Looking to choose one of the top business schools in the US? Take a look at our down and dirty, nitty gritty, frank summation of how undergraduate business school rankings and top MBA rankings are made, how such lists can shape your decisions for program selection, and what you should look for when selecting the best business schools.
College Choice Business Rankings
In this College Choice Guide you will learn…
Selecting the Best Business School
Choosing the best business school for you is no easy task, but College Choice can make it a bit simpler. Our guide to navigating business school rankings will help you choose the best business school. Overall, it’s important to recognize that “best” is a subjective term. You need to determine what’s best for your situation, personally and professionally, before you research, apply, and enroll.
The complex part about business school rankings is that each student has different preferences, needs, and goals. If Student A is looking for a program that will allow her to maintain a flexible schedule and keep her tuition costs low, she may well be looking at different programs than Student B, who is looking for hands-on experience and academic pedigree. Plainly stated: you have to choose a program that is right for you, so it’s important to prioritize your needs, predilections, and resources as much as possible and as soon as possible.
Before digging deeply into your research, it might be good to engage in some self-knowledge exercises, perhaps even on a piece of paper so you can see exactly what you want from the top business schools in the US…
Know your priorities.
Take some time to think about what you want out of your education. Make a list of no-compromise preferences and stick to it; make a list of deal-breakers and stick to it. Perhaps you want to pursue a prestigious degree. Perhaps you want to graduate with expediency. Perhaps you’re interested in cutting-edge fields of study. Perhaps you want a rigorous social atmosphere and a “college experience.” Perhaps you want a mentorship program and access to internships. Perhaps you want a degree offering with an ethical focus. Whatever your preferences, begin your research with an understanding of what you need so that you can move through the business school rankings with clarity.
List your advantages and limitations.
What factors are in play that will shape your school experience in a personal way? Will your current employer help to pay for a degree? Are you constrained by geography or finances? Do you have a family to care for while you put yourself through school? Will you need to travel for your employer while you’re pursuing your education? This list will help you determine what you want from the best business schools and how you might best use your time and resources.
Reflect on your future.
Do some contemplating over your purpose and be able to answer more abstract questions. Why do I want a business degree? What do I hope a degree will help me accomplish? Where do I want to be ten years from today? Not only will these things help you determine the right school for you, but you will be able to use the answers as fodder for your application letters and essays when you apply to school, whether to the best business undergraduate schools or the top MBA programs.
What Makes the Best Business Schools?
There are a few general criteria used across the board in each business school rankings list, whether for undergraduate business school rankings or top MBA program rankings. Generally speaking, the top business schools in the US often receive ratings based on variations of the following categories:
This is a subjective category for ranking the best business schools, but one must start somewhere, and preferences are a good place. Whether you’re looking at undergraduate business school rankings or trying to determine the best MBA programs, this category will help you develop an understanding of the strengths, program requirements, and unique characteristics and opportunities of top business schools, like distinctive program offerings, convenience, and competitiveness on the job market. Though this category is often based on qualitative data, it seems to be the most important to potential students while they are selecting from the top undergraduate business schools or best MBA programs.
This is an objective category that’s based upon the school’s offerings for experiences such as internships, faculty members’ business experience in corporations and other organizations, and post-graduate job placement data. Business school rankings are sometimes weighted toward this category because of its applied value and the top business schools prominently showcase their relevance to the ever-changing business world through the unique, practical opportunities offered to students before they officially leave school for the business world. Some schools even have direct relationships with major US corporations and organizations, which is advantageous for job placement for any post-grad.
The top business schools in the US offer diverse and adaptable programs. The business school rankings take into account the uniqueness of the program’s offerings in a variety of disciplines. Categories of uniqueness might include specialized degree offerings in cutting-edge business fields, like data management, crowdsourcing, content management, and social computing or focuses in classical—yet competitive—main-stays such as management, hospitality, human resources, accounting, etc. As you determine your interests in the ever-changing business world, consider the variety of offerings from the top undergraduate business schools or in the best MBA programs.
For many students, flexibility is crucial to success. This category is important to everyone, but may be more important to people in non-traditional situations, like students above the age of 25, students returning to school after several years, or students with work and family obligations. In our fast-paced, device oriented time, many students are looking for fully digital or hybrid classrooms where education isn’t simply happening in a classical face-to-face manner, but exists in an asynchronous digital learning environment that caters to the needs of on-the-go student populations. Such programs do exist, and are growing tremendously. Other students may be looking for alternative learning environments, like night school or consolidated curricula. In these flexible settings, degrees can often be finished quickly so that education has maximum gain at minimum disruption. Business school rankings often take into account a variety of factors regarding flexibility.
Any savvy business person knows that it all comes down to money, and when trying to gain entry to the top undergraduate business schools or the best MBA programs, money matters. A cost benefit analysis can be a tricky thing for business school rankings because resources are different for all students and costs are different for all universities, whether undergraduate business school rankings or the top MBA programs. Generally speaking, total cost is weighed against the other categories listed above to give students an idea of what their dollars get them on academic markets. Students pursuing a degree should become very familiar with the costs of individual class hours, digital education, general extra costs for school (like textbooks and meal plans), and weigh their resources against these costs per semester and per year, taking into account that the cost of education tends to increase year-to-year.
Are Business School Rankings Helpful to Students?
The answer to this question is complicated. Perhaps it might be better to ask “How are business school rankings helpful to students, and how are they helpful to universities?”
Business school rankings, whether for undergraduate business school rankings, the best business schools, or the top MBA programs, are a tricky business that demand an attentive and savvy consumer. It’s not enough to peruse a couple lists and declare complete knowledge of a given program or programs. A potential student must spend time discerning how the business school rankings are presented, how the best business schools are determined, and what makes a top undergraduate business school or a top MBA program better than a program of lesser stature. This will ensure that you, the student, apply to programs knowing what to expect.
How are lists like the “Top 10 Business Schools” compiled? How are the top undergraduate business school rankings determined? How can one know they’re gaining entry into a top MBA program? What are the best MBA programs in the US? And what are the top business schools in the world? Business school rankings answer these questions using data analysis. Some of that data is objective (quantitative), like costs, MAT scores, post-grad job placement material, and other numerical pieces of information. Some of that information is subjective (qualitative), like student satisfaction surveys of experiences, faculty, and campus life. Both the objective and the subjective data points matter, but they matter to students to varying degrees and for different reasons, so it’s important to understand the methodological uses of the data, how surveys are conducted, and what percentage of data in a given business school rankings list is determining the larger picture of the school’s overall quality.
How do Business School Rankings Benefit Colleges and Universities?
At the end of the day, business school rankings provide substantive marketing potential for the universities on the lists. You will often notice prominent placement of banners, badges, and ads on university websites showcasing their accolades or list achievements. Sometimes you will even see ads tailored to your internet browsing habits. You’ll also notice that universities even put similar notations on their paper promotional material and advertising. Whether in print or online, these ratings are powerful tools for a university, enticing students to apply and enroll.
It’s important to notice that some business school ranking sites do not clearly provide information concerning their methodology, information about their data sources, or other necessary pieces of open-source information that would indicate impartiality. Sometimes you have to go digging for this information when it should be readily accessible and prominently displayed. Ideally, organizations compiling rankings should consider more transparency rather than less. Be certain that what you’re looking at is clear, impartial, and that—most of all—you understand how the rankings were created. Be sure to take a quick peek at the data information as you peruse the business school rankings.
Related to this, it’s easy to see how information on business school rankings lists is beneficial to a savvy consumer. At the student’s fingertips are bite-sized pieces of data that can help potential students make better decisions, narrow his or her search, consolidate knowledge, connect with programs in a meaningful way, and help determine the best business school options to match particular needs. Whether you want entry into the top MBA programs in the US or the best undergraduate business schools, understanding business school rankings is a crucial element to your research. Don’t neglect to educate yourself!
Criticism of Business School Rankings
It isn’t hard to understand that any business school ranking system has embedded bias and potentially contains methodological incongruities. These flaws should be taken into consideration when examining business rankings lists of any kind. It is up to the consumer of information to be savvy and have a healthy skepticism for claims made on the internet. This isn’t to say that the information can’t be trusted, but that you, the potential student, must understand exactly what you’re looking at, how the data is being collected and interpreted, and how those factors might shape your decision-making. It’s the student’s responsibility to know the facts as best as he or she can.
Along these lines, would-be business program students should be aware of the criticisms of business school ranking systems, which include…
Lack of Objective Measures
Know the values of qualitative and quantitative data. While business school ranking systems use some objective methods for measurement, such as tuition costs, job placement information, and post-education salary information, some important pieces of business school rankings are based on subjective information, such as student satisfaction surveys and faculty assessments. It’s possible that some pieces of subjective data are weighed with more importance than objective data, which is why it is important for readers to understand what criteria were used in the creation of the list, and what percentage of the whole is made of partially subjective data.
Methodology matters much. It’s easy to see that the same business schools make many top 10 business school rankings lists, but their rankings fluctuate from list to list across rankings sites. This could be due to methodology, but could also be the result of limited survey populations, personal biases, and statistical narrowness in trying to discern the top MBA programs and best undergraduate business schools.
A bane of statistical analysis in any rundown of data is a chicken-egg scenario—how are people influenced and where does that influence begin or, stated broadly, what’s the difference between the influence and the consumer? For example, in a business school rankings list, high marks in national publications tend to draw more attention, which can significantly influence students’ desires, expectations, and newly created biases that didn’t exist in the moments before they encountered the list.
Best Business School versus Best Business Program
Many strong business schools only provide information for their full-time programs leading to a perception that the business school and the programs it offers are all the same. This means that other program measures within a given school’s structure, such as part-time programs staffed by adjunct faculty rather than full-time faculty, are not considered in data sets but exist on campuses and are part of the school’s academic profile. Sometimes these small, part-time programs have lower conditions for admission or different faculty demands which are not taken into account.
Use, Misuse, and Cooperation
Not all schools are comfortable sharing information. Some of the top business schools and best MBA programs feel strongly that ratings lists compromise the integrity of programs, oftentimes for reasons listed above. Those schools aren’t particularly cooperative because they feel that provided data gets misused for making subjective lists like the ones you might encounter when Googling “Business School Rankings.” Leading schools like INSEAD, Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), Harvard, and Sloan (MIT) are examples of top business schools that are resistant to accepting rankings and engage in limited cooperation with rankings sites.
Some of the top business schools and best MBA programs are developing cutting-edge programs that meet the diverse needs of business in the internet age. For example, the burgeoning Big Data field is gaining a lot of traction in some programs, and universities are developing specialized degree disciplines to cater to student needs in fields like business analytics. Other growing fields include microblogging and search engine optimization; thus, some universities are adapting their Marketing programs to digital market needs. When all is said and done, business school rankings have little or no apparatus for determining the success of such programs as they are related to new or rapidly developing job markets.
 Information retrieved from: http://www.villanovau.com/resources/business-analysis/business-analyst-
 Information retrieved from: http://www.stern.nyu.edu/programs-admissions/full-time-
 Information retrieved from: http://www.hult.edu/en/masters-degree/master-of-international-
What are the Most Reliable and Best Business School Rankings Lists?
Examining methodological approach and transparency, extra costs, and usability, here’s a brief look at a few business school rankings websites and organizations. The information presented here is recent and receives regular review and editorial work by our team at College Choice to account for major changes.
Unless otherwise noted, these business school rankings deal with either a top undergraduate business school ranking lists or a best MBA programs lists. The reason for this is simple: in many cases, methodologies overlap to such a great degree that creating a separate analysis of each list would be repetitive and tedious to readers, and we wanted to streamline the information as much as possible for succinct, accessible review. Unless otherwise noted explicitly, it can be safely assumed that the methodologies between ranking systems from a given platform, say Bloomberg, are similar, whether for the best MBA programs in the US or the top undergraduate business school rankings in the US.
With a stylish and readable presentation of data, Bloomberg’s best undergraduate business schools list is well worth more than a tertiary examination. Broken down into easy-to-navigate portions, undergraduate business school rankings are rendered simply and are both visually appealing and easy to understand. The list allows each user to search for an individual school which then aggregates the data from a recent data set and presents the information in small pieces that allow for reasonable comparison.
Brief Summary of Methodology and Information Sources
Bloomberg’s lists rely on four simple metrics to formulate best undergraduate business school rankings:
- Employer Survey, 40% of the total score, is comprised of “…feedback from recruiters who hire recent business graduates on how well schools prepared students for jobs at companies.”
- Student Survey, 35% of the total score, is made of “…students’ ratings of the campus, career services department, and faculty and administrators.” 4
- Starting Salary Survey, 15% of the total score, is created from information concerning “…base compensation of students who had jobs lined up, adjusted for salary variation across industries and regions.” 4
- Internship Survey, 10% of the total score, is “…the percentage of a school’s graduates who had at least one internship at any time during college.” 4
 Information retrieved from: http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-best-undergrad-business-schools/#Methodology
This survey gives almost equal weight to employers who hire new business school grads and the grads themselves, which offers the unique perspective that makes Bloomberg’s undergraduate business school rankings vital. In variations of this survey, like for the top MBA programs, other surveys are included at smaller percentages, like an Alumni Survey and a Job Placement Rate Survey. Rather than pay attention to the pedigree or programmatic offerings the schools themselves provide—though the business school rankings list certainly does that, too—Bloomberg’s lists put a high priority on what students will get from an education at a particular school, and do so using objective and subjective data. The surveys, in essence, work from the post-grad side of the business world, giving would-be business students a better idea about what to expect once a degree is earned from a given university.
Using Bloomberg’s Business School Ranking System
As stated above, Bloomberg’s lists take a different approach to making business school rankings, and that approach’s quality is self-evident in both presentation and information.
The major pitfall of Bloomberg’s best business undergraduate school rankings lists are also its greatest strengths: aesthetics. While the site and graphic representations are visually pleasing, they are hard to maneuver on portable devices, and, sometimes on personal computers or laptops. Often, one will have to scroll up and down the screen at the risk of losing place on the site. Though this is certainly not a criticism of the information, it does have an effect on user experience, however small.
Students using this list to make their selections of the best MBA programs should understand that the information presented via the data is subjective in many respects, but Bloomberg ends their analysis with this diplomatic and encouraging paragraph that acknowledges the limitations of rankings systems as they relate to choosing a school: “Finally, a note to prospective students: Don’t let rankings alone make your school decision for you. Our rankings and data interactives offer a thorough picture of the current landscape of undergraduate business programs, but deciding where to go to school is a personal decision. A school that’s right for one student may be wrong for another.”
 Information retrieved from: http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-best-undergrad-business-schools/
Academic Ranking of World Universities
The ARWU is conducted by researchers at the Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Originally published in Chinese in 2003, the book made its way into English via The European Center for Higher Education and now exists both in print and online in English. In conjunction with the International Conference on World-Class Universities (a conference held every other year since 2005).
Brief Summary of Methodology and Information Sources
The ARWU offers an interesting perspective on both prestige and quality by its ratings based on a few criteria including the following categories, with scores in each weighed accordingly to determine the ranking:
- Number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Field Medals (30%)
- Number of highly cited researchers selected by Thompson Reuters (20%)
- Number of articles published in journals of Nature and Science (20%)
- Number of articles published in Science and Social Science Citation Index (20%)
- Per capita performance of a university (10%)
By far, the ARWU is the most prestigious and comprehensive international rating system, drawing on diverse and highly reputable pillars of academia. Among its key data sources are the Nobel Prize and Field Medal recipients, research cited and papers published from academics and researchers from the ranking universities, number of full-time academic staff, and data from government sources concerning education, all of which are objective data points.
Using Academic Rankings of World University’s Business School Ranking System
Of the rating systems presented in this guide, ARWU focuses on prestige in a statistically measurable way more than any other top business school rankings list. It also contains the most objective data points regarding prestige. The main flaw of the ARWU business school rankings list is clear: a lack of analysis concerning student satisfaction. There are almost no subjective data points, and a university’s quality is strictly defined by the methodology as scholarship and esteemed awards.
Gathered from internet questionnaires, one from business schools and another from recent grads of the same programs, The Economist business school rankings list reflects current trends in business school markers in a particular year.
Brief Summary of Methodology and Information Sources
With a mix of objective and subjective data, The Economist creates rankings list using a variety of checks, like historical data, peer school information, and other published sources from 142 schools that were invited to participate. A minimum response rate was required for schools to be considered for ranking. With data gathered from two internet questionnaires using questions regarding the quality of faculty, facilities, and career development services (subjective material), each school is given a unique score (z-score). Some objective data is included as well, such as salary information.
The Economist top MBA programs list is a standard student-guided amalgamation of data that offers little in the way of insider information to top business programs, especially considering the value and rigor of other business rankings lists. While the information might be valuable for helping a perspective student understand the differences between schools, this list might be best consulted as a way to augment research rather than as a primary source in big decision making.
Using The Economist’s Business School Ranking System
Students using this list to make their selections of the best MBA programs should understand that the information presented via the data is subjective in many respects. As it is written on The Economist’s website: “Rankings are little more than an indication of the MBA market at a particular moment. They reflect the prevailing conditions such as salaries, jobs available and the situation at a school at the time the survey was carried out. Results of rankings can be volatile, so they should be treated with caution. The various media rankings of MBA programmes all employ a different methodology. None are definitive, so our advice to prospective students is to understand the ethos behind each one before deciding whether what it is measuring is what is important for you.”
 Information retrieved from: http://www.economist.com/whichmba/methodology-2015-0
Forbes’s best business school rankings list is a compensation-based look at what a business school offers students using content data about salaries, bonuses, and exercised stock options. In all, the Forbes rankings offer a birds-eye view of the possibilities of return on investment for would-be employees post-graduation day.
Brief Summary of Methodology and Information Sources
It would be best to let Forbes speak for itself here, as one must go looking for its statistical methodology page for its best MBA programs list: “We surveyed 17,400 alumni at 95 schools regarding their pre- and post-M.B.A. compensation, career choice and location. We heard back from 24% of those graduates. Schools where we did not hear back from at least 15% of their alumni were not included in the rankings. We also did not include schools where alumni had a negative ROI [return on investment] after five years.” Adjustments for living expenses and other finance-related pieces of information were taken into account, as were top US business schools and top non-US business schools. As well, the methodology assumes that compensation rises half as fast as post-MBA salaries if the surveyed students had not yet attended a post-graduate program.
 Information retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2015/09/09/the-best-business-schools-2015-behind-the-numbers/#480e462f370f
As one might imagine, ROI is a big factor in the Forbes listings, especially regarding the amount of time one spends in a top MBA program. One year programs have a better ROI since they allow the student to move into the workforce with expediency. The Forbes business school lists also pay close attention to loan, tax, and financial aid information, which is a helpful insight for prospective students.
Using Forbes’s Business School Ranking System
Of all the lists to consult, Forbes’s data pool is the smallest, which—in theory—could offer the most limited presentation of information concerning the best MBA programs. The analysis also doesn’t account for data outside the fields of earnings and expenditure to complete the programs, which could be a limiting factor as well. Keep these realities in mind when using this list to make your big decision.
Whether determining the top 10 business schools, the top undergraduate business school rankings, or the best MBA programs, US News is an often consulted analysis of business school rankings. US News produces many kinds of lists for business school rankings, among the most popular are the best undergraduate business schools and the best MBA programs, but it’s important to carefully examine the ways US News creates its lists.
Brief Summary of Methodology and Information Sources
For the top MBA programs list, US News requested data from 470 schools. Of the 379 that responded, only 129 “…provided enough data need to calculate the full-time MBA rankings…” based on the following areas:
- Quality Assessment, weighted at 40% (including the categories within of Peer Assessment, 25%, and Recruiter Assessment, 15%), in which students rate their program experiences.
- Placement Success, weighted at 35% (including the categories within of Mean Starting Salary and Bonus, 14%, and Employment Rates for Full-time MBA Program Graduates, 21%), in which salary figures based on graduate numbers are weighed in proportion to students who reported full-time employment and bonuses.
- Student Selectivity, weighted at 25% (including the categories within of Mean GMAT and GRE Scores, 0.01625%, Mean Undergraduate GPA, 0.075%, and Acceptance rate, 0.0125%), in which schools provided totals of scores and GPAs which were placed against the percentage of applicants admitted to the programs.
 Information retrieved from: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/business-schools-methodology
The process for the US News list is also mildly democratic in nature, utilizing specialists in the field of business, from top undergraduate business schools and the best MBA programs. Specialty rankings for this list “are based solely on ratings by business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs from the list of schools surveyed. They were asked to nominate up to 10 programs for excellence in each of the areas listed.” Aside from this, US News is a standard issue ratings list, with little to offer in the way of interesting presentation or surprising information. It is possible to consider that its democratic method may be considered a form of cronyism between the best undergraduate business schools and top MBA programs and particular college best rankings list.
 Information retrieved from: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/business-schools-methodology?page=2
Using US News’s Business School Ranking System
The US News business school rankings list is both thorough in data analysis and often objective in scope. With a large final sample pool of 129 schools (though all 470 schools surveyed appear on the business school rankings list for the best MBA programs or top undergraduate business schools), this list outlines the top business schools in the US accurately with as little subjectivity as possible, using data based on test scores, salary figures, etc. There is a large student satisfaction portion of the list (Quality Assessment, weighed at 40%) but this is to be expected and differs little from many other lists.
It would stand to reason that this list would be a go-to for any student searching for undergraduate business school rankings or the top business schools and MBA programs because of its sample size, as well as the involvement of specialists from multiple fields of business. Students will benefit from the comprehensive information gathered in the list and can generally trust the information provided. Though not all would agree with such a neutral assessment. It should be noted that there are critics, such as CBS News, that feel that US News’s college lists are little more than back-scratching beauty contests for the top undergraduate business schools and best MBA programs because the data inadequately measure academic quality through manipulated or tainted information.
Practically, however, one of the more frustrating aspects of US News’s list is that it provides the user with limited summaries of undergraduate business school rankings as well as the best MBA programs. This feature can be changed by purchasing access to the lists via their College Compass subscription program, which allows you to view complete US News rankings of the best undergraduate business schools, expanded information on thousands of programs, side-by-side school comparisons of undergraduate business school rankings, financial aid information, and incoming student test scores. Anecdotal internet searches yield very mixed reviews on the usefulness of College Compass, so users should purchase with caution.
 Information retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/4-reasons-to-ignore-us-news-college-rankings/
The Princeton Review
The Princeton Review’s survey-driven analysis puts together top 10 business school lists from several different disciplines in many different categories. This site is simple to use and accessible, exploring the top business schools in the US and abroad. Undergraduate business school rankings and the top MBA programs are measured by the Princeton Review system, which is not affiliated with Princeton University but is attached to the publisher Random House, who sells myriad college-related materials, such as guides and test prep booklets, using the The Princeton Review brand name.
Brief Summary of Methodology and Information Sources
According to the organization’s methodological website, the lists are “…based entirely on student surveys” with one notable exception—a list titled “Toughest to Get Into”—which is entirely cultivated from institutional data to create undergraduate business school rankings as well as top MBA programs lists. There are 11 lists, each with a top 10 business school ranking in a particular category. Lists include: Best Classroom Experience, Best Career Prospects, Best Professors, Most Competitive Students, Most Family Friendly, Best Campus Environment, Best Green MBA, Best Administered, Greatest Opportunity for Minority Students, Greatest Opportunity for Women, and, the aforementioned, Toughest to Get Into.
If you’re interested in data culled only from student surveys, then The Princeton Review has exactly what you would want. But, clearly, better ways exist to sort schools and gather useful information concerning what constitutes “best” regarding any college choice situation. This list is highly subjective.
Using The Princeton Review’s Business School Ranking System
If you’re interested in using this business school rating list, you should also realize the pitfall of such a narrow data set as the singularity of student surveys for determining the top business schools in the US. While student voices are important, there are easily accessible objective factors that exist but go without much consideration by The Princeton Review, such as internship placement data, starting salary numbers, and test scores. It seems irresponsible to neglect the existence of such objective data when making a decision about college. That said, the website’s profile templates track your interests and provides you with a list of universities tailor-made to your answers, which can be helpful, especially if a student has already done his or her research on more comprehensive lists.
Note: Don’t forget to call your mom and let her know where you want to go to college.