Hidden MBA Gems: Below the Radar MBA Choices to Flip Your Radar On

These are the hidden gems of full-time MBA programs in the US from the Financial Times ranking

One of the things we hate about MBA rankings is that they are inappropriately influencing some schools that tend to be high on the list. The truth is that any MBA program that reaches a top 100 ranking is part of a highly select group of superior business schools in the world. These 100 programs make up only a fraction of the totality of MBA options. In other words, these schools are the best of the best whether a program ranks 41st or 89th.

Whenever a ranking is published, however, those who work on these lists can also be overlooked and underestimated. Our goal is to shed light on other very valuable MBA programs that may be as valuable to an individual candidate as an MBA from a Harvard or Columbia.

To find some of the best, we analyzed the Financial Times’ latest global MBA ranking for 2021 to find out what we call the hidden MBA gems, the under-the-radar schools to put on your radar . Most of these options take place in schools outside the top 25 that get a lot of attention initially, although there are some top 25 winners that are worth your serious consideration. By and large, these programs have smaller, more intimate MBA cohorts. And that means you won’t get lost in an oversized class and will likely get a lot more individual attention.


While year-to-year changes can be significant, the performance of a school’s MBA program over a five-year period can tell a lot more about the dynamics of the school. Equally important, a longer-term look at performance highlights programs that tend to be underestimated and under the radar.

At the top of that list is Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis. In the past five years, the newly designed MBA program there – our MBA program of the year 2020 – has risen by 55 places in the top 25 for the first time in the Financial Times. This is not a coincidence. The Midwestern school has contributed more than any other US MBA program to the globalization of its MBA experience in the past five years.

At the heart of the new Olin program is a required global immersion that takes the entire class of newly arrived students to a 38-day learning experience around the world first introduced in Washington, DC, Barcelona, ​​Spain and Shanghai. China. To achieve this, some faculties and all students had to attend the program for one semester at the beginning of June. Additionally, Olin didn’t increase his MBA tuition fees to fund the immersion or the extra semester. Instead, the school covered all costs, flew the students to the three locations, brought them up to hotels, fed them and arranged meaningful courses, assignments and projects at each location. The pandemic obviously forced changes to this ambitious immersion, although they won’t be permanent.


Olin’s new global focus resulted in its highest ROI in a decade, with 43% of eligible applicants enrolled. It also allowed the school to improve its reputation for diversity and inclusivity. The incoming class in 2019 had the highest gender equality recognized by the Forté Foundation in the world (49% women), a record level of underrepresented minorities, and rich international student representation across the class.

What really helped Olin seal the deal on this year’s Financial Times ranking was his excellent, ever-improving record of academic research. The FT’s calculations on the Olin Faculty’s published papers surpassed any other school in the world. The school went from ninth place last year in research to first place. Unsurprisingly, Dean Mark Taylor highlighted research at the school by increasing research grants, increasing the number of PhD places funded, increasing PhD scholarships, and rewarding research achievement.

Taylor cleverly turned away from the usual practice of filling faculty vacancies exclusively with freshmen and encouraged the faculty to seek a mid-career faculty to join us. The strategy has paid off as faculty research in quality journals was at all-time highs and many leading scholars joined the school, including two full professors from UC Berkeley last year.


But that’s only part of the story of a school. Potential applicants should also note the huge gains that Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business, Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business, and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management have made 40 or more places over the past five years have years. Or Georgetown, Connecticut, and Rochester, all up 25 or more places since 2016. Or Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Washington Foster, and Boston University by 20 or more places (see table below).


If you take a closer look at how these schools are doing on each Financial Times metric, you can find some interesting results. Several of these MBA programs achieved employment rates three months after graduation that were better than those of the top ranked US school, Chicago Booth or INSEAD, the big FT ranked winner in 2021. In fact, the University of Connecticut, Michigan State, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Washington in Seattle all had 100% employment rates last year (see table below).

And the salary increases their alums are seeing three years after school can often be above what you’d find at an M7 business school. For example, in the state of Michigan, MBA graduates have seen salary increases of 172% from their pre-MBA salary. Compare that to the 96% increase for INSEAD alums or the 102% increase for MBAs at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

You might also be surprised that MBA alumni’s overall satisfaction with their programs can often be higher. Among these hidden gems, the best alumni satisfaction rates on a ten-point scale for both Penn State and the University of Washington were 9.5 or better. This is better than Cambridge or Oxford, and is equivalent to Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

Of course, some schools do poorly on some of these measures. The University of Connecticut Business School is a good example. In terms of overall satisfaction, alums gave the lowest score of any top 100 programs: a miserable 7.0 when the mean satisfaction score is 9.03.


Comments are closed.