Methodology of MBA Rankings: How do Media Rank Schools?

MBA rankings are an easy and convenient way to compare and identify top-tier programs.

However, when looking at an MBA ranking, it's important to understand how programs are ranked. Each ranking has its own metrics to assess programs. A program ranked in a media will rank differently from the past year and also in another media. Here are the methodology of the five majors rankings explained.

Rankings at a glance

MediaDescriptionHow data are collected?What is being measured?
Financial Times Annual global ranking since 1999 Surveys sent to alumni three years after graduation, and schools Salary increase (40% of the total score), diversity of gender and nationalities (school's staff, faculty, students), international orientation
Forbes Biennial ranking since 1999 (Three separate lists: U.S. two-year programs, international two-year programs and international one-year programs) Survey sent to alumni five years after graduation Ranking based solely on one metric: the ROI five years after graduation
BusinessWeek Biennal rankings since 1988 (Two separate lists: U.S. programs, international programs) Data are collected from employers, alumni, students, and schools Feedbacks from employers, alumni and students, job placement, starting salary
U.S. News and World Report Annual rankings of U.S. programs since 1990 Data comes from schools, employers, deans, program directors Ratings of programs by deans, directors and corporate recruiters, student selectivity, salary increase and employment rate
The Economist Annual Global ranking since 2002 80% of the data comes from schools, 20% comes from students and recent graduating class Career opportunities, education experience, salary increase, and potential to network

Financial Times

The British daily newspaper publishes each year a list of the 100 best MBA international programs. FT collects data from survey sent to alumni three years after graduation, and business schools.

59 percent of the ranking is based on alumni responses through eight criterion: Weighted salary, salary increase between pre-MBA and today, value for money, career progression, goals achieved, placement success, employed at three months, alumni recommend. Two criteria accounts for 67 percent of the alumni's survey (40 percent of the total score): the weighted salary (20 percent of the total score) and the salary increase (20 percent of the total score). Those who work in the non-profit and public sector as well as those who continue education are excluded from the statistics. Salaries are converted in US dollars using International Monetary Fund purchasing power parity rates. Other criteria ccounts for 2 or 3 percent each. Current year's results weights 50 percent. Data from the past two years are used and carries 25 percent each.

31 percent of the ranking is based on data provided by schools. Eleven criteria cover the gender and nationality diversity of the school's staff, board members and students as well as the international reach: female faculty, female students, women on board, international faculty, international board, international students, international mobility, international course experience, languages, faculty with doctorates, PhD Graduates.

A third component, which accounts for 10 percent of the ranking, focuses on faculty research: FT sums the number of articles published by full-time faculty members in 45 selected journals in the last two years.


The U.S. magazine publishes a biennal MBA ranking based solely on one metric: the Return of Investment of an MBA five years after graduation. Regardless of the quality of education and the content of the programs, it measures the ROI based on the pre-MBA salary, the salaries of the five first years after graduation, and the compensation and revenue losses while studying. Three distinct lists are established according to the type of the program: a two-year, U.S. MBA ranking; a one-year, international MBA ranking; a two-year international MBA ranking. Forbes collects the data by sending a survey to alumni. Schools which received less than 15% of answers are excluded from their lists.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek

BusinessWeek, was the first media to establish an MBA ranking in 1988. American programs and international programs are listed separately. The U.S. magazine focuses mainly on the satisfaction levels of alumni, current students and corporate recruiters.

Five components are used to calculate a score for each program:

  • Recruiters Survey (35 percent of the total score)
    BW collects opinions from employers that hire MBAs on campuses. These employers name business schools at which they had recruiting experience over the last five years, provide the number of MBAs hired in their organization, give their feedbacks on how well business graduates are prepared for the workforce and rate these graduates.
  • Alumni Survey (30 percent of the total score)
    BW collects responses from alumni who graduated six to eight years ago. The goal of the survey is to assess the influence of the MBA in their career paths through three aspects: the compensation increase between the most recent compensation and the compensation before entering the program,* the job satisfaction, and MBA feedbacks.
  • Student Survey (15 percent of the total score)
    Graduate students also contribute to the rankings and are asked to provide their experience on various aspects of the program such as life on campus, interaction with the faculty and the school's administration, or career services. BW uses last year's data that makes up 25% of the student survey total score.
  • Job placement rate (10 percent of the total score)
    BW measures the percentage of graduates who found full-time employment within three months after graduation out of all graduates who pursue employment. Entrepreneurs, those continuing their education, business owners and other graduates who did not pursue full-time employment are excluded from the data.
  • Starting Salary (10 percent of the total score)
    The base salary is used for this measure. Other types of compensation are excluded in the analysis. Salaries are adjusted across industries and regions where graduates find their jobs.
*The compensation includes the base salary and additional guaranteed income (Signing bonuses are excluded). Detailed job placement and salary data are provided by schools.

U.S. News and World Report

The annual U.S. News ranking solely focuses on U.S. programs. While other medias pre-selects a list of no more than 150 schools, the media sends surveys to more than 470 U.S. bschools accredited by AACSB International.

The ranking is divided in three parts

  • Quality Assessment (40 percent of the total score)
    U.S. News invites deans and program directors to rate the graduate programs. The peer assessment score for a school consists of the average of the ratings and weights 25 percent of the total score. Also, corporate recruiters are asked to rate the programs. Survey results from the last three years are used. The recruiter assessment score accounts for 15 percent.
  • Placement Success (35 percent of the total score)
    The mean starting salary and signing bonus weights 14 percent of the score. Employment rate: The employment rates are measured at graduation (7 percent) and three months after graduation (14 percent). Graduates who don't seek full-time employment or for whom the status is unknown are not included in the statistics.
  • Student Selectivity (25 percent of the total score)
    Three criteria are used to assess how hard it is to get into a program: the median GMAT or GRE scores (16.25 percent), the mean undergraduate GPA (7.5 percent), and the acceptance rate (1.25 percent).

U.S. News publishes other MBA rankings in the following specializations: Acounting, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Information Systems, International, Management, Marketing, Nonprofit, Production/Operations, and Supply Chain/Logistics. However, the methodology differs from the general ranking: the score of the programs are based solely on business schools and directors' ratings.

The Economist

Data comes from two questionnaires. The questionnaire sent to schools provide quantitative information which weights 80% of the total score. The other questionnaire, sent to students and alumni who graduated few years ago, consists of qualitative questions and accounts for 20% of the total score.

Statistics from the past two years are used to provide a picture of the school over a three-year period. Current year's data weights 50% of the final score. The weightings for the data from last year and data from two years ago are respectively 30% and 20%. Salaries are converted using average exchange rates.


Open new career opportunities

(35% of the total score)
Diversity of corporate recruitersThe number of industries in which graduates found a job25%
Percentage of job placement three months after graduation25%
Percentage of graduates who found a job through career services25%
Career services assessment by studentsPercentage of graduates who found a job through career services25%

Personal Development/Education Experience

(35% of the total score)
Faculty qualityRatio of faculty:students8.33%
Percentage of full-time faculty with a PhD8.33%
Faculty rating by students8.33%
Student qualityAverage GMAT score18.75%
Average amount of professional experience6.25%
Student DiversityGeographical diversity8.33%
Gender diversity8.33%
Student rating of culture and classmates8.33%
Education ExperienceRating of program and elective offerings by students6.25%
Range of and access to overseas exchange programs6.25%
Number of languages offered6.25%
Assessment of facilities and other services by students6.25%

Salary increase

(20% of the total score)
Salary increase between pre-MBA and post-MBA*25%
Post-MBA* Salary75%

Potential to network

(10% of the total score)
Ratio of alumni to current full-time students33.33%
Number of overseas alumni chapters33.33%
Alumni network's rating by students33.33%
*Excluding bonuses

What if a program is not ranked? Does it mean it is a low-quality program?

Well, there are more than 5,000 internationally accredited MBA programs worldwide, it's impossible to rank all of them. Some media select no more than 150 business schools for their rankings, others have requirements to be qualified for the rankings such as international accreditation, minimum survey's response rate, minimum class size, or a program's history of several years. Also, some schools decline to participate and don't want to be ranked.

Rankings can be highly volatile and results can be influenced by subjective metrics. Programs that go up or drop significantly in the ranking may raise questions about the quality of the ranking.

The best ranked programs might not be able the best programs for you. There are other parameters that can help you decide which program is right for you.