2017 Guide to Finding the Best Business Schools Ranking & the Top Business Schools in the US

When it comes to seeking out the best business schools, where do you turn to find trustworthy business school rankings?

There are a number of top business schools in the US, so how do you find them? After all, if you’re going to invest money in a business degree, you want to make sure it’s coming from one of the top business schools.

It’s important to consider that what matters to you might not matter as much to other prospective students.

Maybe you want a reasonably priced school with a high placement rate post-graduation. Or maybe you are looking to attend one of the current top three best business schools in US rankings.

When determining what actually makes top business schools the top business schools that they are, it’s important to consider a wide array of criteria.

Fortunately, companies understand the value in ranking schools for the prospective student audience, business school rankings included. With different sites focusing on different ranking methodology, the benefits to you are twofold.

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One, you’ll be able to see rankings that align with your own perceptions of what’s important for top business schools to have. On the other hand, you’ll likely be exposed to business school ranking elements you hadn’t thought of.

It’s in your best interest to consider several rankings when picking the best business schools for you.

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U.S. News Business School Rankings

For those of you familiar with the rankings at U.S. News, you know that it uses a weighted system based on a number of criteria. All criteria are weighted at different strengths, and these inform the calculations that determine its yearly business school ranking order. 

U.S. News reaches out to all 470 MBA programs that received accreditation through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International.  The schools were surveyed in the fall of 2015 and early on in 2016. Of the 470 accredited schools contacted by U.S. News, only 379 responded. Of those 379 that responded, only 129 schools provided U.S. News with enough of the data needed to calculate the MBA rankings for the top business schools in the US alone.

Weighted Factors

A large part of the U.S. News business school rankings rests in the scores of the quality assessment portion. It is weighted by 0.40. It uses two elements to assess quality:

  • Peer assessment (0.25)
  • Recruiter assessment (0.15)

Peer assessment involves the deans and directors for the MBA programs at the schools surveyed. In the fall of 2015, U.S. News reached out to ask the staff in these roles to rate their programs on a scale of 1 to 5. Five is exceptional, and one is ordinary. U.S. News received a 41% response rate for its most recent survey.

The score is simply the average of all participants’ scores who rated the programs.

Recruiter assessment took place during the same time, in the fall of 2015. The MBA programs that were previously ranked by U.S. News provide the publication with the names of corporate recruiters and company contacts. U.S. News then asks these recruiters and contacts to rate the full-time programs from 1 to 5, the same scale as the peer assessment group.

The school’s score is the average of all respondents who rated the program in the three most recent years of survey results.

Placement Success

Placement success is also heavily weighted, at 0.35. As with quality assessment, there are two primary sub categories:

  • Mean starting salary and bonus (0.14)
  • Employment rates for full-time MBA program graduates (0.21)

When it comes to picking from the best colleges for business, you want to have some reassurance that you’ll be making money after investing in your education. That’s what placement success looks at. The mean starting salary and bonus category is determined by looking at the average starting salary and bonus of 2015 full-time MBA program graduates.

The salary figures are actually based on the total number of graduates who reported data. The signing bonus is weighted proportionately with those graduates who reported bonuses. Not everyone reported both a base salary and a signing bonus.

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Employment rates for full-time 2015 MBA program graduates only look at the graduates who are employed and actively seeking jobs. The graduates who are not seeking or did not make their job-seeking information available are excluded from the business school rankings calculations. If the ratio of non-job seekers and no-information-provided graduates is significantly high, the information is not used in calculating a ranking.

Student Selectivity

Three sub categories are used in the student selectivity area to rank the top business schools, with the full category weighted by 0.25:

  • Mean GMAT and GRE scores (0.1625)
  • Mean undergraduate GPA (0.075)
  • Acceptance rate (0.0125)

The mean GMAT and GRE scores are the average scores for full-time MBA students entering in the fall of 2016. U.S. News will actually list the GMAT scores on the ranking list, but they can only be viewed with a subscription to its Business School Compass Access.

The mean undergraduate GPA was calculated from the average GPAs of the students entering a full-time MBA program in fall of 2016.

The acceptance rate is another straightforward category. It looks at the percentage of applicants wanting to enter into full-time MBA programs in the fall of 2015 who were actually accepted.

Overall Rank

U.S. News standardizes the data about the mean, weights the scores, and then rescales the totaled scores in order to have the school at the top of the business school rankings receive a score of 100. The other top business schools then receive a percentage of the top score, based on their own performance. There were two criteria necessary for consideration in the U.S. News ranking of top business schools in the US:

  • The program had to have 20 or more of its 2015 full-time MBA graduates seeking employment
  • And at least 50% of a school’s 2015 full-time MBA graduates needed to be seeking work

Schools that did not meet these criteria can be found on the list as unranked. Without enough statistical data, U.S. News is unable to accurately assign schools a numerical rank.

Rank not published” schools fall in the bottom 1/4th of the business school rankings. U.S. News only ranks the top 3/4ths of full-time MBA programs that qualify for a rank.

The last quarter of schools are listed alphabetically with their rank unpublished. Unlike unranked schools, rank not published schools do have calculated scores. U.S. News makes the editorial decision not to publish those scores.

Financial Times Business School Rankings

Where U.S. News looked at the best business schools in the US, Financial Times takes a global approach. And while the United States schools dominate the top ten best business schools ranking, there is a strong international showing for business colleges.

The Financial Times ranking is valuable for its global rankings as well as its search criteria. It doesn’t matter how detailed a business school ranking is if you’re unable to navigate it. As a prospective student, you can sort through the Financial Times ranking by using the following filters:

  • Average salary after graduation
  • Value for money
  • Latest Financial Times rankings

Financial Times had research participation from 157 schools. Every participating school is accredited internationally. In addition to accreditation, the schools passed Financial Times’s strict entry criteria:

  • Each school must be four years old to qualify (alumni are surveyed three years after graduation)
  • Minimum of 20% of alumni need to reply (from each school)
  • At least 20 responses must be fully completed
  • Each school’s program must have at least 30 graduates each year

The most recent top business schools ranking from Financial Times uses data from the eligible schools. They also reached out to survey 9800 alumni who completed an MBA program full time in 2012. The response rate was 43 percent.

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The Financial Times has a long list of ranking criteria for its best business colleges scoring methodology. Despite an abundance of categories, weighted salary and salary increase averages account for 40% of its scoring. The other 60% is split up between 18 categories, many of which only have a 1–6% influence over the final business school rankings. Here’s the complete breakdown:

  • Weighted salary (20)
  • Salary increase (20)
  • Value for money (3)
  • Career progress (3)
  • Aims achieved (3)
  • Placement success (2)
  • Employed at three months (2)
  • Alumni recommendations (2)
  • Female faculty (2)
  • Female students (2)
  • Women on board (1)
  • International faculty (4)
  • International students (4)
  • International board (2)
  • International mobility (6)
  • International course experience (3)
  • Languages (1)
  • Faculty with doctorates (5)
  • PhD graduates (5)
  • Financial Times research rank (10)

The global scale means Financial Times considers elements that a ranking of top business schools in the US might not consider. International mobility is one such element. International mobility is based on the citizenship of alumni as well as the locations they’ve worked spanning pre-MBA, up to graduation, and three years post-graduation.

Similarly, international course experience examines whether or not students of the MBA program completed research, study tours, internships or exchanges in countries outside of the school’s. For a global best business schools search, Financial Times takes much into account.

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Many of the categories are straightforward. For even more clarification, you can consult the Financial Times’s methodology page. The language category examines how many languages are required before completion of one’s MBA.

For the scoring of the female faculty score and the other two gender-related elements, a perfect score is given to 50:50 splits between male and female.

Placement success looks at the efficacy of the school’s career service in helping students achieve job recruitment. Aims achieved looks at how fulfilled alumni are with their MBAs in relation to the goals and reasons they had for pursuing one in the first place.

The MBA price tag for the best business schools looks much more reasonable if you can look forward to a job and satisfied goals.

The Financial Times research rank scores are calculated based on the number of full-time faculty members from a school program that have articles published in specific academic and practitioner journals between January 2014 and October 2015.

There are 45 select journals that FT monitors for faculty contribution, although Financial Times does not list these academic sources explicitly. The score is determined by the absolute number of publications per school weighted against the faculty size of the program.

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Bloomberg Business Week Business School Rankings

Businessweek has the shortest methodology, but that doesn’t mean it provides less helpful business school rankings. It centers around five main parts:

  • Employer survey (35%)
  • Alumni survey (30%)
  • Student survey (15%)
  • Job placement rate (10%)
  • Starting Salary (10%)

It has separate lists for top business schools in the US and top business schools internationally. For the employer survey, Bloomberg asks recruiters all about skills.

What skills do they look for in MBA graduates, and what programs seem to prepare the students the best? For the alumni survey, Bloomberg surveys classes from 2007–2009. It collects feedback on how the MBAs have affected the participants’ careers.

It also looks to see how compensation has changed for the graduates and inquiries about the job satisfaction at this point in their careers.

The student survey looks at the recent graduating class for feedback. In this case, Bloomberg Businessweek turned to the 2015 graduating classes to get their opinions on the career services, the campus climate, and the overall academics of the programs and schools they attended.

The job placement rate is straightforward: it looks at how many 2015 graduates seeking full-time jobs were able to secure them in three months or less (from graduation). Starting salary is similarly intuitive. It looks at the amounts recent graduates earn in their first post-graduation jobs. This value is adjusted to account for variance between industries and regions.

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Getting into the best business schools can be a challenge. For that kind of time and monetary investment, you want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

That’s where picking the right business school ranking is important. You want to be sure the odds are in your favor for pay increases, jobs, and satisfaction on the other side of your MBA program. 

The top business colleges will each offer something different.

The best business school for one person won’t be the best option for another. Maybe you don’t want to stay put – maybe you want to get your MBA in a different country.

You can find some of the best business schools in the US, but that’s hardly where your search has to end. Use sites like the Financial Times to look at the global collection of business colleges. Business school rankings can only take you so far. Careful research to find the best business school for you could make all the difference.

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