For the third consecutive year, Harvard Business School remained at the top of Poets&Quants’ 2012 composite ranking of the business schools with the best full-time MBA programs. Harvard was followed by the No. 2 Stanford Graduate School of Business, No. 3 the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and No. 4 the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
It was the exact same lineup of top four business schools that made our 2011 list of the best 100 MBA programs in the U.S.
Among the top 25 business schools, the biggest news is that Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management is beginning to show improvement under Dean Sally Blount who took over the school in July of 2010. Her new leadership team has turned the business school upside down, rethinking every aspect of the MBA program and the entire institution. Kellogg rose two places to finish fifth this year, jumping over MIT Sloan and Columbia.
Columbia Business School was the only school in the top 25 to drop two places in rank
No. 7 Columbia, meantime, was the only school in the top 25 to fall two places. The school’s weaker position is due to a variety of factors including the decline of Wall Street, a steep 19% fall in MBA applications during the 2011-2012 academic year, and criticism of Dean R. Glenn Hubbard’s leadership of the school. Some students believe that Hubbard, whose credibility was questioned during a confrontational interview in the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job, has been a largely absent dean due to his involvement as an economic adviser to Mitt Romney during the Presidential election.
Unlike other rankings, the Poets&Quants composite list combines the latest five most influential business school rankings in the world: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report. Instead of merely averaging the five, each ranking is separately weighted to account for our view of their authority and credibility. (The BusinessWeek, Forbes and U.S. News lists are given a weight of 25% each, while the FT is given a 15% weight and The Economist is given a 10% weight).
Combining the five most influential rankings doesn’t eliminate the flaws in each system, but it does significantly diminish them. When an anomaly pops on one list due to either faulty survey technique or biased methodology, bringing all the data together tends to suppress it. So the composite index tones down the noise in each of these five surveys to get more directly at the real signal that is being sent.
A composite index that is not unlike Nate Silver’s approach to analysis
This is not unlike the prescient analysis that Nate Silver, the New York Times blogger, brought to the recent Presidential election. By smartly analyzing each political poll and averaging the results across all of them, Silver came to a greater truth than could be revealed by any single poll. When the election was done, he was pretty much the only outside observer who had accurately predicted the popular vote and the electoral vote outcome.
The index numbers accompanying the rank of each school allows you to assess how far above or behind one school is versus another. This is especially helpful because in some cases there is no meaningful difference between the schools. Yet, some of these rankings, including The Financial Times, still fail to provide the underlying index numbers that lead to a numerical rank.
Consider Southern Methodist University’s Cox School, ranked 47th this year with an index score of 43.9, versus UC-Irvine’s Merage, ranked right behind it at 48th, with an index score of 43.6. The difference between those two schools, separated by all of .3 on our index, can not be truly captured by a ranking. In terms of their market reputations, they are equal–based on this rankings result.
There’s always a need to look beyond the rankings to decide if a school is right for you
If you intend to make your professional career in Dallas, SMU is obviously the better bet. The degree not only would carry more prestige in the Texas area, the school’s alumni network would be better connected there as well. And if you intend to work in Southern California, UC-Irvine would likely be the better choice. To choose either of these two schools on the basis of their ranking would be foolhardy.
On the other hand, we believe the index numbers tend to undervalue differences in the status of many of these schools. Though Harvard leads Stanford by a substantial 1.1 score on the index, some observers may be tempted to believe this is so close as to be a tie. It isn’t. With its vastly greater resources in star faculty, its more impressive alumni network, and outrageously well-endowed campus, we believe Harvard is not merely number one: It has a commanding lead over any other school on the list. There may be plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to attend Harvard (ranging from the large size of the school and the core classes to the more outwardly ambitious nature of the students), but status and prestige isn’t one of them.
Among the top 50 business schools, the big winners were Washington University’s Olin School in St. Louis, up 11 places to finish 29th from 41st last year, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School and the University of Washington’s Foster School, both up seven places to rank 27th and 33rd, respectively.
The big winner among the top 50: Washington University’s Olin School
The Olin School’s rise in our composite ranking is largely the result of significantly improved graduate satisfaction scores in BusinessWeek’s latest ranking as well as its inclusion on the 2012 Financial Times list. The school’s graduate satisfaction rank jumped to 15 this year from 31st in 2010, pushing its overall BusinessWeek rank up nine places to 31st from 40. And after not making The Financial Times’ 2011 ranking, Olin reappeared on its global top 100 list at a U.S. rank of 30th earlier this year.
Schools with more significant movement on this year’s list tend to be those that weren’t ranked by all five players and then won that distinction this year. Both Carlson and Foster fall into that category, making The Financial Times 2012 list after not being on the year-earlier ranking. Carlson and Foster also improved their standing on The Economist’s ranking.
The top 50 school that suffered the biggest fall? Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, which slid 18 places to rank 47th this year from 29th in 2011. It was the largest single decline of any school in our top 100 this year. The reason: A change in methodology by BusinessWeek largely prompted by the school’s surprising surge in that magazine’s ranking to 12th in 2010. The change in how the magazine calculates its recruiter scores led to a fall to 29th this year.
After a steep drop in the rankings, ‘we continue to move forward’
Cox took the fall with grace. “We continue to move forward, our employers are still ‘wildly enthusiastic’ about the graduates they hire…and our graduating students are still very satisfied with the education and experience they have received at SMU Cox,” says Marci Armstrong, associate dean of graduate programs at Cox. “In short, the only thing that’s changed is the methodology.”
Cox, however, also fell two places in both The Financial Times and The Economist rankings this year to 50th and 42nd, respectively, among U.S. schools. But it did gain three spots in the U.S. News ranking, moving up to 54th from 57th.
Indeed, that is often the case. Each of the five most influential rankings use different metrics which result in different results. It’s common that a school will rise in one ranking that might track starting salaries and GMAT scores and fall in another that measures graduate and corporate recruiter sentiment. And the biggest changes always tend to occur as you move farther down the list of the top 100. That’s because the differences among those schools can be slight and many of them are not ranked by all five major sources.
Biggest changes occur near the bottom of the list of the top 100
Generally, the most dramatic changes this year occurred to schools that were ranked outside the top 50. Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business in Fort Worth, Texas, had the largest single rise, up 35 places to finish 59th from 94th in 2011. That’s because last year only U.S. News ranked the school, putting it at 70th in the U.S. This year, however, Neeley found its way on both the BusinessWeek and The Economist lists, coming in at a respectable 46th on the BW ranking and 39th among U.S. schools on The Economist ranking. The school also improved its U.S. News ranking by three places.
One thing that is worth pointing out is that although we are naming the top 100 schools here, you’ll notice that toward the bottom of the list many of the schools have received a ranking from only one source. That means four of the most influential rankings failed to mention the school. We consider this valuable information for an applicant because obviously a school that only gains recognition from one of the five most influential sources of information on the best full-time MBA programs isn’t going to have as good a reputation than the schools that make at least three or more of the five rankings. So keep that in mind as you use the list to narrow your search for the best programs.
Source: Poets&Quants’ 2012 composite ranking of the best full-time MBA programs in the U.S.
Notes: Rankings for both The Financial Times and The Economist are adjusted to account for the ranks of U.S. schools only for comparable purposes