A few days ago, U.S. News & World Report unveiled its 2013 business school rankings. It is easy to get caught up in the rankings and obsess over details such as a school “plunging” from 8th to 11th in the rankings or “shooting up” from 14th to 10th. Of course the rankings will have some impact on your school research, but using them as any more than a useful starting point can lead you to apply to schools which don’t fit you as well as they could.
Still, we all love rankings, whether we’re talking about education, fashion at the Oscars, or best bands of all time. And we can’t help but pay attention when U.S. News releases its influential rankings of grad schools.
Here is a look at the top 20 U.S. programs as defined by U.S. News. Each school’s 2012 rankings follows in parentheses:
2013 U.S. News Business School Rankings
1. Harvard (2)
1. Stanford (1)
3. Penn (Wharton) (3)
4. MIT (Sloan) (3)
4. Northwestern (Kellogg) (5)
4. Chicago (Booth) (5)
7. UC Berkeley (Haas) (7)
8. Columbia (9)
9. Dartmouth (Tuck) (7)
10. Yale (10)
11. NYU (Stern) (10)
12. Duke (Fuqua) (12)
13. Michigan (Ross) (14)
13. Virginia (Darden) (13)
15. UCLA (Anderson) (14)
16. Cornell (Johnson) (16)
17. Texas (McCombs) (17)
18. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) (18)
19. Emory (Goizueta) (23)
19. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) (19)
What’s Changed Since Last Year?
The biggest news starts at the top of the rankings, where Harvard moved into a tie with Stanford after being ranked #2 behind Stanford last year. Wharton, which had been tied with MIT Sloan for third place in the 2012 rankings, moved ahead of Sloan to take sole possession of the third spot this year. After that is a very tight cluster of schools, with Kellogg and Booth moving up from #5 to tie Sloan for fourth place.
The rest of the top ten looks quite similar to what it was last year, with some minor shuffling among Columbia, Tuck, and Stern . Looking at the rest of the top 20 schools, the most notable move came from Emory, which managed to break into the top 20 after sitting at #23 last year. Falling out of the top 20 was Washington University in St. Louis (Olin), which landed at #22.
How Do These Rankings Work?
U.S. News relies on a mix of qualitative and quantitative ratings to compile its scores. 40% of a school’s overall score comes from assessments by business school leaders and by corporate recruiters. So, in a sense, a large part of what they are ranking is a school’s reputation, which can make the entire process a bit self-reinforcing. Even if a school were to dramatically improve every aspect of its program — from academics to job placement to alumni services — it might takes years for these results to have a significant impact on these qualitative ratings.
Another 35% of a school’s rating comes from more quantitative measures of the program’s success in placing job candidates, including mean starting salary and bonus data and the percentage of grads who have full-time jobs at graduation and three months after graduation. Even here, be aware of what’s being ranked: a school that sends many more grads into investment banking will likely report a higher average starting salary than a school that sends many grads into the non-profit sector.
The last 25% of an MBA program’s rating comes from other quantitative measures around the admissions process, including the mean GMAT score and undergraduate GPAs of the incoming class, and the school’s admissions rate. This is perhaps the most straightforward group of statistics, but keep in mind that schools are always trying to game the system and find ways to tweak these numbers to improve their rankings.
None of this means that the rankings are bogus. We all pay attention to them, and we will continue to do so as long as U.S. News and other publications keep ranking graduate schools. But remember that the rankings are not perfect!