Best MBA Programs

I recently applied to graduate business school here in the states. As part of that process, I compiled the most recent rankings (as of January 2007) of the American business schools from the six major publications listed below:

1. Business Week
2. The Economist
3. The Financial Times
4. Forbes
5. The Wall Street Journal
6. U.S. News & World Report

In my compilation I took a simple, equal-weighted, average (mean) of the rankings, meaning I added up the six rankings and divided by six. Then I placed the schools in order based upon the calculated average. The results are listed below. Every school on this list was in the Top 25 in all six of the publications. The lone exception was Michigan, which was ranked #26 by Forbes, but was also ranked #1 by the Wall Street Journal (more on this disparity below).

1. UPenn (Wharton)
2. Chicago
3. Dartmouth (Tuck)
4. Harvard
5. Stanford
6. Columbia
7. Northwestern (Kellog)
8. Berkeley (Haas)
9. Michigan (Ross)
9. MIT (Sloan)
11. NYU (Stern)
12. Yale
13. Virginia (Darden)
14. UCLA
15. Duke (Fuqua)
16. Carnegie Mellon

It is important to note that each of these publications considers different factors (and the relative weighting of those factors) in their rankings. I refer you to the respective websites of the publications to read the factors (and their weightings) used in each ranking system. However, I will mention that The Wall Street Journal’s rankings are the outliers. Their rankings tend to be inconsistent with the other publications. This is interesting to note because The Wall Street Journal’s rankings are based exclusively on recruiter comments about the respective schools. This fact introduces another important concept to understand about the rankings, which is how the schools obtain their information. Most of the information that comes from students and/or recruiters must be solicited from them. Therefore, the information in the rankings often comes only from those individuals who are willing to offer it. While I’m not making a judgment about what that means, it definitely does mean something.

Despite the inherent limitations of the ranking process, I think its pretty readily accepted that these are the top business schools in America, especially those listed in the top 7. However, choosing which school is best for you is another process altogether. Many factors must come into play, but I think the most important is deciding why you want an MBA (i.e. what is your goal) and then determining which school will best help you achieve that goal.

If no school can help you, or if you can achieve your goal without an MBA, then maybe and MBA is not for you. For many people, an MBA is simply three letters you need after your name in order to get promoted, in which case I suggest going to the most affordable, local college in your area regardless of its reputation. Other people have something very specific they want to do, in which case maybe only a handful of schools in the world will help you. But most people are probably somewhere in between. For those people, it is important to do research about the programs. It is best if you can visit the schools and/or talk to current or former students.

The rankings themselves are not really important except for those people who want to do something that requires going to one of the best schools. And even then, their only purpose is to identify which schools are considered amongst the best. Ultimately, you’ll still have to decide which school is best for you.