2013 U.S. News Business School Rankings Just Released

Yesterday U.S. News & World Report released its 2013 business school rankings. Of course the rankings will have some impact on your school research, but using them as any more than a useful starting point can lead you to apply to schools which don’t fit you as well as they could. Use them, for sure, but use them with care!

Here are the top 20 American programs as defined by U.S. News. Each school’s 2012 rankings follows in parentheses:

2013 U.S. News Business School Rankings
1. Harvard (2)
1. Stanford (1)
3. Penn (Wharton) (3)
4. MIT (Sloan) (3)
4. Northwestern (Kellogg) (5)
4. Chicago (Booth) (5)
7. UC Berkeley (Haas) (7)
8. Columbia (9)
9. Dartmouth (Tuck) (7)
10. Yale (10)
11. NYU (Stern) (10)
12. Duke (Fuqua) (12)
13. Michigan (Ross) (14)
13. Virginia (Darden) (13)
15. UCLA (Anderson) (14)
16. Cornell (Johnson) (16)
17. Texas (McCombs) (17)
18. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) (18)
19. Emory (Goizueta) (23)
19. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) (19)

The biggest news starts at the top of the rankings, where Harvard moved into a tie with Stanford after being ranked #2 behind Stanford last year. Wharton, which had been tied with MIT Sloan for third place in the 2012 rankings, moved ahead of Sloan to take sole possession of the third spot this year. After that is a very tight cluster of schools, with Kellogg and Booth moving up from fifth place to tie Sloan for fourth place.

The rest of the top ten looks quite similar to what it was last year, with some minor shuffling among Columbia, Tuck, and Stern (with Stern landing at #11 this year). Looking at the rest of the top 20 schools, the most notable move came from Emory, which managed to break into the top 20 after sitting at #23 last year. Falling out of the top 20 was Washington University in St. Louis (Olin), which landed at the 22nd spot.

U.S. News uses a mix of qualitative and quantitative ratings to compile its scores. 40% of a school’s overall score comes from assessments by business school leaders and by corporate recruiters. So, in a sense, a large part of what they’re ranking is a school’s reputation, which can make the entire process a bit self-reinforcing. Even if a school were to dramatically improve every aspect of its program — from academics to job placement to alumni services — it might takes years for these results to have a significant impact on these qualitative ratings. Said another way, a large part of these rankings are essentially backward-looking… Their peer’s opinions of them are shaped by what the schools have done over the past few decades (or more), not necessarily by what the schools are doing right now.

The next 25% of an MBA program’s rating comes from other quantitative measures around the admissions process, including the mean GMAT score and undergraduate GPAs of the incoming class, and the school’s admissions rate. These stats are relatively straightforward, but keep in mind that schools are always trying to game the system and find ways to tweak these numbers to improve their rankings (e.g., accepting a student with a GRE score means that the school doesn’t need to include that student’s test score to U.S. News).

The last 35% of a school’s rating comes from more quantitative measures of the program’s success in placing job candidates, including mean starting salary and bonus data and the percentage of grads who have full-time jobs at graduation and three months after graduation. Even here, be aware of what’s being ranked: A school that sends many more grads into investment banking will likely report a higher average starting salary than a school that sends many grads into the non-profit sector. So, apple-to-apples comparisons aren’t so simple.

None of this means that the rankings are bogus. We all pay attention to them, and we will continue to do so as long as U.S. News and other publications keep ranking graduate schools. But know exactly what you’re looking at as you review these rankings!

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