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MBA college rankings | GMAT Business schools

Business School RankingsWe have published our first B-school rankings based on a popularity index. Unlike the other B-school rankings, our attempt is to find out the top 50 international business school that have the best online footprint. Or in simple terms – the most popular business schools.

The big assumption here is that the level of interest in a bschool’s ‘online properties’ (website and social media presence) is directly correlated to how popular it is among prospective students as well as other stakeholders (staff, employers, alumni).

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the full list first before reading the rest of this post: Business School Rankings

Welcome back. So now that you have seen our B-school rankings and you have idea of what we have done to evaluate and rank the bschools, let’s take the discussion forward. What is the relevance of this list? What are the key takeaways?

Insights from the MBA Crystal Ball B-school Rankings


Brand power doesn’t automatically translate into internet dominance

Sure, it does help to have a strong brand. If you thought online popularity for bschools is directly related to the strength of their brand, that isn’t entirely true. Many strong brands don’t figure on the top in our rankings.

For instance, an Ivy league b-school such as Dartmouth – Tuck is ranked at number 44.

Ditto for the European brands like Cambridge, Oxford that have relatively young MBA programs, but very strong university brands (giving them the advantage of high website traffic to the parent site). However, when it comes to overall online popularity rankings where we consider not just the website traffic but also social media parameters, they rank in the bottom half of our list.

No single bschool has really cracked the internet code

For each of the online platforms we’ve considered for our bschool rankings, the rules of getting traction differ. For instance, the tone and type of content that is appropriate for Facebook may not work for Twitter, and vice versa. Bring in a relatively more formal platform like LinkedIn, and the complexity increases. Then there’s the regular website to be taken care of as well.

With all the diversity involved, no single business school seems to have really conquered them all. Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) is the only school to have single-digit ranks for all 4 sub-categories. Harvard and Stanford are the closest competitors in terms of consistency.

Bschools have plenty to learn from each other

This one’s a derivative of the previous point, but independent and important enough to be mentioned separately.

There are some bschools that are doing extremely well in one arena, but lagging behind in the others. Re-inventing the wheel isn’t the best strategy. Rather than trying to come up with all the answers on their own, bschools could learn what their competitors have been doing.

Competitor analysis in the online space is a little easier than getting a sneak peek into other bschools’ offline initiatives. Irrespective of the closed door meetings that happen, there are plenty of signals in the public domain that bschools can look at and improve their own strategies.

We’ve done some basic analysis here as well in terms of the best practices, but we’ll keep that for another post if there’s interest.

American business schools do it better

Among the 50 top ranked bschools, 50% of the schools are based outside USA. Though it’s not a comprehensive list, the choice of schools is fairly balanced when it comes to locational diversity is concerned.

Despite the number of international (i.e. non U.S.) bschools in the list, within our top 10 there are only 3 non U.S. bschools (IMD Switzerland, HKUST Hong Kong and IE Business School). In the next 20, there’s only one (Rotterdam School of Management).

Maybe it’s the longer track record for these schools. Maybe it’s the greater demand for the degree by domestic employers. Maybe it’s a better overall marketing strategy that includes offline and online initiatives. But when viewed with a global lens, bschools in USA have in general fared better when it comes to online popularity.

B-Schools need to focus more on their online strategies

What the absolute ranks don’t reveal is the huge relative gap between the top ranked bschools and the rest. We use an internal scoring system to rank each bschool. To avoid confusion, we’ve kept these internal scores out of the main b-school rankings. But for us to appreciate this next point, here’s a table that lists each school along with its score. It’s a relative scoring system. We’ve eliminated some schools that did not make it to the top 50 list.

Bschool ranks and internal scores

Rank Business School Name Score Rank Business School Name Score
1 Harvard Business School 75 26 Wisconsin School of Business 10
2 Stanford Univ GSB 51 27 Univ of Cambridge – Judge 9
3 IMD Switzerland 40 28 Univ of Southern California – Marshall 9
4 Hong Kong UST (HKUST) 39 29 Univ of Oxford – Sai•d 9
5 IE Business School 38 30 Warwick Business School 8
6 Univ of Virginia – Darden 38 31 Univ of Chicago – Booth 8
7 Univ of Pennsylvania – Wharton 36 32 UCLA – Anderson 7
8 London Business School 28 33 York Univ – Schulich 7
9 MIT Sloan School of Management 27 34 Esade Business School 7
10 Univ of California at Berkeley – Haas 20 35 Indiana Univ – Kelley 6
11 Vanderbilt Univ – Owen 14 36 Manchester Business School 6
12 City Univ – Cass London 13 37 Univ of North Carolina – Kenan-Flagler 6
13 Columbia Business School 12 38 EM Lyon 6
14 Univ of Texas at Austin – McCombs 12 39 Univ of Toronto – Rotman 5
15 Northwestern Univ – Kellogg 12 40 Carnegie Mellon – Tepper 5
16 INSEAD 11 41 HEC Paris 5
17 Cornell Univ – Johnson 11 42 Emory Univ – Goizueta 4
18 Rotterdam School of Management 11 43 Univ of Cape Town GSB 4
19 New York Univ – Stern 11 44 Dartmouth College – Tuck 4
20 Duke Univ – Fuqua 11 45 Univ of W. Ontario – Ivey 4
21 Univ of Michigan – Ross 11 46 NUS School of Business 4
22 Yale School of Management 11 47 Georgetown Univ – McDonough 3
23 Indian Business School (ISB) 10 48 ESMT Germany 3
24 SDA Bocconi 10 49 St Gallen 3
25 IESE Business School 10 50 CEIBS 3

– The overall scores for Harvard (75 points) & Stanford (51) have a huge 24 point gap.
– The score for the next 5 bschools ranges from 36 to 40.
– The rest of the 43 are all bunched in the 3 to 26 point range.
– The bottom half (25 bschools) have a score of under 10.

Almost all the top Business schools spend a significant amount of effort, time and money in offline initiatives such as meet-and-greet events, seminars and conferences across countries to reach out. Each event could be attended by hundreds of interested folks. However there’s a much bigger audience that can’t attend these events – due to accessibility issues or other commitments.

It is easier for bschools to reach this audience through online initiatives. That’s an area that bschools need to tap into more in order to maximise the bang for their marketing buck.

An aggressive online marketing strategy alone won’t help

When the focus shifts towards attracting eyeballs, it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture. This last point is not directly linked to our b-school rankings data, but we’ve added it here to put things in perspective for bschools that hope to move into the top 50 ranking soon.

Our website gets quite a bit of spam from some bschools that are hoping to capture a slice of the online traffic (fortunately none of them figure in our rankings). So a bad online strategy can backfire too. A hired online marketing company might never appreciate the pain that goes into building a credible brand.

The field of business education is extremely competitive. For many bschools, a strong internet presence (or the lack of) can have substantial implications on their future. The quick-fix option would be to hire an excellent online marketing company and get some super-smart ideas on increasing the online traffic, followers and likes. That’s easier said than done.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that a brilliant online marketing and social media strategy does succeed in significantly boosting a bschool’s visibility on the internet. However what happens if there’s little relevant, rich and intriguing content to hold back the new fans and followers?

The brand will lose its sheen rather quickly. So rather than over-focusing on online strategies, schools also need to continue building a strong legacy. This can include investing in their intellectual resources, building a stronger curriculum, attracting the right talent (admission officers, professors, students, support staff) and ensuring that the high expectations are delivered.

This last part can take years, unlike a jazzy new online strategy that can result in a flash-in-the-pan effect.

We hope our unusual bschool rankings help the top business schools as well as the rising stars on the horizon re-evaluate & polish their online brand building strategies.

If you have any feedback or suggestions on our bschool rankings, please post them below in the comment field.

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

10 thoughts on “MBA college rankings | GMAT Business schools”

  1. Would help if there was a Indian applicants specific perspective. I mean like UK has stricter visa policies so maybe employment there will be much more difficult. Same with Canda, China etc., So probably they should rank lesser than US b schools? Also popularity with employers could be considered….my 2 cents.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Vijay.

    We’ve intentionally kept it at a global level for one primary reason. It’s easier to get data for the rankings. That helps in reducing (though not eliminating) the subjectivity involved in such an exercise.

    ‘Popularity’, as it applies to bschools, is tough to define. So we’ve narrowed it down to ‘online popularity’. that allows us to rank each school based on publicly available & real data (as opposed to intuition) that we’ve gathered from multiple sites. Also, the data collation, analysis and presentation process we’ve followed is repeatable. Which means if we repeat the exact same process next year with a new set of data, we’d be able to compare apples to apples.

    It becomes tricky to have a country-specific popularity ranking without adding a big element of subjectivity to the evaluation process. Also, the process may not be standardised or repeatable. So we’d end up comparing apples and oranges.

    For now, the content and insights from the bschool ranking are at a universal level. So they are equally relevant for anyone irrespective of which country they are based in.

    But it’s an interesting viewpoint that you’ve shared. Maybe there’s scope for someone to come up with a country-specific bschool ranking that has a good balance of objectivity and relevance.

  3. Well, the best “online footprint” does not correlate well with “most popular” business schools. A school may have sloppy website, but may attract a lot of interest because of other factors.

    More importantly, does this ranking has any significance while deciding on a particular B-School? For example, choosing HEC Paris over Rotterdam School of Management will be a nobrainer, though later ranks pretty high on this listing.

    Another ranking to confuse applicants ..

  4. MBA Hopeful,

    Thanks for sharing your views. I’m sure many other readers might have the same questions. So let me address both points.

    I agree with you that the definition of ‘popular’ goes far beyond the online footprint. There could be regional or country specific biases (as Vijay has commented), there could be cost related aspects, ease of getting selected. All that increases the subjecitivity and decreases the feasibility of the process. So for starters, we’ve kept it simple knowing well that it may not be perfect.

    While creating this ranking, we have not used any parameter (GMAT score, work experience, quality of teaching, salary / career enhancement potential etc) that would be directly relevant MBA aspirants for selecting bschools.

    In fact, even the insights we’ve documented here are more relevant for bschools than for MBA applicants. So it is NOT an alternative to the other MBA rankings that include those parameters. Our ranking should not be used by MBA candidates to select bschools. Rankings such as those published by Financial Times and Businessweek are better starting points for bschool selection. Hope that addresses the confusion part.

    We’ve been transparent about these aspects in the Business school rankings methodology section. But I thought I should mention them again here for the benefit of those who haven’t read the methodology yet.

  5. Nice to see this ranking. I think it is going to become more important in the coming years.

    As a prospective student sitting in India researching on business schools, I couldn’t agree with you more. The biggest challenge I faced while researching on business schools is the lack of online information.

    The simple example that I have is – YouTube videos. It’s common that you go to Google and type the school name. But I decided to use YouTube to get to know the schools closer. I was surprised by the lack of focus that business schools have on the most popular video sharing site. You can read webpages after webpages about the faculty, curriculum and students profiles, but just the way ‘Action speaks louder than words’,’A video speaks much louder than thousand articles and blogs’.

    In fact I found that some of the very good schools effectively had zero presence on YouTube.

    One of the other points that you have made about no single school getting it right is also true. If I take the YouTube example again, there were few schools which focused exclusively on their curriculum, subjects and faculty in their videos while other solely talked about their culture, student community and life at campus. There should be equal focus on both the aspects.

    I think B-Schools have to start thinking about this aspect of marketing and come up with a well-thought strategy to attract international students who can not always visit a campus or connect to a student closely. (A virtual campus tour through Google Street View might be a great idea!)

    For now, let me just say that I agree with the ranking and it is going to gain more and more relevance in future.

  6. Ah, we have our first supporter! So after 1 neutral and 1 negative vote, we have a thumbs up. Thanks, Ritwik.

    Excellent point about Youtube. We did think about including Youtube as one of the social media parameters (along with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the official website). But we took it off from the list because (you’ve hit the nail on the head here), there just isn’t enough data.

    If more schools take Youtube seriously, we’ll start including it in the future rankings.

  7. I agree with You-Tube being higlighted as an important crietria. When I was going through my application process, I found you-tube videos particulalry insighful. It maybe just an impression thing, but the audio-visual medium of communication has a lot more impact!!

    On a seperate note, I like the fact that the ranking is taking online popularity into consideration. It will perhaps be intersting to see how much of this online populatirty leads to tangible results. For example, I would be curious to know how many likes from prospsective students leads to actual applications, or how many likes from potential emplyers leads to actual internship/job postings on the concerned university’s website.

    Overall, I found this ranking really interesting!

  8. Prashant,

    What you’ve suggested about extrapolating the findings from this ranking to check for conversions would be an excellent way to take the story forward.

    However, rather than a third-party (like us), bschools would be in a better position to do so as they’d have most of the relevant data which they may not want to share with the external world.

    On a related note, nice to see some good lateral thinking happening out here. Hope the marketing teams within bschools are able to pick up some ideas and adapt / incorporate them in their online marketing strategies.

  9. Nice rankings, Sameer. Online popularity is a good criteria for rating schools. But somehow I feel top schools like a Harvard or a Stanford, do not really indulge in aggressive online marketing, mainly because they don’t need to, owing to their hyper-powerful brand names. Would you agree?

    In that case, would these rankings come into question? Or is it that by ‘online footprint’, you are taking into consideration every aspect of a school’s online presence (may be blog mentions, discussion boards-like GmatClub, forum threads etc..)?

    It’s also interesting, as, since top schools don’t feel the need to sell themselves as much(online or otherwise), prospective students have to work that much harder to actually learn about them.

  10. Melodania,

    Thanks for the interesting observations. Your ‘would you agree’ question got me thinking.

    1. I’ll take the second point first as it sets the context well. We don’t consider signals that go beyond the 4 basic platforms we’ve listed in the methodology. The assumption here is that the official website is the center of the universe for all online activity that directly or indirectly supports every other activity.
    Due to historical reasons, a HUGE amount of intellectual property (research articles, innovative developments, debates that push the academic envelope) is hosted by official websites. Social media and forums came much later. This new social interactivity layer was built on top of the basic infrastructure that was already existing.

    As an example, a significant number of posts, tweets, discusson forum mentions revolve around content that’s hosted on the bschool’s official website.

    So rather than make the bschool ranking methodology more complex (and impractical), we stick to a simple model assuming that all the online activity that we aren’t directly measuring is still getting captured by one of the 4 platforms that we consider.

    2. You have a valid point that Harvard / Stanford et al already have powerful brands. However in order to stay up there, they need to work harder. It may not be apparent from the social media pages, but they spend a lot of effort in the ‘thought leadership’ department. Harvard Business Review (HBR) for instance is a great vehicle for the Harvard brand to reach out to the academic as well as corporate audience. It gives the brand ‘visibility’ in ways that social media can never match. Other top brands may not have the resources or the inclination to pursue such initiatives with the same aggression.

    All that effort may not result in any immediate result (like a spike in FB followers), but if the gap between Harvard/Stanford and the rest of the bschools in the ranking above is any indication, it pays off in the long run.


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