Admissions Blog

P&Q: How Business Schools Rank By Specialization

By 27th March 2018 April 7th, 2018 No Comments

Source: Poets & Quants

By Marc Ethier
Mar. 26, 2018.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he MBA is, by design, an all-inclusive degree — granted. But some schools always have been, and always will be, known for certain specializations. Want to go into finance? Top of the heap is either the Wharton School or Chicago Booth. Operations? MIT’s Sloan School of Management is your target. For marketing you go to Northwestern Kellogg, for general management you aim for Harvard. And so on. Now, with the release of the 2019 U.S. News & World Report MBA rankings, we once again have a snapshot of the specialization landscape, and whether the leading schools are still leading in a set of specializations — or whether some upstarts are inching closer to upsetting the natural order of things.

In addition to its overall MBA ranking, U.S. News ranks 1o specializations, from Finance to Supply Chain/Logistics, and once again in the 2019 version, most of the top-ranked schools in each category are ones you’d expect. Wharton is tops in Finance, with Chicago Booth close behind. Harvard takes top honors in Management, while MIT’s Sloan School is king of Production/Operations. The natural order preserved. But the plaudits are spread evenly. Only two schools merited a rank in each of the 10 categories: the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, not coincidentally the main ranking’s biggest surprise at No. 7 overall, and perennial powerhouse Stanford Graduate School of Business. Everyone else had at least one “NR” to its name.

Only one school, MIT Sloan, earned more than one No. 1, in Information Systems and Operations. Harvard had two No. 2’s, in International Business and Nonprofits, while Stanford achieved three: in Entrepreneurship, Management, and Nonprofits. In no category did Stanford rank lower than ninth (International Business), making it the clear top school in specialization terms.

Some lesser-known schools, meanwhile, kept their edge in a single chosen field. The University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business (ranked No. 65 overall) was again named No. 1 in International Business, where it has remained for the better part of two decades thanks in large part to the highly regarded efforts of its Sonoco International Business Department; and Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business (No. 37) found itself atop the Supply Chain/Logistics rankings for a sixth consecutive year, in no small measure because of its wide array of offerings in the field: a bachelor’s and master’s in supply chain management and two distinct doctoral programs, in logistics and operations & sourcing management. The University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business took top honors in Accounting once more, while Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business was once again crowned the best destination for the entrepreneurially minded.


Peter Johnson

While only two schools were ranked in every category, several were ranked in all but one category, including Harvard, Wharton, and Northwestern Kellogg. A fourth member of this small group was UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which ranked highest in International Business and Nonprofit (No. 4 in each) and Entrepreneurship (No. 5), while missing out only in Information Systems.

Berkeley, ranked No. 7 overall by U.S. News, is a general management program at its core, says Peter Johnson, assistant dean for the full-time MBA program and admissions at Haas. But, he adds, it’s also a maverick program that blazes its own trail in most specializations, with an emphasis on the experiential. In terms of the three areas where Berkeley ranked highest, that experiential learning comes in the form of Haas’ Applied Innovation electives, the International Business Development program, and, in the case of nonprofit-oriented students, the Social Sector Solutions program.

“The rankings are a reflection of our sustained commitment to these areas over time, and the success of our students in them,” Johnson tells Poets&Quants. “That has generated the level of awareness that leads peer schools to vote for us in this particular set of rankings. In each of those specific areas (International, Nonprofit, Entrepreneurship) we have a lot of opportunities for students, and those three areas are areas where I think we are particularly strong in experiential learning opportunities.”


While it’s expected that Berkeley Haas would rank well in Entrepreneurship and Management (where the school earned a No. 8 spot), it was the school’s ranking in Finance that Johnson says he is perhaps proudest of. “Clearly we have excellent faculty who are teaching in finance, but we have kind of followed our own path. More of our students at Haas than ever before are interested in newer areas of finance,” he says. “Fintech, for example, venture finance, and so on. We have some students interested in taking the traditional investment banking path, but fewer are going in that direction and a lot more are going into some of the newer areas of finance.”

While Berkeley Haas remains a strong general management program — a fact that has earned it the No. 7 overall rank by U.S. News each of the last four years — the school can point to strong performances at the specialization level as evidence of a multifaceted, evolving, innovative approach to business education. “I’m glad for the recognition of Berkeley as a top-10 school,” Johnson says. “I think one of the things that enables us to stay there is that at the same time that we’re providing all these opportunities in some of the specialization areas, we’re constantly evolving the curriculum to reflect the latest innovations in business. At the point in time, for example, we’re offering electives in blockchain and AI and we’re launching a new certificate program in data analytics. But at the same time, the core of the program is a strong general management foundation — and we haven’t lost sight of that.

“We’re always happy to be recognize for some of the hard work we’re doing, even though you never know how that comes out in rankings,” Johnson adds. “There are all kinds of things that we’re doing both in the curriculum and on a co-curricular level that get our students out into the world, and I think that’s helpful.”


As Johnson says, U.S. News‘ specialization rankings are unlike the greater rankings in that the whole weight of the ranking lies in peer assessments. This has obvious flaws, among them that business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs can nominate up to 10 schools for inclusion in each of the specializations — making the whole exercise a bit of a popularity contest. One result of this has been the apparent ongoing bloc-voting effort of a group of unranked Jesuit schools that puts names like Xavier and Fairfield and Rockhurst beside elite schools — and in some cases, ahead of them.

For example, U.S. News ranks 38 schools in the Accounting specialization, most of any category. Of those, 11 are schools that appear nowhere in the main ranking: schools like Gonzaga University (13th in Accounting), Seattle University (15th), Loyola Marymount (16th), Marquette (19th), Fairfield University (21st), Xavier University (23rd), Saint Louis University (28th), and Loyola Maryland (35th). What do these schools all have in common? A Roman Catholic, Jesuit foundation, and apparently a strong fan base among deans and counterpart officials.

In fact, some of these unknown schools pop up in several of the specializations. If you take the U.S. News specialization rankings at face value, Fairfield’s Dolan School of Business in Connecticut, with 65 enrolled students, is also a great destination for those looking to study Finance (ranked 12th, above Duke Fuqua, CMU Tepper, and Yale SOM), Information Systems (15th), and Marketing (15th). Xavier University’s Williams College of Business in Cincinnati, Ohio is ranked in six categories: Accounting (23rd), Supply Chain/Logistics (21st), Marketing (19th), Entrepreneurship (19th), Management (22nd), and Finance, where its No. 15 showing is tied with CMU Tepper and higher than Yale SOM at No. 22. Neither Fairfield nor Xavier found their way onto U.S. News‘ overall ranking. Other unranked schools to make appearances in the specialization rankings: Loyola Marymount, St. Joseph’s, Fordham, Rockhurst, Saint Louis, Detroit Mercy, Seattle. All are Jesuit schools.


There’s at least one “outlier” school that definitely belongs there: Babson College’s Olin School, which sits atop the entrepreneurship rankings for the 25th year in a row. That’s right — even though Babson was ranked only 83rd overall, it marks a quarter-century of fending off the advances of what Dean-elect Keith Rollag calls “well-endowed” challengers like Harvard and Stanford.

“It’s certainly an honor to be No. 1 and also to have a 25-year streak,” says Rollag, who will officially take over as dean at the Olin School in July. Especially when our competition is MIT, Stanford, and Harvard who perennially are battling for No. 2, you can imagine that very year we get a little nervous.”

What puts Babson over the top? Part of it is the “first-in-the-door advantage” Babson enjoys as one of the first schools in the country to focus on entrepreneurship in the 1970s, “when it was something that few people did.” Babson launched its eponymous research conference in 1981, and the Symposium for Entrepreneurship Education in 1984 — “back when it wasn’t even really a discipline.” Nearly 5,000 educators have been through the latter program, Rollag says, helping to further Babson’s mission to promote entrepreneurship education globally.

Even than all that, Rollag says, entrepreneurship is part of the school’s DNA.

“Not only do we teach entrepreneurship, but it’s really Entrepreneurial Thought and Action, which is actually a trademarked term we have,” Rollag says. “Basically, it’s learning quickly through acting that we’ve built into our entire curriculum, both undergraduate and graduate.”


Babson College’s Keith Rollag

How will Babson stay atop the U.S. News Entrepreneurship ranking for a 26th year? This fall the college will open a new campus in Miami, Florida, in an effort to strengthen the school’s connections with Latin America. In 2019, Babson will celebrate its centennial. And in the meantime, the school will continue to “reimagine” its MBA, exploring ways to “make it more entrepreneurial, more relevant, more adaptable for the future. As the market for graduate education is evolving, we’ll make sure that our MBA is evolving with it.” That will include the school’s continued efforts to strengthen its focus on family entrepreneurship, including hiring more faculty and expanding into the Babson Institute For Family Entrepreneurship.

“So far we’ve been blessed with the No. 1 in Entrepreneurship,” Rollag tells Poets&Quants. “Because the ranking is a peer ranking, a lot of it is reflected in the fact that we’re known for training entrepreneurship educators and being at the center of a lot of the scholarship that happens with entrepreneurship as well.”

Babson and South Carolina Moore are the two “outliers” atop one of the specialization rankings, but other low-ranked schools make appearances, too. The Krannert School of Management at Purdue University — No. 53 overall — was No. 6 in Production/Operations and No. 11 in Supply Chain/Logistics. The University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management (No. 69 overall) managed to land at No. 5 in Information Systems. Meanwhile, two unranked California schools made their mark, as well: the University of San Francisco made several appearances, in Finance (No. 19), Entrepreneurship (No. 14), Management (No. 17), and Marketing (No. 20); and Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business landed No. 10 in Information Systems and No. 23 in Finance.


After Babson and Michigan State’s Broad College, which took No. 1 in Supply Chain/Logistics for the sixth straight year, the lowest-ranked school to earn a No. 1 in a specialization was the University of Texas-Austin’s McCombs School, the No, 17 overall school that once again was named No. 1 in Accounting. That makes 12 years in a row, notes Stephen Smith, senior director of the McCombs Master of Professional Accounting program and a lecturer in the school’s Accounting Department — long-term success that he says has come about because “success breeding success.”

“We have had great people come before us to build the program, great students,” Smith tells Poets&Quants. “And we don’t take that for granted — we continue trying to work hard and do what a top program should do.”

The biggest reason for the school’s sustained success, Smith says, is the “we get to pick from incredibly talented students. We’re lucky in that we get tremendous kids that want to come to school here, and we get to pick from the best of the best. When you slice our student population, it isn’t 25% strong, 50% OK, and 25% bad — when you slice it, its a very high percentage that are strong students, and that’s recognized by employers and by our faculty. And it makes the class better.”


Smith says there are a few main reasons Texas-Austin stays atop the Accounting pile. First is the “terrific environment” at the McCombs School. A research institution, Texas-Austin is “world-renowned for that research, especially on the accounting side. That means we stay current and up-to-date, and we push the envelope. And we have teachers that are able to translate that to the classroom. You hear a lot about, ‘That person is a great researcher, but they are terrible in the classroom.’ That is not the case for our accounting faculty.”

Another reason for the school’s success: McCombs’ national footprint with employers. “We have long-term, firm relationships with a lot of employers. Our students have many options to start their career, whether it’s industry, public accounting, financial services, consulting. And this also brings in a lot of students, because anything they want to do, we have an employer that wants resumes.”

Lastly, Smith says, it comes down to the individual attention that accounting students get. The McCombs School gives accounting students access to specialized academic and career advisers, and “that helps enhance the experience for the students while they’re here and gets them started on the right foot.”

How U.S. News Ranks Schools In Subject Areas

In the “poet” categories as opposed to the “quant” categories, rankings often differ significantly by school.

Overall U.S. News Rank & SchoolEntrepreneurshipInternationalManagementMarketingNonprofit
1. Harvard42142
1. Chicago (Booth)1915148NR
3. Penn (Wharton)6352NR
4. Stanford29262
5. MIT (Sloan)31716NRNR
6. Northwestern (Kellogg)1716416
7. UC-Berkeley (Haas)54794
7. Michigan (Ross)75345
9. ColumbiaNR71079
10. Dartmouth (Tuck)NRNR818NR
11. Duke (Fuqua)2212936
11. Yale SOM241711NR1
13. NYU (Stern)1861310NR
13. Virginia (Darden)15NR6NRNR
15. Cornell (Johnson)22NR2024NR
16. UCLA (Anderson)NR172414NR
17. Texas-Austin (McCombs)9201517NR
19. UNC (Kenan-Flagler)NRNR2015NR
20. Emory (Goizueta)NRNRNRNRNR
20. USC (Marshall)810NR20NR
22. Washington (Foster)19NRNR23NR
23. Rice (Jones)13NRNRNRNR
23. Washington-St. Louis (Olin)NRNRNRNRNR
25. Georgetown (McDonough)NR11NRNRNR
26. Vanderbilt (Owen)NRNRNRNRNR
27. Indiana (Kelley)9NR1711NR
28. Georgia Tech (Scheller)NRNRNRNRNR
29. Arizona State (Carey)NRNR17NRNR
29. Minnesota (Carlson)NRNRNRNRNR
31. Ohio State (Fisher)NRNRNRNRNR
31. Penn State (Smeal)NRNRNRNRNR
31. Notre Dame (Mendoza)NRNRNRNR9
34. Florida (Warrington)NRNRNR20NR
35. BYU (Marriott)24NRNRNRNR
36. Texas A&M (Mays)NRNRNRNRNR
37. Michigan State (Broad)NR21NRNRNR
37. WisconsinNRNRNR24NR
40. Georgia (Terry)NRNRNRNRNR
40. Texas-DallasNRNRNRNRNR
42. UC-Irvine (Merage)NRNRNRNRNR
42. Boston (Questrom)NRNRNRNRNR
44. Rutgers-Newark & New BrunswickNRNRNRNRNR
44. Rochester (Simon)NRNRNRNRNR
44. Tennessee-Knoxville (Haslam)NRNRNRNRNR
44. Utah (Eccles)24NRNRNRNR
48. Boston (Carroll)NRNRNRNRNR
48. Illinois-Urbana-ChampaignNRNRNRNRNR
48. Maryland (Smith)NRNRNRNRNR

How U.S. News Ranks Schools In Subject Areas

U.S. News’ category rankings often reveal less-visible strengths of a business school’s faculty, programs, and curriculum.

Overall U.S. News Rank & SchoolAccountingFinanceInformation SystemsOperationsLogistics
1. Harvard217NR921
1. Chicago (Booth)72NRNRNR
3. Penn (Wharton)216412
4. Stanford65758
5. MIT (Sloan)276112
6. Northwestern (Kellogg)1811NR812
7. UC-Berkeley (Haas)198NR1719
7. Michigan (Ross)4101336
9. Columbia164NR13NR
10. Dartmouth (Tuck)NRNRNRNRNR
11. Duke (Fuqua)3213NR17NR
11. Yale SOM3522NRNRNR
13. NYU (Stern)937NRNR
13. Virginia (Darden)32NRNRNRNR
15. Cornell (Johnson)NRNRNRNRNR
16. UCLA (Anderson)NR9NR16NR
17. CMU (Tepper)NR15229
17. Texas-Austin (McCombs)11341218
19. UNC (Kenan-Flagler)1129NRNRNR
20. Emory (Goizueta)NRNRNRNRNR
20. USC (Marshall)723NRNRNR
22. Washington (Foster)NRNRNRNRNR
23. Rice (Jones)NRNRNRNRNR
23. Washington-St. Louis (Olin)NR27NRNRNR
25. Georgetown (McDonough)NRNRNRNRNR
26. Vanderbilt (Owen)NRNRNRNRNR
27. Indiana (Kelley)10NR1017NR
28. Georgia Tech (Scheller)NRNR12717
29. Arizona State (Carey)35NR18NR3
29. Minnesota (Carlson)NRNR3NR21
31. Ohio State (Fisher)1327NR104
31. Penn State (Smeal)NRNRNR145
31. Notre Dame (Mendoza)12NRNRNRNR
34. Florida (Warrington)23NRNRNRNR
35. BYU (Marriott)4NRNRNRNR
36. Texas A&M (Mays)32NRNRNRNR
37. Michigan State (Broad)NRNRNR101
37. Wisconsin25NRNRNR24
40. Georgia (Terry)28NRNRNRNR
40. Texas-DallasNRNR16NRNR
42. UC-Irvine (Merage)NRNRNRNRNR
42. Boston (Questrom)NRNRNRNRNR
44. Rutgers-Newark & New BrunswickNRNRNRNR6
44. Rochester (Simon)NR19NRNRNR
44. Tennessee-Knoxville (Haslam)NRNRNRNR10
44. Utah (Eccles)NRNRNRNRNR
48. Boston (Carroll)3523NRNRNR
48. Illinois-Urbana-Champaign3NRNRNRNR
48. Maryland (Smith)NRNR9NR24