategy. In the Class of 2014, for example, 42% of the graduates found lucrative jobs in consulting.

The average base salary of graduates from Kellogg is $120,000, plus a signing bonus of $25,000. The average payback period to start earning your MBA gain of $72,700 is 4 years.

Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, California

Average GMAT: 720

Annual Enrollment: 241

Acceptance Rate: 13%

Employment Rate: 87%

Annually, UC-Berkeley’s Haas only gets an average number of enrollees of 241. This is relatively low, compared to the other business schools on this list, since it’s just at around 13%. It does, however, get a lot of credit for offering a diverse business program that caters across nationalities, as evidenced by the high number of foreign nationals in its student body. The Class of 2016 alone showed that 43% of the school’s enrollees are foreigners.

Over the past several years, Haas’ curriculum started to integrate global business in its courses, encouraging students to venture abroad to gain more knowledge and experience, preparing them for employment either in general management, marketing/sales and consulting.

The gain over 5 years if you get your MBA from Haas is a total of $64,200. In 2014, the salary of a Haas 2010 graduate is around $180,000, which is definitely a major jump from the base or starting salary of $120,000 four years ago.

In US News’ ranking model, it was revealed that Haas has the lowest tuition among the top 10 leading universities with business programs, with full-time MBA students paying just $53,907 annually, while the others were past the $60,000 mark.

Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Average GMAT: 728

Annual Enrollment: 859

Acceptance Rate: 20%

Employment Rate: 96%

We cannot talk about the rankings of top universities or best business schools in the US without mentioning Wharton. The University of Pennsylvania’s business school is the oldest in the country and also boasts one of the biggest faculty, with many of them even coming from overseas.

The strength of Wharton as a business school is how it equips its graduates with impressive credentials that are sure to make them a shoo-in for any leadership or managerial position in large companies and corporations, which include the likes of Amazon, McKinsey, and Bain. If you get accepted at Wharton, you can choose from the 18 business majors, and even go for a dual degree with the other Wharton schools.

But here’s another plus: you can also have a chance to take advantage of the partnership struck by Wharton and the Kennedy School (of Harvard University) and the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies. This pretty much ensures that you can take advantage of networking opportunities and gain global exposure.

Graduates of Wharton either find themselves in consulting or finance and accounting, and their chances of getting employed are actually very high, with Wharton having an employment rate of 96%.

Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute Of Technology

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Average GMAT: 710

Annual Enrollment: 406

Acceptance Rate: 14%

Employment Rate: 93%

Over at MIT, there is the Sloan School of Management for anyone looking for a good business school that offers courses related to enterprise management, entrepreneurship and innovations, and finance.

If the high employment rate of 93% and higher average signing bonus of $28,996 does not convince you that Sloan is an excellent choice of a business school, then you should just look at the courses on offer. Noteworthy courses are the Lab ones, such as the Entrepreneurship Lab, the Action Leaning Lab, Global Entrepreneurship Lab and the Leadership Lab, to name a few. There is even a Trading Lab for anyone aspiring to work in trading and stock exchanges.

Clearly, Sloan’s program successfully produces well-rounded business graduates, which is why it comes second to Harvard in Businessweek’s employer survey. Companies such as Apple, Boston Consulting Group and Bain often seek out business school graduates of MIT.

Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth

Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

Average GMAT: 720

Annual Enrollment: 281

Acceptance Rate: 18%

Employment Rate: 98%

The MBA program of the Tuck School of Business seems focused on producing the best consulting graduates, since new entrants immediately start the program with consulting projects, with additional options of learning consulting for companies and organizations overseas.

What Tuck is impressive at is its high rate of employment. 98% of its graduates find employment, and they are mostly in consulting (40%) while the rest are distributed in finance, general management and marketing/sales.

The gain over 5 years from graduation is estimated to be $68,400, which is markedly lower than the others. However, the payback period is still estimated at 4 years, which is roughly the same than that of the other business schools.

Columbia Business School, Columbia University

Location: New York, New York

Average GMAT: 716

Annual Enrollment: 743

Acceptance Rate: 18%

Employment Rate: 91%

On average, the Columbia Business School has 743 enrollees every year, and that makes up 18% of the total number of applicants. That is quite a low acceptance rate, considering that CBS is one of the largest business schools in the US. One of the main draws of this business school are its top-rated faculty members, which include Nobel Prize winner for Economics Joseph Stiglitz.

A great majority (41%) of the graduates from this business school find employment in the field of accounting and finance, with most of them excelling in investing.

Compared to most of the other business schools, graduates from CBS has a lower average base salary of $119,400, but the average signing bonus is roughly the same, at $25,000. The 5-year MBA gain, according to Forbes’ assessment, is $71,100. It is noticeable how, among the 10 universities on this list, Columbia has the highest tuition fee per year for full-time MBA students, amounting to $65,988. That does not, however, negate the fact that it still happens to be one of the leading business schools in the country.

Yale School of Management, Yale University

Location: New Haven, Connecticut                             

Average GMAT: 720

Annual Enrollment: 323

Acceptance Rate: 24%

Employment Rate: 89%

Consulting and Accounting/Finance are the areas where Yale SOM alumni are usually employed in, and for good reason. Enrollees accepted into the program are explicitly urged to enter the public sector or work in nonprofits, even going so far as setting up an Internship Fund for those who are going to do so.

Alumni of Yale SOM are also appreciative of how their school still support them even after graduation, through its Loan Forgiveness Program. However, this program is only geared towards alumni who choose to work in the nonprofit sector.

In 4 years, expect to gain $61,000. In addition, if you happen to be one of the graduates in 2010, you’re probably earning an average annual salary of $188,000. According to the ranking of The Financial Times, a Yale SOM graduate can expect a 110% increase in salary post-MBA. The other university that has the same percentage increase is Booth.

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