An MBA can get you access to hot internships, sprawling alumni networks, and the most desirable jobs in the market.
As a bonus, it can wipe out your savings and swell your debt.
More graduate degrees in business are awarded annually than in any other field in the U.S., and new business schools are accredited by the dozen every year. How do you find the program that will make you stand out in the job market—and justify the huge expense?
To guide you, here’s our annual ranking of full-time U.S. MBA programs (international rankings are coming soon), based on data we compiled from more than 1,000 recruiters, 15,000 alumni, and 9,000 recent graduates. On top of that, our Ranking Index Score shows, for example, that Stanford grabbed the No. 2 spot this year but was in a dead heat with several other programs, while Harvard was the clear No. 1.
We continue last year’s focus on how well the schools channel their graduates into good jobs and, with a new survey of MBAs after graduation, offer more insight into what grads can expect from their careers.
And the money? It’s, like, way more than you thought.
The average student starting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management earned $80,000 the year before. Add two years of lost wages to Kellogg’s cost of attendance and you get—or lose—$351,876 during your studies. The typical first-year Harvard Business School student earned $90,000 before enrolling. Two years of forgone wages plus the cost of attendance brings the total cost of the degree to $384,200.
Is it worth it? Read on.
|Rank||School||Employer survey rank (35%)||Alumni survey rank (30%)||Student survey rank (15%)||Salary rank (10%)||Job placement rank (10%)||Ranking index score|
We used two years of wages even though students don’t always forgo work for exactly 24 months and might do an internship during the summer break. Similarly, we calculated cost of tuition by taking the 2016-17 cost of attendance and multiplying it by two. For public universities, we entered the cost for nonresident students. And we didn’t try to factor in financial aid (for example, more than half of Harvard students receive aid). Also, schools compile their cost of attendance subjectively, so we recommend readers use our figures to get a general sense of how much an MBA can cost at these institutions.
Only schools that provided a cost-of-attendance figure were included. The forgone wages are larger than the reported cost (housing, health insurance, tuition) at the majority of programs we ranked.
Below are several charts of aggregate results for such things as debt levels and first jobs from full-time MBA programs in the U.S. and abroad. Type a school name into the search box to dive into an individual MBA program. (The forgone wages for our Real Cost figure are pulled from our Student Survey; the pre-MBA salary numbers were configured based on our Alumni Survey.)
Pre-MBA, first job, and after 6 to 8 years
Our Full-Time MBA rankings comprise five elements. So it’s possible to rank highly without knocking every category out of the park. For example, Stanford which is the No. 2 school on our list, ranked No. 57 for job placement. The chart below lets you explore where each school landed on every rankings measure.
Bloomberg Businessweek has ranked full-time MBA programs in the U.S. since 1988. Over time, we have shifted our methodology to focus on how well the programs prepare their graduates for job success. Our Employer Survey, which measures recruiter opinions on how well MBA programs equip their graduates with relevant skills, and our Student Survey, which records feedback from students on how thoroughly they’ve been prepared for the workforce, have always been cornerstones of our rankings.
We lost one school this year, and another was moved to the international list, which we’ll be publishing in the coming months. Meanwhile, we added 15 U.S. MBA programs that weren't ranked last year. Those changes moved our list from 74 programs last year to 87 this year. With so many new programs added to the list, we saw a lot of movement throughout the rankings.
To assess how well MBA programs prepare graduates to get the jobs they want, we surveyed recruiters from companies that hire MBAs.
We asked schools to identify people recently involved in recruiting their MBAs. We invited 11,877 recruiters to take our survey, and 1,055 recruiters at more than 500 companies completed it. We partnered with Cambria Consulting of Boston to run the survey, along with our Full-Time and Part-Time Alumni and Student Surveys.
We asked recruiters to identify up to 10 schools at which they had significant recruiting experience in the past five years. We then asked the recruiters to assess how well these schools’ graduates performed on specific qualities important to them when they recruit MBAs.
To ensure that employers that hired only a few MBAs didn’t have outsize weight in our analysis, we gave each company an index score representing the total number of MBAs it hired in 2014 and 2015 (estimated using a combination of data provided by schools, recruiters, and students). We then weighted recruiters’ raw scores by their index scores for employer size. Ratings from employers that hired many MBAs had a greater impact than ratings from those that hired just a few.
Because the best MBA programs are well regarded by a wide array of recruiters, the employer score was based equally on two components: average rating by employers (a measure of the school’s quality in the eyes of recruiters) and the sum of ratings the school received (a measure of its reach).
It’s common for B-school alumni to take up the task of recruiting from their alma mater for their employer. Alumni, though, tended to rate their own school significantly more favorably than non-alumni who rated the school. Receiving favorable ratings from its own alumni says little about a school’s reach among recruiters, so we excluded alumni ratings when measuring reach. Alumni opinions of their own schools remained a factor in the average (quality) rating.
To examine the impact of the MBA on alumni job outcomes, our Alumni Survey sought responses from all graduates of the classes of 2008, 2009, and 2010.
We recorded slightly more than 15,000 survey responses from alumni. To be included in our rankings, each school was required to have at least 30 students from its 2008-10 classes respond; larger programs were required to reach a threshold ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent.
Three types of data contributed to our rankings in equal measure:
The increase in compensation is one of the best ways to show the impact of the MBA, because one data point comes from before a person enrolled in the MBA program and the other data point is post-MBA. We defined compensation as current base salary plus guaranteed and discretionary additional income earned in 2015, excluding signing bonuses.
We calculated each alum’s compensation-increase ratio (most recent annual compensation divided by annual compensation directly before entering the MBA program). We excluded alumni who got MBAs in joint-degree programs, since their career paths may differ substantially from regular MBAs’, and MBAs whose current jobs are part time. One-third of each school’s Alumni Survey score was based on the median ratio among its alumni.
You want to make money, but what’s the point if you’re unhappy? MBA programs should set graduates on career paths that will fulfill them in many ways. That’s why we asked alumni how satisfied they are with their current job. The average response from all alumni at each school constituted one-third of the overall Alumni Survey score.
We asked alumni 16 questions about their MBA experiences, the specific impacts their MBA programs have had on their careers, and whether they would recommend their program to others. These data provided important context to the alumni compensation and job satisfaction numbers, allowing us to analyze the specific assets alumni gleaned from their MBA programs. Their survey responses made up the final third of the Alumni Survey portion of our scoring methodology.
In addition to generating data used for rankings, the Alumni Survey included questions on businesses founded by entrepreneurial alumni, more detail about alumni career paths, and demographics.
Recent graduates are the best judge of many MBA program features, such as campus climate, effectiveness of career services, and responsiveness of faculty and administrators. That’s why we include the Student Survey in our rankings methodology.
We recorded 9,332 survey responses from graduates from the class of 2016. To be included in our rankings, each school was required to have at least 30 students respond to our survey; larger programs were required to reach a threshold ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent.
In addition to 27 questions that contributed to each school’s rank, the survey generated non-rankings data on student demographics, career paths, personal budgets, debt, and priorities in pursuing an MBA.
We also included data from our 2015 Student Survey to diversify the student feedback that contributes to this portion of the rankings. Data from 2016 made up 75 percent of each school’s Student Survey score; 2015 data made up 25 percent.
People get MBAs to get good jobs. Our data show that 88 percent of MBAs consider access to career services and employers a crucial part of the overall benefit of getting an MBA. Having taken two years out of the workforce to earn an MBA, you probably want to get back to work as soon as possible. That’s why the job placement rate three months after graduation is an important measure of a school’s success.
We define the job placement rate as the percentage of graduates who secured full-time employment within three months of graduation, out of all the graduates who sought it.
Schools provided us with high-quality job placement and salary data for the class of 2015, representing all graduates whose job outcomes they were able to track (class of 2016 data were not ready when we collected them). Given how crucial these data are to schools, most of them have detailed data on more than 90 percent of their graduates, so we include data on nearly all recent graduates, not only those who took our Student Survey. Entrepreneurs, those continuing their education, and other graduates who didn’t pursue full-time employment were excluded from our analysis.
Another key measure of a school’s success is how much compensation its newly minted graduates fetch in the labor market. Schools meticulously record these data, which they shared with us for our rankings. We looked at compensation within three months of graduation.
To create as level a playing field as possible, we ranked schools only on base salary figures (no other forms of compensation were included in our analysis) and implemented controls to adjust for salary variation across industries and regions. Consulting salaries were compared with other consulting salaries, tech salaries with other tech salaries, European salaries with other European salaries, and so on. Each of six U.S. regions was its own playing field for our U.S. rankings, while all of North America functioned as a single region for our international rankings.
A school excelled to the extent that its graduates entering each region and industry bested other schools’ graduates entering that region or industry. The overall scores for schools were weighted by the proportion of its graduates entering each industry and region. For example, if a program sent 60 percent of its grads to jobs in the Midwest, 60 percent of the school’s region-adjusted salary score reflects its performance in that region. Half of the Starting Salary score reflects region-adjusted median salary; half reflects industry-adjusted median salary.
Only graduates who accepted full-time employment (not as a business owner) within three months of graduation were included in our analysis of starting salaries.
For our Full-Time MBA Rankings, scores for each of the five components were standardized using each score’s mean and standard deviation. Scores were then weighted and summed to reflect our rankings model of 35 percent for the Employer Survey score, 30 percent for the Alumni Survey score, 15 percent for the Student Survey score, 10 percent for the Job Placement Rate score, and 10 percent for the Starting Salary score.
Each school’s ranking index score was calculated by dividing its weighted sum by the best school’s weighted sum and then multiplying by 100. The top school in each ranking received an index score of 100. Index scores show the difference in measurement between schools better than rankings do.
For example, the difference between a school with an index number of 91 and a school with an index number of 90 is small. The difference between two programs with index numbers of 91 and 83 is substantial. In either case, though, the schools might be separated by only one ranking place.
This year’s ranking provides a thorough picture of the current landscape of full-time MBA programs, but a suitable program for one person might be an odd fit for another. Don’t let rankings alone make your school decision for you.