A Quick Guide to What the MBA Rankings Measure

By Susannah Fuller-

Understanding business school rankings can be tricky. Almost all prospective students consider them, yet no two ranking publications use the same methodology or come to the same conclusions. While all of the rankings include some measure of career success or return on investment (ROI), they can vary from relying purely on ROI to formulas including student experience and faculty research. They also capture the schools at different points in time with a mix of current data, alumni surveys and student surveys.

Darden appears in the Top 20 of U.S. schools in the five major rankings publications: Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, Financial Times, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report.

While rankings can help you narrow your selection of schools from the 16,000 institutions worldwide granting business degrees (according to the AACSB), it’s important to dig into each ranking to understand what they are telling you. As the rankings publications acknowledge, there are often very small differences between schools’ scores, especially those in the top bands of a ranking.

Some rankings use objective (quantitative) data, others use subjective (qualitative) data, and some use a combination of both. At a high level, the rankings are measuring some combination of career outcomes and ROI, employer ratings, selectivity in admissions, diversity of the community, student experience, faculty quality and ratings by other business schools.

Chart of Major Ranking Categories & Weighting













Here are some of the main criteria that the five major ranking publications evaluate within these different areas:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek: Rates qualitative student experiences, career outcomes and gives significant weight to recruiters’ feedback.
  • The Economist: Evaluates education experience based on student surveys, career services and outcomes, recruiter diversity, faculty and student quality and diversity, and alumni network effectiveness.
  • Financial Times: Analyzes career outcomes including salary increases for alumni; student, faculty and board diversity; depth of international opportunities; and faculty publications in peer-reviewed journals.
  • Forbes: Evaluates return on investment on the MBA using salaries of alumni who are five years out minus salaries lost while in school and the cost of education. Released every other year.
  • S. News & World Report: Considers ratings from business school deans and administrators and MBA recruiters with data on class profile (GMAT, GPA) and career outcomes.

Darden tends to do well in surveys that measure student and alumni experience and satisfaction, salary outcomes and ROI. We make a strategic choice to focus on teaching excellence, student satisfaction and purpose-driven leadership, and that orientation is often reflected in the rankings. That’s one reason The Economist has named Darden the No. 1 education experience in the world for seven straight years.

The specialist rankings can also tell you key data about a school. Many of these are released to focus on a specific quality of the school relevant to prospective students rather than an overall ranking. For instance, a sampling of recent Darden rankings of note have included:

  • 1 Satisfaction With MBA Education (Forbes, 2015–18)
  • 1 Best Campus Environment (The Princeton Review, 2017)
  • 4 Starting salary at graduation (U.S. News, 2017–18)
  • 1 for General Management (Financial Times, 2012–17)
  • 1 Best Faculty (The Princeton Review, 2017)
  • 1 Overseas Study (The Economist, 2017)

Once you have narrowed down the list of schools in which you are interested, explore the schools’ cultures, as they are vastly different ― even in the Top 20. Use the rankings as a guidepost to what is important to you and then dig deeper. Focus on finding the right experience for you.

  1. Research the program and overall student experience.
  2. Talk with current students and alumni who have firsthand knowledge of a school and its environment.
  3. Visit the campus.
  4. Sit in on a class.

In other words, get on the ground. Kick the tires. Learn the culture. Consider a school from all angles and decide on what is most important to your MBA journey. Rankings may be helpful as you start exploring, but there is no substitute for your own judgement.

We’re confident you will find the graduate business school that’s right for you. And we hope you will visit Darden on your journey of discovery.