MBA Rankings

Which MBA Rankings Are Reliable?

Last updated on April 11th, 2019

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Let us guess why you’re reading this article.

You’ve done a ton of research about the best business schools in the world and made a list of 8-10 MBA programs that you’re considering quite seriously.

All you need to do now is, arrange them by order of preference to select 3-4 that you’ll end up applying to. Since there’s no significant difference between these programs, it all comes down to MBA rankings.

And that’s what gets your goat – where one magazine ranks a certain program at #5, another places the same one at #35!

You have no clue what on earth you’re supposed to base your decisions on!

If you know that feeling of utter confusion, don’t worry, we’re here to help you figure out how to get through this.

In this article, we’re going to talk about:

  1. What are MBA Rankings and Why They May Not Work For You
  2. CrackVerbal’s Ranking of MBA Rankings
  3. Should You Rely on MBA Rankings?
  4. Trends Among Indian MBA Aspirants
  5. Best Business Schools in the World for Indian Students

Let’s get right into it!

1. What are MBA Rankings and Why They May Not Work For You

The concept of MBA Rankings was pioneered by John Byrne, founder of Poets and Quants, during his time with Businessweek.

Seeing the potential that MBA rankings had, a plethora of big publications in the Business sector jumped on the bandwagon. Soon enough, every other publication in the higher education field started publishing its own set of MBA rankings.

However, across publications, some issues continue to exist with the way MBA rankings work.

  • Quality vs. Quantity
  •  
    To a large extent, MBA rankings are based on quantitative data.

    Average salary hikes, acceptance rates, average GMAT scores, and placement rates are strong indicators of a program’s quality. These are all easy to calculate. But something like a B-School’s reputation is very tough to put into numbers.

    This is primarily because quantitative data is very objective – numbers leave no space for speculation. Qualitative data, on the other hand, is very subjective and will, therefore, change from person to person.

    This makes it very hard to put a number to qualitative data like the reputation of a B-School or its faculty quality.
    However, publications that create their own MBA rankings take all kinds of measures to try and account for qualitative data as well. For example, deans of rival B-Schools are asked to rate each other’s MBA programs on various parameters and their ratings are taken into consideration when calculating scores.

    The fact remains, though, that the methodologies used to gather both these types of data are questionable.

    All the quantitative data collected is entirely self-reported and there’s no way to get most of it verified from an independent source. So the thing now is, MBA rankings have become so important that B-Schools have begun to fudge data to make themselves look better.

    As a result, the rankings thus produced end up being based on fake and unverifiable data, making the results quite unreliable.

    In addition to this, qualitative data is collected from sources that have vested interests in the B-School’s welfare. Alumni and campus recruiters, both of whom stand to directly benefit from a B-School’s high ranking, are the primary sources of qualitative data.

    This means that the qualitative data is likely to be highly biased as well.

    All in all, not only do most MBA rankings fail to take into account intangible factors affecting the quality of MBA programs, but they also fail to keep bias out of the equation.
     

  • Lack of Personalization
  •  
    No list of MBA rankings can take into account personal factors.

    For example, the kind of weather you prefer will not be factored into any available MBA ranking list. If you have a relative living close to a particular school, that makes that school more preferable for you.

    If you think these things aren’t all that important, then you’re making the classic mistake most aspirants make:

    You’re underestimating the impact of real-world conditions on your MBA choices.

    Having a relative living close to a B-School effectively eliminates your living expenses. When it comes to financing your MBA, the cost of living is something that can make or break your entire MBA dream.

    Enrolling for an MBA program at a school in Minnesota only to find that you cannot do the course any justice because it’s too cold for you to get out of your room… Not exactly a situation you want to end up in, either, is it?

    There will always be things about every B-School that are simply down to personal preference.

    Yet, while some of these cannot be accounted for, others could very well have been a part of the ranking algorithms but are not.

    For example, MBA rankings don’t take the industry into consideration. By this, we mean that if you’re looking to filter B-Schools by the industry in which it places its graduates, the rankings don’t provide such an option.

    There’s no way to figure out which B-School is more popular among investment bankers, or which school places the majority of its students in that industry. And this applies to every industry.

    In short, rankings don’t help you make a list of your preferred B-Schools by post-MBA career paths.

    All in all, MBA rankings don’t say what those ranks mean for you, specifically.
     

  • Inadequate Comparison
  •  
    One of the biggest drawbacks of MBA rankings created by any publication is that they fail to account for variations across countries.

    All MBA programs and B-Schools around the world are compared using the same parameters. This is good in that it avoids bias based on the country a school is based out of.

    However, variations in course fees and the availability of scholarships and other funding options have a huge impact on your chances of landing up in a given program.

    MBA rankings do not measure this.

    Ranking algorithms don’t account for the difference in currency, and therefore the affordability of programs they rank.

    What’s worse is this:

    MBA rankings don’t even take the political climate of a country into consideration. This is a huge shortfall because whether or not you’re likely to get a visa depends entirely on the political scenario of the country in which it is located.

    For the sake of argument, you could say that there are other factors taken into consideration which show whether or not you can get in. But, there are real-world situations that don’t get considered in any rankings.

    Let’s take the most obvious example – let’s say you’re a Muslim student from the Middle East. Your entire outlook changes, right?

    Countries like the US are knocked off your list by default because of the current socio-political atmosphere in 2019. This takes out almost all the top-ranked programs.

    In a nutshell, MBA rankings on the whole are not enough to help you decide which B-Schools you should apply to. They have many shortcomings which need to be addressed before they can be used as tiebreakers.

    Until these issues are addressed, you will have to find the best business schools in the world through personal research and not via rankings.

2. CrackVerbal’s Ranking of MBA Rankings

In this section, we’d like to start off by taking a look at the top 10 schools as per five major MBA rankings: Businessweek, US News, Financial Times, The Economist, and QS.

As you can see, there are some names that appear across all the publications within the top 10. However, you’ll notice that some publications have names the others don’t.

This kind of instability is among the top reasons that questions are being raised about the reliability of MBA rankings today. If the top five rankings publications cannot even agree on the ten best B-Schools in the world, clearly, something is not right.

So, we’ve done this analysis to help you figure out which MBA rankings are reliable.

  • Businessweek MBA Rankings
  •  
    This was the publication that came up with the idea of doing MBA rankings in the first place. They conceptualized the idea when John A. Byrne, founder of Poets and Quants, was the editor-in-chief at Businessweek.

    In our opinion, the MBA rankings that Businessweek publishes are fairly reliable.

    Of course, the issues with personalization continue to exist but if you follow our advice and use rankings only as an input instead of the ultimate tiebreaker, this shouldn’t be a problem.

    We believe that Businessweek’s rankings are reliable because of the methodology used. It is one of the very few publications that take extra efforts to get self-reported data verified.

    Most importantly, here’s what gives us hope:

    The weightage that Businessweek assigns to qualitative data like alumni and recruiter feedback is much more proportionate than most other publications. This keeps the numbers from inflating unrealistically.
     

  • US News MBA Rankings
  •  
    US News is once again a publication that produces reliable MBA rankings. We find their results reliable due to the methodology they use, just like it is with Businessweek.

    Although US News entered the MBA rankings market well after Businessweek, the publication has maintained its integrity. The metrics used are quite reasonable; none of the parameters are given disproportionate weightage.

    Moreover, it has the hallmarks of any reliable rankings.

    Firstly, there’s a fair amount of stability in the rankings year-on-year. The listed B-Schools don’t jump more than 4-6 positions up or down.

    Secondly, US News MBA rankings will not unexpectedly throw in a random new name into the top 50 B-Schools every year.

    Believe it or not, some reputed MBA rankings are actually losing credibility for doing exactly this.

    Finally, the schools that are surveyed remain consistent every year.
     

  • QS MBA Rankings
  •  
    We wouldn’t call these rankings unreliable, but we’d recommend getting a second opinion. You know what we mean?

    The thing with QS MBA rankings is that it has a lower level of stability as compared to US News and Businessweek MBA rankings. At the same time, though, the ranks don’t fluctuate wildly enough for us to junk the whole list.

    One other factor determines whether an MBA ranking can be trusted: the extent to which it varies from other rankings.

    Let us explain this with an example.

    Suppose you’ve done a lot of research on methodologies and are now convinced that Businessweek and US News MBA rankings are reliable. Now, you see that XYZ School of Management is ranked at #6 by one and #4 by another.

    If you come across another MBA ranking that places it at #20, you’ll know not to trust that list.

    The trick is to identify a few reliable publications and stick with those.

    But you’ll likely come across publications like QS, though, which may not deviate from the ones you trust by a huge margin. Maybe it ranks that program at #10 and not #20.

    Our suggestion to you is this:

    Don’t fret over fluctuations within the range of five ranks more or less. If there are publications that deviate from your trusted rankings by more than five ranks one way or another for the same program in the same year, simply ignore those lists. They aren’t likely to be reliable anyway.

    Publications like QS are good to consider, but we’d recommend you to take it with a pinch of salt.
     

  • The Economist MBA Rankings
  •  
    In spite of being a rather reputable publication in the Business field, The Economist produces MBA rankings that we would not recommend.

    You may have noticed this, but ultimately, the trustworthiness of a publication’s MBA rankings list comes down to the methodology used and weightage assigned to each parameter.

    However, there are easier ways to evaluate at a glance whether you can trust a given list of rankings.

    One way is to check the year-on-year deviation in the ranks of the listed B-Schools. If the deviation is over 5 ranks up or down per year, you can automatically assume that the list is not reliable.

    Another way is to look for similarities between publications. Even if The Economist doesn’t place Stanford at #1 like Businessweek does, it should at least have Stanford within the Top 5.

    The point is, The Economist may not give the same ranks as Businessweek, but it should have at least 8 of the same schools in the top 10 as Businessweek or US News.

    We have found that the stability in ranks as well as the similarity with other publications is not up to the mark with The Economist.
     

  • Financial Times MBA Rankings
  •  
    One of the biggest points of criticism leveled against the otherwise reputed FT MBA rankings is the presence of CEIBS in its top 10 rankings for two consecutive years.

    For the uninitiated, CEIBS is the China Europe International Business School located in Shanghai, China. The school is so obscure that it is not even listed on any other reputed rankings.

    This school showing up in the top 10 schools of the world only point to a serious problem with the way FT MBA rankings work.

We hope this has helped you understand how to figure out whether certain MBA rankings are reliable or not. Next, we discuss whether or not your should depend on MBA rankings.

3. Should You Rely On MBA Rankings?

So far, you have probably read enough to realize that MBA rankings, by definition, cannot provide sufficient information for you to base your decisions on.

As mentioned before, MBA rankings simply don’t provide enough personalization for you to base such an important decision on them. However, they do provide enough data to help you along.

Here’s what we suggest:

Instead of relying on lists created by third parties, create your own MBA rankings.

When our students are planning their MBA journeys, we recommend that they should divide their personal MBA rankings into four sections. Let us walk you through this process, too.

The division of your MBA rankings should be based on your chances of getting into the schools on the list. These are the four categories we would advise you to divide your list into:

  • Dream
  •  
    These are the schools that you dream of getting into. Since this is your personal list of MBA programs, you can put in whatever you feel is appropriate. It could be based on rankings, average scores, whatever you like.

    The idea is that these are the absolute toughest schools for you to get into but you’d like to study there anyway.

  • Stretch
  •  
    This category covers the schools you have a very tiny chance of getting admits from. List down every school that you think you might get into if you really push your luck.

  • Reach
  •  
    As the name suggests, these are schools you have a pretty good chance of getting into. These are the schools that are within your reach.

    With a good and well-written application, you should be able to get into these schools.

  • Safe
  •  
    And finally, once again as the name suggests, the schools in this category are those you’ll definitely get into. These should be the programs that you wouldn’t mind settling for if nothing else works out.

We have had many students making their own lists of MBA rankings. Here’s an example:

When you’re making this list for yourself, feel free to take inputs from MBA rankings lists but don’t depend on them.

In the next section, we will analyze trends among Indian MBA applicants.
 

5. Best Business Schools in the World for Indian Students

Now, for the most interesting part of this article!

As an institution that is constantly in touch with our alumni, we get live feedback about a number of B-Schools around the world. It puts us in a unique position to understand which schools are better for Indian applicants.

That’s why we are compiling a list of schools around the world that are seen as being friendly towards Indian applicants.

To help you navigate this list more easily, we are dividing it geographically. It will span North America (US, Canada), Europe (UK, Germany, Others), and the Asia-Pacific Region (India, Singapore, Australia, Others).

For each section, we rank the best business schools in the region based on feedback from our network of students and alumni.

Here are the best business schools in the world for Indians, according to us:

North America

Canada

  1. Rotman School of Management – University of Toronto
  2. Schulich School of Business – York University
  3. Smith School of Business – Queen’s University
  4. Ivey Business School – University of Western Ontario
  5. Special Mentions
  6. Desautels Faculty of Management – McGill University

U.S.

Since the US has a huge number of good, Indian-friendly B-Schools (the current political scenario notwithstanding), we have divided this further by cities within the US.

New York

  1. Leonard N. Stern School of Business – New York University
  2. Columbia Business School – Columbia University

Chicago

  1. Booth School of Business – University of Chicago
  2. Kellogg School of Management – Northwestern University

Boston

  1. MIT Sloan School of Management
  2. Harvard Business School

California (Bay Area)

  1. Stanford Graduate School of Business
  2. Haas School of Business – University of California Berkeley
  3. Anderson School of Management – University of California Los Angeles

Special Mentions

  1. Brand value – Some schools are popular and well-ranked since they’ve been around for a very long time. These prestigious schools are the Tepper School of Business – Carnegie Mellon University, and the SC Johnson College of Business – Cornell University.
  2. Seattle, Washington – Seattle is the main hub for behemoths like Amazon, Boeing, Lewis-McChord and many more. The Michael G. Foster School of Business – University of Washington provides great opportunities to network and intern with these firms.

Europe

UK

  1. Saïd Business School – Oxford University
  2. London Business School
  3. Cambridge Judge Business School
  4. Special Mentions
  5. Alliance Manchester Business School, Warwick Business School, Cranfield School of Management

France

  1. INSEAD
  2. HEC Paris

Special Mentions

  1. Germany – University of Mannheim Business School
  2. Spain – IE Business School, IESE Business School
  3. Switzerland – International Institute for Management Development, University of St. Gallen School of Management

Asia-Pacific

India

  1. Indian School of Business
  2. Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad
  3. Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore
  4. Indian Institute of Management – Calcutta
  5. Special Mentions
  6. Xaviers School of Management
    Indian Institute of Management – Lucknow
    Great Lakes Institute of Management

Australia

  1. Melbourne Business School – University of Melbourne
  2. Australian Graduate School of Management – University of New South Wales

Singapore

  1. National University of Singapore
  2. Nanyang Technical University
  3. Singapore Management University

Others

  1. Asian Institute of Management – Manila
  2. China Europe International Business School – China
  3. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology