A guide to MBA rankings in 2021

There are a lot of MBA rankings out there, but which are the most reliable? And how can you use them to find your dream MBA? Here’s our guide to MBA rankings in 2021.

In short

What are the most popular MBA rankings?

Although a variety of national and international media outlets publish MBA rankings, the following five are generally considered to be the most prestigious:

  • Financial Times
  • The Economist
  • Forbes
  • Bloomberg Businessweek
  • U.S. News

Each of these MBA rankings cover different regions and use different methodologies to arrive at their final lists. Alex Lozán Ferreyra is an ESMT Berlin MBA graduate, and he followed the Financial Times and Bloomberg rankings to help him choose his MBA. He analyzed specific criteria from each ranking and used that information to narrow his search.

“First I looked at the overall ranking, then I started filtering it by region” he explains. “Other variables [that were] important for me were the ecosystem, the average salary after graduation, the average salary increase, also the return on investment. All combined, it gave me a reference to continue reaching out to the universities and explore further.” (05:25)

Yet the rankings do not only help your initial search for an MBA program. Difei Guo, an EDHEC Business School graduate, says that the ranking of your university can also have a positive impact upon your job search.

“If you’re from a top university then it doesn’t mean that you will be much better than the other people, but at the same time it will really make it easy for HR to select because they will have less risk to move on with your application. [The rankings] make it easy to evaluate your resumé.” (08:32)

Let’s take a detailed look at the characteristics of each ranking.

How do the different MBA rankings compare?Financial Times

The Financial Times publishes various business school and MBA rankings every year, but the most well-known is their Global MBA Ranking. Unlike some of the other lists, the Financial Times ranking is a global one and doesn’t only focus on MBAs in the USA

The range of data gathered by the Financial Times is one of the most comprehensive of any ranking. Notably, they place a lot of emphasis on research output and diversity. They gather data about the percentage of international students on an MBA program, the percentage of female students, female faculty, women on the school board, and more. This is unlike most other rankings, which do not gather this data or place more focus on things like salary increase and tuition fees.

The Economist

The Economist Which MBA? Ranking is the only other major ranking, along with the Financial Times, that includes MBA programs from all over the world. It is as comprehensive as the Financial Times and the data gathered covers a wide range of areas.

The ranking is created according to the following four weights:

  • New Career Opportunities (35%)
  • Personal Development / Career Experience (35%)
  • Increase in Salary (20%)
  • Potential to Network (10%)

It is interesting to note that “Increase in Salary” accounts for just 20% of The Economist’s weighting. Therefore, The Economist MBA ranking places much less focus on salary than all the other lists – in fact, the Forbes ranking places all of its focus on the financial side. However, as with all of these lists, it’s important to look beyond the initial ranking to decide what you’re looking for and what you value most from an MBA program.


The Forbes Best Business Schools ranking only covers business schools in the USA. It is based entirely on something they call the “5-Year MBA Gain.” The figure they arrive at is your total income after five years, minus tuition fees, other expenses, and forgone compensation (the money you could have earned while studying for an MBA).

Their ranking also includes some other interesting data, such as the number of years it will take to pay back your MBA, tuition fees at each school, and average GMAT scores, but the Forbes list is centered around the financial impact of your MBA. If that’s the most important thing to you, then you should definitely give more attention to the Forbes ranking.

Bloomberg Businessweek

Although Bloomberg Businessweek publishes rankings for four different regions – US, Europe, Canada, and Asia-Pacific – for the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on their US ranking

Like most other rankings, it is heavily weighted towards salary. Unlike most other rankings, the Bloomberg list is mostly (70%) based on qualitative data from student surveys. This comes with advantages and disadvantages: 

On the plus side, you could say it is more representative of students’ views than other publications. This limits the opportunities that schools have to manipulate the rankings by, for example, placing too much focus on improving the average GMAT/GRE score of their students.

However, this approach does have some issues. When students rate their business school they are unlikely to have other programs to compare it to, making their opinion somewhat unreliable. A lack of concrete, quantitative data also means it’s difficult to measure the real impact of an MBA through this ranking.

U.S. News

As the name suggests, the U.S. News Best Business Schools list only compares US business schools. Their data comes from three main sources:

  • School data (60%)
  • Assessments from rival schools (25%)
  • Assessments from recruiters (15%)

The school data is further divided into graduate employment rate, mean GMAT/GRE scores, mean starting salary, mean undergraduate GPA, and school acceptance rate.

Almost half of the US News data comes from the opinions of rival business schools and professional recruiters. This does give an interesting external perspective on each school, but it means that students’ opinions are not taken into account. Once again, it’s important to consider how valuable this method is to you when looking at the rankings.

MBA Rankings 2021

Below you will find the business school and MBA rankings for 2021. All rankings are correct as of 30/03/2021.

Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2021

  1. Insead
  2. London Business School
  3. University of Chicago: Booth
  4. IESE Business School
  5. Yale School of Management
  6. Northwestern University: Kellogg
  7. CEIBS
  8. HEC Paris
  9. Duke University: Fuqua
  10. Dartmouth College: Tuck

The Economist Full-Time MBA Ranking 2021*

  1. IESE Business School
  2. HEC Paris 
  3. University of Michigan – Ross
  4. New York University – Stern
  5. George Institute of Technology – Scheller
  6. SDA Bocconi School of Management
  7. EDHEC Business School
  8. University of Washington – Foster
  9. Carnegie Mellon University – Tepper
  10. IMD Business School

Forbes Best Business Schools 2019 (US only)**

  1. Chicago (Booth)
  2. Stanford
  3. Northwestern (Kellogg)
  4. Harvard
  5. Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  6. Dartmouth (Tuck)
  7. Columbia
  8. MIT (Sloan)
  9. Cornell (Johnson)
  10. Michigan (Ross)

Bloomberg Businessweek Best B-Schools 2019-20 (US only)***

  1. Stanford
  2. Dartmouth (Tuck)
  3. Harvard
  4. Virginia (Darden)
  5. Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  6. Columbia
  7. Northwestern (Kellogg)
  8. Cornell (Johnson)
  9. UCLA (Anderson)
  10. NYU (Stern)

US News 2022 Best Business Schools (US only)

  1. Stanford University
  2. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  3. University of Chicago (Booth)
  4. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
  5. Harvard University
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
  7. Columbia University
  8. University of California–Berkeley (Haas)
  9. Yale University
  10. Dartmouth College (Tuck)

How to use MBA rankings to choose your program

No ranking is perfect and each one has its advantages and limitations. Each list places more weight on certain factors, so it’s important to look beyond the headlines and dig a little deeper into the numbers.

Brandon O’Dell is a graduate of the MBA program at Cambridge Judge Business School. He believes that you should always align rankings with your personal ambitions.

“I think it’s really important when you’re looking at rankings to stay honest to your own path” he told MBAGRADSCHOOLS. 

“If you’re thinking of going to Silicon Valley then [a ranking focused on salaries] might match perfectly with what you want. But if you would like to do an MBA to run your family business, or to work in the arts, it may be a completely different set of criteria that you need.” (02:45)

“I think [you should] keep going back to your story, your dreams, your needs…I think that, combined with some of the information you get from the rankings, will mean you’re better served than chasing rankings alone.” (03:43)

All of the MBA rankings we’ve outlined allow you to rank the schools by a number of different categories. Look at your reasons for choosing an MBA and make a note of the schools that stand out in those areas. Then you can start to draw up a shortlist of the schools that meet your criteria – not the criteria of these rankings.

Rankings certainly have their value, and can generally give you a good idea of the leading MBA programs across the world. But ultimately, the most important ranking is your own. If you have any questions or queries about MBA rankings then feel free to get in touch with us using the feedback button below.

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