The Financial Times has recently released its MBA ranking for 2021—and it’s a peculiar list. Before we get into the analysis, let’s have a quick glance at the top 10:

Top 10


2. London Business School

3. University of Chicago Booth School of Business

4. IESE Business School

4. Yale School of Management

6. Northwestern University Kellogg School of Mangement

7. CEIBS (China Europe International Business School)

7. HEC Paris

9. Duke University Fuqua School of Business

10. Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

2020 vs. 2021

This year has brought an immense amount of change to FT’s Ranking. In fact, not a single school has remained in the same position in the top 10, and fewer than 5 have not been shuffled around in the entire list. Let’s take a closer look at the winners and losers in the top segment.

Out of the 10 schools a whopping 9 moved up in position! Of those that were in the top 10 in 2020, INSEAD moved up from 4th to 1st place, LBS jumped from 7th to 2nd, Booth from 10th to 3rd, and HEC went from 9th to 7th. Several schools moved into the top 10 from the outside, with IESE (13th in 2020) and HEC (14th in 2020) moving up the margest number of places to both land in 4th. To round out the winners, Kellogg jumped from 11th to 6th, Fuqua from 16th to 9th and Tuck from 16th to 10th. The only school to have dropped any places was CEIBS, which experienced a modest slide from 5th to 7th position.

What do these rankings mean?

If you’re familiar with former rankings or the world of MBAs, you might be wondering what’s going on. The better question, however, would be to ask what’s not going on, because there’s a lot missing. Last year, the top 3 MBA programs, according to The Financial Times, were HBS, Wharton and Stanford, in that order. Moreover out of the 2020 top 10, MIT and CBS are also conspicuously absent. Here’s what’s happening. Last year, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (the folks behind the GMAT) requested that rankings be put on pause because of the major distruptions caused by Covid-19. Following GMAC’s lead, multiple MBA programs have decided to abstain from various rankings this year, including 5 of the M7 in The Financial Time‘s. So, more than ever, this year’s ranking is a weak reflection of the world of MBAs. But, worry not, these rankings were always far from perfect.

Rankings are exciting and easily appeal to an individual’s competitive nature. However, the reality of MBAs is far less exciting. The content and performance of the vast majority of top MBA programs change little year-to-year, meaning that the increases we see represented in various rankings are not reflecting an actual transformation in quality. So, what does it reflect? The somewhat capricious metrics and weights that The Financial Times has chosen to base its ranking on. For example, does the requirement for students to learn a foreign language deserve to be one of the bases for ranking? Certainly, FT believes so.

One of the largest differences between FT’s ranking and others, such as that of Businessweek, is the treatment of compensation, which accounts for 40% of the weight of their list. Two factors in this area are highly debated. The first is the use of purchasing power parity, which adjusts the salaries of MBA grads working in poorer countries upwards to illustrate their relative purchasing power; obviously, MBA grads with relatively higher salaries in lower-income regions impact such rankings quite significantly. Secondly, this list does not account for total compensation, meaning that MBAs from countries, including the United States, where various bonuses and stock options often make up a large percentage of total comp, are not properly analyzed.

Despite its flaws, this ranking provides a plethora of information that would otherwise be largely inaccessible to MBA applicants. If you’re looking to immediately extract which of the MBAs you should apply to, simply choosing the first five names on this list would be a big mistake, especially this year. However, looking at large tranches of this ranking and then digging into the details of select schools can help you better target and understand various MBA programs. In other words, use rankings as general guides rather than deciding factors.

If you’d like help with selecting those MBA programs that are most relevant to your future goals, be sure to connect with us.