The pink colouring of the paper, reliable reporting, pithy, sharp writing – there are many things the Financial Times is famous for. However, ask someone in the business education sector what the first thing is that comes to mind when they hear the name of the newspaper and the answer will most probably be “the Financial Times MBA rankings”.

Why the rankings?

With the huge diversity of MBA offerings nowadays, business school prospects look for data-driven decisions when selecting where to study. Post-MBA career prospects and ROI are important factors for most of the MBA-bound executives. Finally, the brand reputation gained by being listed in a ranking can be essential for some career paths. Not all, however.

Is this “your” ranking?

Although major ones, the Financial Times MBA rankings are just some of many. Different rankings of MBA and Masters in Management programmes employ different methodologies, criteria, weight, pre-selection of the eligible business schools, etc. As selecting your MBA programme affects your overall MBA and post-MBA experience, selecting the right ranking, or whether to consult rankings at all, comes as step one.

Access MBA advises business school aspirants to gain in-depth understanding of the methodology behind each ranking before deciding whether what it measures actually counts for their MBA selection.

Read: Do Rankings Reflect the Quality of Business Education

What is there for you in the Financial Times MBA rankings?

The Financial Times rankings of management programmes are among the most renowned in the global business education field. From full-time MBA programmes to two-week courses to improve your management skills, the newspaper lists the best programmes based on a set of strict criteria. The rankings carry so much weight because the Financial Times is one of the world’s premier business newspapers, commanding strong loyalty from its readers.

The Financial Times publishes seven rankings annually, relating to MBA, EMBA, Master in Finance, Master in Management, and Online MBA programmes, as well as non-degree executive education courses. There is also a ranking of top European Business Schools. Additionally, the newspaper publishes rankings of top MBAs for entrepreneurship, top MBAs for finance, and top MBAs for women

Below is a description of each of the Financial Times’ four main rankings related to MBA programmes and the one related to the Masters in Management.

The FT Global MBA Ranking

The Financial Times Global MBA Ranking is published at the end of January every year and features the world’s best 100 full-time MBA programmes. To be eligible for inclusion in the ranking, schools must be accredited by EQUIS or the AACSB.

As with the rest of the Financial Times’ rankings, alumni opinion plays a major role here. The newspaper surveys alumni three years after completing their MBA.  Alumni responses are tied to eight criteria (average income three years after graduation, salary increase compared with pre-MBA salary, etc.) that together contribute 59% of the ranking’s weight. The ranking also calculates “value for money” for each school by dividing average alumni salary three years after graduation by the MBA’s total cost, including tuition, opportunity cost, and other expenses.

Information from schools is also collected. School criteria include the diversity of the staff, board members, and students by gender and nationality, and the MBA’s international reach. For gender criteria, schools with a 50/50 composition score highest.

The FT Online MBA Ranking

The Financial Times Online MBA Ranking is published at the beginning of March every year. The participating schools must be internationally accredited and programmes must have run for four consecutive years. At least 70% of the content must be delivered online. The ranking is heavily weighted toward the career progress of alumni, the diversity of the cohort, and the quality of online delivery. The main criteria for career progress are alumni salary three years after graduation and their salary increase compared with pre-MBA levels.

Data are collected through two online surveys — the first completed by participating schools and the second by their alumni. The ranking has a total of 18 criteria. Alumni responses inform nine of them, contributing 65% of the ranking’s total weight. Alumni-informed criteria are based on data collected in the past three years. Data collected from schools inform eight criteria, accounting for 25%.

The FT Executive MBA Ranking

The Executive MBA Ranking is published in mid-October every year. Salary and career play a key role in the ranking. Data for the ranking are collected using two online surveys, the first completed by participating schools and the second by alumni who graduated from programmes (three years ago). Alumni responses inform five criteria: salary today, salary increase, career progress, work experience and aims achieved. Together they account for 55% of the ranking’s weight. Information provided by the business schools accounts for 35% of the final ranking.

Participation in the ranking is voluntary and at the business school's request. To participate, schools must be accredited by either AACSB or EQUIS. In addition, the EMBA programmes must be cohort-based, with students enrolling and graduating together, and with at least 30 graduates each year. The Financial Times introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a new criterion in 2018.

The FT Masters in Management Ranking

The Financial Times Masters in Management Ranking is published at the beginning of September every year.

The first MiM ranking was published in 2005, listing 25 European schools. The number of schools increased to 95 in 2017 and to 100 in 2018, the maximum in the Financial Times rankings. The MiM ranking can list programmes that are 8-36 months long. Cohort sizes range from 28 to 1,274. Prices also vary widely. The 2018 ranking, for instance, included free programmes (full state funding) as well as courses that cost about GBP 40,000.

All schools participating in the ranking are either AACSB or Equis accredited. The majority of the programmes last for one or two years and are designed for graduates with little or no work experience. Alumni responses contribute 58% of the total weight and school data the remaining 42%. The Financial Times started calculating career progress and salary increase for this ranking in 2017. Other criteria include international diversity, international mobility, international course experience, and value for money.

The FT European Business School Ranking

The European Business School Ranking is published at the beginning of December. The Financial Times compiles this ranking by using a complex formula based on the combined performance of Europe’s leading schools across some of its rankings: MBA, Executive MBA, Masters in Management (MiM), and the two rankings of non-degree executive education programmes. The online MBA and Masters in Finance rankings are not included.

The Financial Times points out that scores are not simply based on aggregation of published ranking positions. They are calculated using Z-scores — formulas that reflect the range between the top and bottom school — for the individual criteria that make up each component ranking.

Go beyond data – get a feel for your dream MBA

An essential next step after checking stats and facts in the rankings, is to get a feel for the programmes that you are considering, and discover the experience that is awaiting you in each business school before you apply for admission.

Check out:  Get a Feel for the Best Business Schools

If you cannot visit the MBA campus and sit in on an open class, take every other opportunity to meet business schools’ alumni and admissions officers. Individual meetings face to face or online, Q&As in MBA programme presentations via webinars or panel discussions, and networking with current students, alumni, and faculty members – all provide valuable insights to build on your data-driven research of the best MBA options.

Access MBA and Access EMBA global tours will enable you to meet privately with admissions directors of many of the business schools ranked by the Financial Times. Moreover, attending an Access Tour event can actually take you to a business school campus of your choice for free.

For its networking and one-to-one meetings with senior business executives, the Premier EMBA tour brings together alumni and admissions decision-makers only from business schools ranked in the top 30 by the Financial Times.

In addition, the Access Schools and PrepAdviser platforms host one-to-one online meetings, live chats, and webinars with admissions teams, students, alumni and faculty.

Read: How to Use the MBA Rankings

Living in the big-data era calls for data-driven decisions with deep understanding of the algorithms behind the data results. However, the MBA is ultimately a very personal experience, so you have to make the most of both worlds in your MBA selection.