Should You Trust the Businessweek MBA Rankings?

Note on the 2023-2024 Businessweek MBA Ranking

If US rankings are generally unexciting then, this year’s Businessweek is no exception: all M7 schools are in the top 10 and-with the exception of GSB-clustered extremely closely together: the five schools following Stanford’s significant lead (with a total score of 86.8) are comprised within a score range of only 0.5 on a scale of 100. In that sense, the ranking is fairly uncontroversial, except perhaps for HBS not ranking in line with consensus.

It is my long-standing stance that all MBA rankings should be global. The MBA is a widely standardized educational product relying on mostly the same ingredients across the globe. While, given the sheer size of the US market, it is defendable to split a ranking into US and overseas, I completely fail to see the point of splitting out Canada, Europe and Asia, which, if a global ranking cannot be produced, should fall into one category.

Regarding European programs, the three top schools according to the only global ranking out there, the Financial Times’, are in the top 5: IESE, INSEAD, LBS. Bocconi’s performance both in the FT and Businessweek calls for being consolidated over time. Much like the FT has released a top 10 aggregating the last 25 years of ranking results, I’ll be curious to see how Bocconi fares in the long run. Readers should not forget that rankings do not only reflect the outcome of a given methodology, but also schools’ capacity to nominate qualified staff to manage the rankings and optimize data collection according to the different criteria applied.

Pascal Michels
Pascal Michels, M.B.A.
Sr. Consultant & Director

Keep in mind that, while MBA rankings can be useful in your initial MBA research, you have to approach them with skepticism and caution. MBA rankings can give you a start on generating a list of target schools, but you should certainly not rely on them to make any final conclusions or decisions. For this reason, our directory of top MBA programs doesn’t focus on a ranking formula, but on the curriculum, class profile, employment report and culture of each MBA program.

Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek returned to their usual approach (after adjusting their methodology due to COVID-19). However, they did add—for the first time to their MBA ranking—a Diversity Index that measures U.S. schools on race, ethnicity, and gender in their classes. In 2023-2024, no noteworthy methodological changes have taken place.

This page examines the 2023-2024 list, identifying concerns in methodology and approach.

How Businessweek Creates Their MBA Ranking

For their 2023-2024 ranking, Businessweek surveyed almost 20,000 students and over 700 employers that recruit at business schools. These students, alumni, and recruiters graded MBA programs on five major categories and assigned weights for each. In doing so, Businessweek hoped to create a ranking that measured what the stakeholders, i.e. the students and the recruiters, found most important. This approach resulted in the following five categories and associated weights:

  • Compensation – 35.7%
  • Networking – 17.8%
  • Learning – 26.3%
  • Entrepreneurship – 11.4%
  • Diversity* – 7.1%

75% of the Compensation category is based on actual data such as salaries, bonuses, and employments rates, whereas the remaining 25% is, like the other three categories, based on a survey. This means that the ranking is mostly (about 70%) based on qualitative data and only about 30% on quantitative data.

General Observations

Unlike other major rankings, the Businessweek MBA rankings are created by using mostly qualitative data. Bloomberg Businessweek is not very open about how the list is constructed beyond this general point. Granted, the weights of the four categories are publicly available, but no information is given as to what kinds of questions are asked in the survey itself. This means it is hard to definitively say why certain schools rank higher than other schools in each of the categories. The qualitative data and the lack of transparency in scoring makes for a shady ranking. Who is to say that Businessweek doesn’t play with the results to create more tantalizing headlines?

Businessweek MBA Rankings, 2023-2024
9.Michigan Ross
10.Berkeley Haas
12.NYU Stern
14.Duke Fuqua
15.Yale SOM
17.USC Marshall
18.CMU Tepper
19.Rice Jones
22.UCLA Anderson

Although Businessweek does not specify how each of the five sub-rankings are formed, it does include some metrics that other rankings do not. Examples include the high score for Tuck in Networking, recognizing that Tuck has a very responsive alumni network, as well as Georgia Terry’s high rank in Learning.

The last observation that can be made concerns the student survey. In theory, asking the students to score their school makes sense; after all, who is better equipped to review a school than its students? But consider this: when asking students to rank their school, they will have nothing to compare their school against. After all, they are not attending multiple programs at once! And not only are they unable to grade their program via an actual comparison, but their feedback is also relative to their expectations. A student at a top 5 school, for example, expects an amazing experience based on the prestige of the program. If their experience turns out to be “great” instead of amazing, the student might give their school a lower score than someone who expects a “good” experience but receives a great one.

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Businessweek vs. US News

When consulting rankings, the potential MBA applicant may be struck by the dramatic differences between each list. How can a school rise and fall so markedly across rankings that are presumably measuring the same thing?

By analyzing specific entries from different rankings, we see how these lists do not measure the same thing at all: wildly inconsistent methodologies lead to wildly inconsistent results. We also begin to see how, for each ranking, the arbitrary decision to highlight one aspect of the MBA experience will favor certain programs and penalize others.

One of the most well-regarded MBA rankings is that of U.S. News, and it is often compared with Businessweek. The methodology they employ can be found on our US News MBA ranking page. In summary, US News ranks business schools on many different qualities, including salary, educational scores, and a peer assessment by deans of other business schools. 

We know that both Businessweek and U.S. News rankings take compensation into account and survey recruiters. But that is where the similarities end. For example, U.S. News surveys the deans of the business schools, but does not survey the students. U.S. News also takes average GMAT and GRE scores into account, as well as average undergraduate GPAs, where Businessweek does not. 

This difference in approach has led to some very interesting discrepancies, which are highlighted in the table below:

Businessweek rankingU.S. News ranking

For the most part, these differences can be explained by the varied criteria that Businessweek uses. Tuck, for example, ranks fourth on Networking and first on Compensation, and therefore, third in the overall ranking. However, even though Tuck ranks high on Compensation, which is also a component of the U.S. News ranking, it is only averagely placed in the other categories assigned by U.S. News, keeping it from the US News top 5.

MIT fares the best of the M8 (8th) on Diversity, but as they place 23rd and 35th in Learning and Networking respectively, MIT ends up six places lower than they do on the U.S. News ranking. Fuqua’s 51st and 24th places in Entrepreneurship and Diversity respectively mean that Fuqua is also down three places compared to the U.S. News ranking.

Yale, usually a top 10 business school, does not score particularly well on any of the sub-rankings created by Businessweek and is therefore ranked (only) 15th. Yale loses out here because the Businessweek ranking does not account for the factor that helps Yale rank well with U.S. News: the Yale brand. Yale’s reputation makes it score well among peer schools and recruiters, but this is a quality that is not tracked by the four sub-rankings employed by Businessweek.

Businessweek MBA Rankings: Key Takeaways

The Businessweek MBA Ranking attempts to measure the opinion of key stakeholders—students and recruiters—more accurately than any other listing. Unfortunately, their approach eschews quantitative data, and a lack of transparency makes it difficult to fully gauge the reliability of their rankings. Nonetheless, it might be useful for certain applicants to dig deeper into their Networking category, a feature unique to Businessweek but important to all MBA candidates.

So How Can You Find the Best MBA Program (Without Rankings)?

Once you determine roughly which schools you are qualified to attend–and the rankings can definitely factor into this initial list–we encourage you to leave the rankings behind and instead focus on the practical questions that will help you figure out which MBA program will provide value to your career. These are simple, practical questions:

Answering these questions will help you find an MBA program that can enhance your career.