After two long years of wait, Forbes has once again released its ranking of the top MBA programs. It’s important to note that the ranking is separated into three categories: US MBAs, 1-Year International MBAs, and 2-Year international MBAs.

The Top 10: US MBAs

1. University of Chicago: Booth

2. Stanford Business School

3. Northwestern Kellogg

4.  Harvard Business School

5.  University of Pennsylvania: Wharton

6.  Dartmouth College: Tuck School of Business

7. Columbia Business School

8.  MIT School of Management

9. Cornell University: SC Johnson School of Business

10. Michigan University: Ross

The Top 10: 1-Year International MBAs

1. IMD


3. University of Cambridge: Judge Business School

4.  SDA Bocconi School of Management

5.  University of Oxford: Saïd Business School

6.  IE Business School

7. Indian School of Business

8.  Warwick Business School

9. Mannheim Business School

10. ESMT Berlin

The Top 10: 2-Year International MBAs

1. London Business School

2. HEC Paris

3. IESE Business School


5.  ESADE Business School

6.  National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School

7. Alliance Manchester Business School

8.  UNSW Business School

9. Schulich School of Business

10. IPADE Business School

What do these rankings mean for you?

Forbes has a uniquely simplistic ranking: they only look at ROI. To calculate this ROI, the five-year gain in compensation is balanced against the total costs of pursuing the program—sans scholarship aid—and lost wages. Leaving aside the common issues surrounding the accuracy of self-reported data among rankings, can you really compare MBA programs accurately with this calculation?

To find out, let’s start by comparing two US MBA programs: Northwestern Kellogg and Dartmouth Tuck. According to Forbes, Kellogg ranks 3rd by producing a 5-year MBA gain of $89.6 K, while Dartmouth trails in 6th because of its $82.7 k 5-year gain. However, the annual earnings of Tuck graduates after five years stand at $233 k, which is $18 k higher than Kellogg’s $215 k. Assuming the difference in salaries continues to grow into the future, as it most likely will, the ROI would very probably flip. However, Forbes misses this as it attempts to evaluate the returns on a once-in-a-lifetime service through a very short-term lens.

Running a comparison across the three categories proves even more difficult. Let’s compare our three winners: Chicago Booth (5-Year MBA Gain: $94.4 k | 5-Year Post-MBA Salary: $245 k), IMD (5-Year MBA Gain: $168.9 k | 5-Year Post-MBA Salary: $200 K), and LBS (5-Year MBA Gain: $93.1 k | 5-Year Post-MBA Salary: $197 k). Let’s leave aside the fact that the LBS MBA program length varies between 15 and 21 months, which of the three seems better? Clearly, IMD blows the other two out of the water in terms of its MBA gain, but that doesn’t paint a clear picture. When compared to Booth, the difference in salaries of $45 k is huge. Over a working lifetime, it’s easy to see how that difference will exaggerate significantly, changing a long-term ROI calculation.

The big problem behind this ranking is just how simple it is. Forbes calculation further neglects significant factors that are vital to individuals, such as industry, geography, and alumni network reach. Beyond those, the quality of the education and experience is completely left aside, which makes this bare-bones ranking very limited in its usability. What can you take from it? That which you should take from all other rankings: the raw data. The information gathered by the various ranking agencies, in conjunction with that which you gather directly or indirectly from the universities, should be used to create a personal ranking that will help you clearly identify the programs that will best match your academic and professional needs. We highly recommend that you complete this process as early as possible in your MBA journey.

If you’re still unsure which program might work best suited for you, be sure to contact us to gain the insight of an admissions expert.