Full-Time MBA Rankings Explained and Compared

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Our guide breaks down business school rankings to help you make the right choice.

If you’re considering applying to full-time MBA programs, you may have looked at business school rankings to help you gather information and decide where to apply. For many soon-to-be applicants, rankings are appealing because they provide some level of clarity and order to a marketplace of business schools that is highly complex. They curate diverse data points from a variety of sources into a simple, easily comparable measure of overall quality.

The inherent issue with rankings, however, is that quality is highly subjective and there is no universally agreed upon way to measure it. For that reason, multiple rankings exist for full-time MBA programs, each with its own methodology that draws upon a different mix of data indicators and weights. What this means is that each ranking judges full-time MBA programs differently and tells you something different about how programs compare. Making sense of the different ranking publications’ methodologies isn’t easy because the methodologies take widely different approaches, define terms differently, and are often tweaked year to year.

To help you better understand the nuances of the different approaches taken by the five most popular business school rankings (Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report), mba.com has developed the User’s Guide to Full-Time MBA Rankings. This guide clearly lays out what goes into the five methodologies, breaks down their methodologies across standardized weighting categories, identifies the key drivers of each methodology, and compiles other useful ranking information and analysis in one place.

As you explore this interactive guide, keep in mind that rankings should always be interpreted with caution. The reality is that no one ranking methodology will speak to all of your individualized needs and aspirations. With the insights provided by this guide, you will be better able to determine if a ranking’s formulation of quality aligns with your own, and whether or not the information provided by a ranking should influence your decision-making.

Breaking Down the Methodologies

Each ranking publication uses its own unique methodology to assign weights to various data indicators. The greater the weight, the greater influence it has on determining a school’s ranking.

The User’s Guide to Full-Time MBA Rankings breaks down how each of the methodologies assign weight across 15 standardized weighting categories. Interactive tree maps allow you to explore how much weight the rankings place on each category, in addition to clearly defining each data indicator with dynamic captions and showing the breakdown between fact-based and opinion-based indicators with a responsive sliding scale.

Defining Each Rankings’ Key Drivers

Comparing the five methodologies across standardized weighting categories allows you to easily compare and contrast the approaches each publication takes to creating its methodology.

It also reveals each rankings’ key drivers—the weighting category or categories that have the most impact on schools’ rankings. For example, the U.S. News and World Report ranking methodology is weighted 25 percent to metrics related to student selectivity (including mean GMAT scores, mean undergraduate GPA, and acceptance rate) and 25 percent to business school leader opinion. These two weighting categories have the greatest impact on a schools’ ranking in their methodology. 

Understanding How Rankings Change Year to Year 

With each new edition of a ranking publication, a school’s ranking position can change. Some ranking publications see a bigger year-to-year difference in results than others.

The User’s Guide to Full-Time MBA Rankings analyzes the last two years’ editions of ranking publications, providing you with data on precisely how much the results changed in one year. In addition to detailing the average school’s position change—both overall and among schools ranked in the top 20—the guide shows the full distribution of a school’s position change.

These data provide helpful context to show just how volatile rankings can be over a short period of time, often for reasons having little to do with the quality of education being provided to students in MBA programs.

Other Useful Information, All in One Place

Also detailed in the User’s Guide:

  • A description of which schools are included in each publication’s full-time MBA ranking; 
  • mba.com survey data on what percentage of business school candidates around the world use each ranking and the impact of each on candidates’ decision making; 
  • Publication dates and frequency for each ranking; 
  • Ranking history; 
  • Accessibility of rankings data; 
  • Additional business school rankings produced by each publication; and
  • The full-time MBA rankings for select publications.

Start exploring this interactive guide at mba.com/rankings, and find the best full-time MBA program for you using the mba.com Program Finder.

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