What Should I Look for When Studying the Rankings of Various MBA Programs?

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If you think you want to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) – one of the highest-paying master’s degrees – then you might start your college search by looking at MBA rankings. These rankings attempt to be objective, but deciding which business school to go to is often a very subjective task, which is what makes it such a challenge. While you should consider MBA ranking lists as a whole, you should also take a closer look at the data used to rank these programs and determine what factors matter the most to you as an individual. For many aspiring MBA students, some of the most important factors – which may not appear on a ranking list – include the program format and structure, concentration options and accreditation.

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DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What to Know About MBA Program Rankings

These lists that grade MBA programs on quality and other factors are plentiful. Some of the most influential MBA rankings are the ones put together by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist and Poets & Quants.

Rankings compiled by these and other publications are based on various methodologies that prioritize different data points. Some of the data that contributes to schools’ places on various MBA ranking lists include job placement success, graduates’ median salaries, admissions selectivity, school size and peer assessments.

Not all of these factors that go into MBA rankings are necessarily the most important ones to students. Even within a given category, like school size, there isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dry winner. Some students prefer a small school that allows them to learn as part of a tight-knit cohort of peers. Others prefer the resources and networking opportunities of a large school and MBA program, and still others like a school somewhere in between in size, not too large or too small.

As you’re studying MBA program rankings, don’t just look at which schools land the top spots on various lists. Instead, pay attention to the factors that matter the most to you. Of course, you want to choose a program that has a strong job placement success rate and reports median salaries that are on par with others in the field. However, you might be comfortable choosing an MBA program that doesn’t have the very highest median salary if it is a more affordable option that will cut the costs of getting your degree. If you’re worried about your chances of getting into business school, a highly selective MBA program might not be the best for you, even if it is one of the best according to popular rankings lists.

Although the reputation of your business school is important, choosing an MBA program that is the right fit for you – wherever you are in your career, your personal and professional life and your interests – should be your top priority.

Program Format and Structure

MBA programs are offered in many different formats and structures, and finding one that fits your needs is essential. The traditional MBA is a full-time on-campus program for professionals with considerable work experience. On average, applicants admitted into top-ranking full-time MBA programs in 2020 had four years of work experience, according to U.S. News & World Report.

There are also early-career MBA programs that admit applicants with less experience or, in some cases, no full-time professional work experience. If you’re a highly experienced professional, consider an executive MBA (EMBA) program made for working professionals with a great deal of experience (13.5 years on average, according to U.S. News & World Report). Part-time MBA programs also allow you to keep working throughout graduate school but don’t expect applicants to have the same quantity of experience as EMBA students.

Many MBA programs are intended to take two years of study, but other programs are offered in an accelerated structure that cuts down your time to graduation to as little as one year. Even within accelerated MBA programs, structures and formats differ. You might simply take a full course load all year, including during traditional break times in the summer and winter. Alternatively, you might take numerous shortened terms back-to-back, often completing just one or two classes at a time.

Online MBA programs are particularly popular among students with busy schedules or those whose dream school is far from home. If you want the option to do some coursework online but still want that in-person connection, look for a hybrid MBA program.

Concentration Options

In a typical MBA program, the curriculum consists of core coursework on topics drawn from all areas of business administration and specialized coursework in an area of concentration. The concentration you choose is important because it allows you to obtain a deeper level of knowledge in a subject area. Although MBA concentrations can be very focused niches or broader and more versatile areas of business, what is important is that you are able to develop more expertise in this area of interest.

Before you apply to an MBA program, it’s a good idea to learn more about the concentrations it offers. If you already know what aspects of business you’re most interested in, you don’t necessarily need to choose the MBA program that offers the largest variety of concentrations. You just want to pick a program that offers a concentration that is relevant to what you want to do with your MBA after you graduate.

Some concentrations, like finance, general management and human resources, are options you will find in most MBA programs. You might have to be more selective if your interests are more specialized, such as sports management or social media marketing.


Another factor you should consider when choosing an MBA program is accreditation. Accreditation is awarded to programs by an external organization based on evidence that the program meets certain standards of quality.

Accreditation of MBA programs isn’t as important as accreditation of programs in some other fields, like healthcare and engineering, in which you would typically need a professional license to practice and a degree from an accredited program is part of licensing requirements. However, accreditation of MBA programs is important because it serves as proof of the quality of the education you received. An accrediting organization that is not part of the business school has reviewed the program and found that it meets the criteria the organization has identified as the most important factors in delivering a quality education in business fields.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes two different accrediting organizations, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE).

Additional Resources

Is It Possible or Recommended to Complete an MBA Program in a Year?

How Much is an Online MBA?