What do MBA Rankings Actually Mean?

Both universities and prospective students place a great deal of emphasis on MBA rankings. Rankings often compare many factors and give students a way of comparing MBA programs against each other. But with so many publications issuing MBA rankings, how can you break down the rankings to determine what meaning they have behind the numbers? Below is a description of the three most popular MBA rankings that are often considered when researching MBA programs and the methodologies they use to determine those rankings. 

U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report is one of the most popular rankings publishers in the United States. It publishes many rankings in various industries throughout the year. Currently, U.S. News ranks Part-Time MBA, Full-Time MBA, Online MBA, and Executive MBA programs, as well as many MBA specialties (accounting, entrepreneurship, information systems, international, finance, management, marketing, non-profit, production/operations, and supply chain/logistics ) as well as other educational programs. Without purchasing additional access, the Part-Time MBA rankings provide readers with ranks, part-time scores, peer assessment scores, acceptance rates, and part-time enrolment numbers.

George Mason’s MBA program is ranked #68 on the “Best Part-time MBA” list. Mason’s Online EMBA program is #75 on the “Best Online Graduate Business Program” list. The School of Business is #62 on the list of “Best Undergraduate Business Programs” list, and George Mason is the nation’s #10 university to watch on the list of “Up-and-Coming Schools.”

Calculating the Part-Time MBA Rankings Methodology: U.S. News bases these MBA rankings on five factors: average peer assessment score (50%), average GMAT score and average GRE quantitative and verbal scores of part-time MBA students entering the previous year (15%), average undergraduate GPA (5%), work experience (15%), and the percentage of the business school’s MBA enrollment that is part time (15%). The average peer assessment score is calculated from a survey asking business school deans and MBA program directors at each of the nation’s 310 part-time MBA programs to rate the other part-time programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5). Forty-five percent of those surveyed responded. To be eligible, the MBA program must be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB), and have at least 20 students enrolled in the part-time program.

Bloomberg Buinessweek

Bloomberg Businessweek ranks Full-Time MBA programs, Part-Time MBA programs, Executive MBA programs, as well as other programs outside of the MBA. A quick comparison on its website compares the school’s MBA rankings from two years ago with the current rankings, and provides the program cost and total students per program. If you drill down into each program, additional information about the school is offered. The Part-Time MBA rankings are published in November of odd-numbered years.

Calculating the Part-Time MBA Rankings Methodology: Businessweek collects data through both a student survey and a school survey. Through these surveys, it determines student satisfaction (The Student Survey), how a program was important in achieving their goals (Goals Measure), and statistical data provided by the school (Academic Quality) including average GMAT scores for part-time MBA students, average work experience for part-time MBA students, the percentage of all teachers in the part-time MBA program who are tenured faculty, average class size in core business classes, total number of business electives available to part-time MBA students, and the completion rate for students in the part-time MBA program. The student survey counts for 40% of the final ranking. The goals measure counts for 30%. And the academic quality ranking counts for 30%. Each of the six component parts of the academic quality ranking contributes 5% to the final ranking.

Financial Times

Financial Times ranks the Global MBA, the online MBA and the Executive MBA programs, as well as other non-MBA programs. Each list includes a program’s current rank, last year’s ranking and the three-year average ranking, as well as the country of the school, average weighted salary and average % salary increase. For more information, the site offers additional details about each of the listed schools.

Calculating the Global MBA Rankings Methodology: Financial Times takes many factors into consideration in the Global MBA rankings including: weighted salary (20%) – average alumni salary three years after graduation, salary increase (20%) – average difference in alumnus salary before the MBA to now, value for money (3%) – includes course length, fess and other costs, including lost income, career progress (3%) – calculated on changes in level of seniority compared with before their MBA, aims achieved (3%) – extent to which alumni fulfilled their goals, placement success (2%), employment at three months (2%), alumni recommend (2%), female faculty (2%), female students (2%), women on advisory board (1%), international faculty (4%), international students (4%), international board members (2%),  international mobility (6%), international course experience (3%), language – number of extra languages required at graduation (1%), faculty with doctorates (5%), Financial Times doctoral rank (5%)– calculated according to the number of doctoral graduates from each school during the past three years and Financial Times research rank (10%)- calculated according to the number of articles published in selected journals. Data is collected from the schools and from surveys of alumni of the MBA programs. All programs are internationally accredited and must have run for at least four years.

Although MBA rankings provide a point of comparison, they never tell the whole story. It is important to compare various aspects of the MBA programs that you are considering and to talk to faculty, staff, current students and alumni of each program. Some items to compare include program length, format (online or in-person), faculty expertise, school accreditation, career services including mentorship opportunities, job placement, and average salary at graduation, global opportunities, and specializations. Many schools will offer varying opportunities, but it is important to find the right fit for you.

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Jackie Buchy

Since 2011, I have served as the assistant dean for graduate enrollment at George Mason University's School of Business. In my role, I work with prospective graduate students to identify and select the best graduate program to meet their career goals.

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