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Personal MBA Coach's Look at the 2021 US News and World Report's Best Business Schools



With this week’s release of the 2021 US News and World Report’s Best Business School Guide, MBA rankings are top of mind for all MBA hopefuls. Personal MBA Coach would like to share our thoughts on the latest rankings.


Before I cover this year’s big changes, I would like to remind everyone of one of the most important things to keep in mind when evaluating rankings: Average ranking over time is much more important than year to year fluctuation.


So, what changed this year? A lot!


2021 Full-Time MBA Rankings:


I am proud to say that once again, my alma mater, Wharton, secured the #1 position, this year sharing the honor with Stanford GSB. Wharton has earned the #1 spot for three out of the past four years. For Stanford GSB, this 1st place finish is a jump from 2nd in 2020 and 4th in 2019. Chicago Booth and Kellogg shared 3rd place this year, a considerable increase for Kellogg, which placed 6th last year. MIT Sloan rounded out the top 5.


However, the big news for this season is Harvard Business School’s drop from 3rd to 6th place. This is the lowest ever finish for HBS, which finished 1st place just two years ago.


Berkeley Haas fell slightly from 6th to 7th place. Columbia Business School also fell this year, from 6th to 8th. Once again, Yale SOM finished 9th and NYU Stern joined the top 10 this year, up from a shared 12th place ranking last year.


Duke Fuqua and Michigan Ross, who shared the #10 position last year, were excluded from this year’s top 10, instead sharing 12th place along with Dartmouth Tuck. UVA Darden jumped one place from 12th to 11th.


Cornell Johnson, UCLA Anderson, USC Marshall, Texas McCombs, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, UNC Kenan-Flagler & Washington Foster rounded out the top 21, in that order with a tie for the 20th position.


One should not lose sleep over the fact that HBS is #6 this year, nor do we recommend that every client now apply to Wharton because of its top ranking. As we opened with, the changes over time are most important and these rankings vary from year to year and guide to guide. However, the continued shuffling at the top, along with HBS’s drop for the second year in a row, demonstrates the increasing competition amongst elite business schools. The average GMAT score range between the top 10 schools was just 13 points (from 721 to 734). Similarly, there was minimal variation in average GPA, ranging from only 3.5 to 3.7. The extremely narrow windows between top programs is causing the increased shuffling at the top.


There are no longer just a few top programs to consider and the older thinking is starting to fall by the wayside. Many applicants are now looking beyond the infamous Harvard, Stanford and Wharton trio and are even thinking broader than the M7. My average client applies to five or more programs and with the newly deteriorating market condition, I suspect competition across the entire top 20+ schools will continue to rise, motivating candidates to even further diversify their lists.


Beyond rankings, it is important to look at job placement. You can often land your dream job after graduating from any number of similar schools. Depending on your post-MBA goals, you may also want to pay more attention to some of the specialized rankings that exist. Just because a school is higher ranked overall does not mean that it will do a better job at preparing you for your next job, especially if you are not going for a more standard goal like consulting or banking.


Finally, with the lines blurring between top schools, available financing should be a key consideration. You may be able to secure more substantial funding from one school vs. another: last year my clients earned almost $5M in scholarships (numbers are still coming in). Often you will be better served selecting a school with a slightly lower ranking yet a more favorable financial package. Some M7 schools are very generous with scholarships and others are not.


As a reminder, do not overreact to these new rankings but do keep an open mind to expanding your MBA list.


Need help? Personal MBA Coach is willing to be your guide. Founded by a Wharton and MIT graduate, we regularly help applicants navigate their applications each year. We also conduct mock interviews with former M7 interviewers on our team.


Personal MBA Coach has been guiding candidates through all aspects of the MBA application process for 13 years with a 96% success rate. Call us today at +1 617-645-2424 or email scott@personalmbacoach.com for a free consultation on your profile along with how we can help make your MBA dreams a reality!

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