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Stanford Again Tops P&Q’s 2020-2021 Ranking Of The Best MBAs

BY JOHN A. BYRNE

In one of the most turbulent years ever, this year’s MBA ranking reflects the calm in the middle of the pandemic storm.

For the second consecutive year, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business took top honors in Poets&Quants‘ 2020-2021annual ranking of the best MBA programs in the U.S., and every single Top Ten school from last year made the list this time around.

There were changes in the top tier, but they were largely inconsequential, though Harvard Business School slipped to its lowest rank ever, sliding one spot from last year to land in fourth place behind Stanford, Chicago Booth, and the Wharton School.

Harvard’s surprisingly poor showing in the final year of Dean Nitin Nohria’s deanship occurred as the school found itself caught up in controversy over its failure to make more progress on racial equity, a circumstance that caused Norhia to publicly apologize to Harvard’s community. At the same time, Stanford, the most selective prestige MBA program in the world, helped to lead the conversation on racial equality by becoming the first major business school to publish a diversity and inclusion report that laid bare the GSB’s metrics on diversity.

EIGHT OF THE TOP TEN MBA PROGRAMS REPEATED WITH THEIR EXACT RANKS FROM LAST YEAR

Rounding out the Top Ten are No. 5 Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Columbia Business School, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, and Yale University’s School of Management. All of those schools finished with the exact ranking each achieved in the previous year. In fact, among the Top Ten only two schools changed places: Wharton moved up one spot to fourth, passing Harvard which assumed Wharton’s year-earlier rank.

Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business just fell out of the Top 25, dropping one spot, having been replaced by Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business which improved a place from last year to finish 25th.

Unlike other rankings, the 11th annual Poets&Quants list combines the latest five most influential business school rankings in the world: U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, the Financial Times, and The Economist. Instead of merely averaging the five, each ranking is separately weighted to account for our view of their credibility. (U.S. News is given a weight of 35%, Forbes, 25%, while both the Financial Times and Businessweek is given a 15% weight, and The Economist, 10%.

COVID’S IMPACT ON THE 2020-2021 RANKING IS CONSIDERABLE

COVID-19 has clearly had an impact on this year’s ranking. Bloomberg Businessweek decided not to publish a ranking this year due to the pandemic. As a result, we included Businessweek‘s year-earlier ranking in our calculations. The Economist, meantime, has delayed its ranking due to delays caused by COVID. But even when The Economist publishes its new list, which could slide into next year, all of the M7 business schools–Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, MIT, Chicago, Kellogg, and Columbia–will be missing in action because they declined to participate in the ranking. As a result, we opted to include the magazine’s previous ranking which is more reflective of the overall standing of business schools.

Nonetheless, combining these five major rankings doesn’t eliminate the flaws in each system, but it does significantly diminish them. When an anomaly pops on one list due to either faulty survey technique or flawed methodology, bringing all the data together tends to suppress oddball results in a single ranking. So the composite index tones down the noise in each of these five surveys to get more directly at the real signal that is being sent.

The Poets&Quants list, therefore, is more stable–and reliable–than most rankings published elsewhere. Among the top 50 ranked MBA programs, for example, only two experienced double-digit changes in their year-over-year rankings: The University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business which rose 10 places to rank 36th this year and Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business which plunged ten spots to rank 44th. Only 11 of the MBA programs on this year’s list, in fact, rose or fell by 10 or more places year-over-year.

HOW SCHOOLS MOVE UP OR DOWN ON THE LIST

Georgia Tech’s MBA program made its advance on the basis of ranking improvements in both U.S. News & World Report‘s and the Financial Times‘ rankings. The school moved up three places on this year’s FT list, rising to 28th among U.S. programs from 31st a year earlier, while it gained two places in U.S. News to rank 27th from 29th. Carey’s drop, meantime, can be attributed to the loss of its Financial Times ranking (the school’s MBA program had ranked 32nd best in the U.S. in 2019), and a two-place decline in U.S. News‘ ranking to 35th from 33rd.

The overall list takes into account a massive wealth of quantitative and qualitative data captured in these major lists, from surveys of corporate recruiters, MBA graduates, deans and faculty publication records to median GPA and GMAT scores of entering students as well as the latest salary and employment statistics of alumni.

What’s more, users can see at one glance where their target schools fall across the spectrum of core rankings. And for the fourth year in a row, we’re including year-over-year changes in each of the five lists that comprise our overall ranking.  As a result, you can more clearly assess why a school moved up or down on the new 2019-2020 list of U.S. MBA programs. A separate ranking for international MBA programs will be published in the next week.

STANFORD HELD ONTO ITS NO. 1 STANDING BY IMPROVING ITS POSITION IN U.S. NEWS’ RANKING

Stanford held on to its number one ranking by earning a first-place finish in this year’s U.S. News rankig, rising from second place last year and fourth two years ago. Stanford’s rise is a reflection of the school’s overall quality along with its prime location in the most dynamic economy in the world. The school accepts fewer applicants–just 6%–than any other prestige business school and its graduates typically land the highest starting compensation packages of any full-time MBAs.

Stanford also has done a superb job of managing itself through the pandemic. Like most universities that suspended face-to-face classes due to the outbreak of COVID in the spring, Stanford did it abruptly with little advance notice. On a Friday evening, March 6th, University Provost Persis Drell canceled all in-person class meetings, declared that all exams be taken remotely, suspended all spring quarter international programs and shut down Admit Weekend. That gave the school’s staff and faculty an extended weekend–roughly 60 hours–to put 125 class sections online for the final two weeks of the quarter. The school pulled it off.

And when Stanford resumed classes in the fall, it had to go with mostly remote instruction, with just a couple of exceptions for a few outdoor class sessions. At the GSB, the pandemic has inspired a wave of new programs, courses, and events. The end of fall quarter, just before Thanksgiving, saw hundreds of students, alumni and faculty engaged in a virtual with a wonderful Executive Challenge at which first-year MBA candidates made case presentations before alumni and faculty who served as judges.

As part of the school’s Action Plan for Racial Equity, Stanford debuted a new class, Leadership for Society: Race and Power, led by Professor Brian Lowery. More than 4,000 people registered to attend the webinar and listen to edited podcast episodes. The school also ran the first Stanford GSB Rising Scholars Conference for diverse Ph.D. students from across the country. A new update on the GSB’s diversity and inclusion initiative will be released shortly.

VOLATILITY IN THE RANKING WAS DIMINISHED THIS YEAR DUE TO THE LACK OF BUSINESSWEEK AND ECONOMIST RANKINGS

This year saw far less volatility in the ranking than in previous years. That’s largely because of the lack of updates to both the Businessweek and The Economist rankings. As a result, only five business schools registered double-digit improvements this year and only five experienced double-digit declines (see tables on this page). There also were several newcomers to the 2020-2021 list, including Temple University’s Fox School of Business which made a return after suspending its participation in rankings due to a major rankings scandal at the school, the University of Kansas, and Clarkson University.

The P&Q methodology rewards schools for subjecting themselves to an analysis by all five of the most influential rankings. Some 41 out of the 100 ranked MBA programs were ranked on every major list. The approach penalizes schools that deliberately refuse to participate in rankings where they may be at a disadvantage or that fail to gain a rank because the institution’s MBA program isn’t good enough to make every list.

The methodology also favors more fact-based ranking systems that depend on qualitative data that measures the quality of incoming students, their career outcomes as graduates and the return-on-the-investment given MBA tuition costs and scholarships. Rankings heavily based on opinion in surveys completed by students who know their answers will be used to rank their alma maters are given less weight.

The Definitive List Of The Top 100 U.S. MBA Programs of 2020-2021 — 1 to 25

The 2020-2021 annual Poets&Quants’ MBA ranking takes the five most influential lists from U.S. News, The Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and The Economist and combines them together using weights based on the soundness of each publication’s methodology. Bringing them together this way diminishes the anomalies that often crop up in a given year and also gives applicants a better sense of an overall school’s reputation and brand value. This year’s list uses Businessweek and The Economist‘s 2019 rankings due to pandemic disruptions. Ranks in parenthesis are year-earlier positions.

2020

Rank

School Name 2019 Rank Index
#1 Stanford GSB 1 100.0
#2 Chicago (Booth) 2 99.2
#3 Pennsylvania (Wharton) 4 98.9
#4 Harvard Business School 3 98.3
#5 Northwestern (Kellogg) 5 97.5
#6 MIT (Sloan) 6 95.3
#7 Columbia Business School 7 94.2
#8 UC-Berkeley (Haas) 8 93.9
#9 Dartmouth (Tuck) 9 93.6
#10 Yale SOM 10 90.9
#11 Virginia (Darden) 11 90.3
#12 Cornell (Johnson) 13 89.7
#13 Michigan (Ross) 12 89.6
#14 Duke (Fuqua) 14 88.8
#15 New York (Stern) 16 88.2
#16 UCLA (Anderson) 15 87.9
#17 Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 17 83.7
#18 Southern California (Marshall) 19 83.0
#19 North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 19 82.8
#20 Texas-Austin (McCombs) 18 82.7
#21 Washington (Foster) 21 81.0
#22 Emory (Goizueta) 22 79.3
#23 Indiana (Kelley) 23 79.2
#24 Georgetown (McDonough) 24 76.6
#25 Georgia Institute of Technology (Scheller) 26 75.4

Note: Ranks for both The Financial Times and The Economist surveys are U.S. only, not the overall global ranks.

The Definitive List Of The Top 100 U.S. MBA Programs of 2020-2021 — 26 to 50

This second group of schools are the next-best bunch of full-time MBA programs in the United State. These schools tend to have higher admit rates and are easier to get into than the top 25 schools. Yet, most of them offer as good if not a better MBA experience for students and tend to get overlooked and underappreciated. Several of the programs near the top of the list, moreover, have been able to land on the top 25 in years past, with Rice University being the most notable example, having slipped one spot to fall out of the top 25 this year.

2020
Rank
School Name 2019 Rank Index
#26 Rice (Jones) 25 74.8
#27 Notre Dame (Mendoza) 27 74.1
#28 Vanderbilt (Owen) 28 72.3
#29 Washington (Olin) 29 71.7
#30 Brigham Young (Marriott) 30 70.9
#31 Minnesota (Carlson) 32 69.3
#32 Penn State (Smeal) 31 66.0
#33 Rochester (Simon) 37 64.3
#34 Wisconsin 35 63.8
#35 Ohio State (Fisher) 36 63.0
#36 Georgia (Terry) 46 61.4
#37 Pittsburgh (Katz) 39 61.0
#38 Southern Methodist (Cox) 40 59.8
#39 Florida (Hough) 41 56.7
#40 Texas-Dallas (Jindal) 44 56.5
#41 Michigan State (Broad) 33 55.4
#42 Boston University (Questrom) 42 55.0
#43 Maryland (Smith) 43 54.8
#44 Arizona State (Carey) 34 54.3
#45 Texas A&M (Mays) 45 52.8
#46 UC-Irvine (Merage) 38 51.4
#47 UC-Davis 47 44.8
#48 Tennessee-Knoxville (Haslam) 49 43.9
#49 Utah (Eccles) NR 42.8
#50 George Washington 53 39.9

Note: * Ranks for both The Financial Times and The Economist surveys are U.S. only, not the overall global ranks

The Definitive List Of The Top 100 U.S. MBA Programs of 2020-2021 — 51 to 75

This third group of schools represents some of the very best hidden gems in MBA education. Typically, these are smaller and more intimate programs at excellent business schools.  They are less likely to rank on all five of the most influential rankings but have strong reputations nonetheless. And many of these schools open the door to companies that are major players in their geographies. No. 55 Northeastern leads the way to many of Boston’s corporate players, while Fordham is another way to study in New York City and land a job with one of the city’s corporate giants or an investment banking firm on Wall Street. And Howard University, ranked 69th, is one of the few historically black colleges and universities with a top 100 MBA on the list.

2020
Rank
School Name 2019 Rank Index
#51 Purdue (Krannert) 48 39.9
#52 University of Miami 73 34.2
#53 Alabama (Manderson) 54 34.1
#54 NC State (Poole) 67 30.7
#55 Arizona (Eller) 61 30.0
#56 Northeastern (D’Amore-McKim) 67 28.0
#57 Babson College (Olin) 55 27.6
#58 Boston College (Carroll) 51 26.7
#58 Missouri (Trulaske) 58 26.7
#60 Colorado (Leeds) 62 26.5
#61 William & Mary (Mason) 52 25.3
#61 Tulane (Freeman) 56 25.3
#63 Fordham (Gabelli) 50 25.0
#64 Connecticut-Storrs 76 24.9
#65 Pepperdine (Graziadio) 60 22.3
#66 Rutgers Business School 63 21.9
#67 Texas Christian (Neeley) 57 21.3
#68 Case Western (Weatherhead) 59 20.9
#69 Howard 65 19.5
#70 Baylor (Hankamer) 69 19.3
#71 South Carolina (Moore) 75 18.5
#72 Auburn (Harbert) 78 18.4
#73 Baruch (Zicklin) 66 18.4
#74 Buffalo (SUNY) 72 18.3
#75 UC-San Diego (Rady) 71 18.2

Note: * Ranks for both The Financial Times and The Economist surveys are U.S. only, not the overall global ranks

The Definitive List Of The Top 100 U.S. MBA Programs of 2020-2021 — 76 to 100

It could be easy to overlook the final quartile of schools on our Top 100 list. But it’s important to remember that there are more than 1,100 accredited full-time MBA programs in the U.S. so any business school making this ranking is among the top 10% of all the MBAs in the country. Admission standards at these schools are not nearly as stringent as those at higher-ranked programs and, more often than not, the mainstream MBA corporate recruiters are less likely to show up on campus to hire graduates. But these smaller programs often offer generous financial support to students and are far less costly than their higher-ranked counterparts.

2020
Rank
School Name 2019 Rank Index
#76 Iowa State 70 17.0
#76 Massachusetts-Amherst (Isenberg) 85 17.0
#78 Syracuse (Whitman) 84 14.0
#79 Temple (Fox) NR 13.8
#80 Willamette (Atkinson) 77 13.1
#81 Rollins (Crummer) 79 12.6
#82 Kansas NR 11.7
#83 Oklahoma (Price) 64 11.3
#83 Louisiana State (Ourso) 81 11.3
#85 Kentucky (Gatton) 74 10.8
#86 Denver (Daniels) 89 10.2
#87 Chapman (Argyros) 92 9.6
#88 Clemson 82 8.6
#89 Stevens Institute of Technology 88 8.5
#90 Texas Tech (Rawls) 95 7.4
#91 Univ. of San Diego 87 6.5
#92 Houston (Bauer) 90 6.2
#93 Florida State 86 5.7
#93 University of Louisville 93 5.7
#95 Rochester Institute of Technology (Saunders) 97 5.5
#96 Clarkson NR 4.2
#97 Oregon (Lundquist) 99 4.1
#98 Mississippi 80 3.2
#98 Oklahoma State (Spears) 83 3.2
#100 Tampa (Sykes) 100 3.0

Note: * Ranks for both The Financial Times and The Economist surveys are U.S. only, not the overall global ranks