Methodology: QS Global MBA Rankings 2018 |

Methodology: QS Global MBA Rankings 2018

By Phil Cottrell

Updated September 4, 2019 Updated September 4, 2019

While no ranking can be definitive, we have looked at more data points than ever before while compiling the QS Global MBA Rankings 2018, in an attempt to deliver the most comprehensive rankings on the market.

The Global MBA Rankings 2018 highlight the best MBA programs across the world. We ranked 232 programs this year, although over 250 programs were analyzed. Data was collected in early 2017, using three surveys; the QS Global Employer Survey, the QS Global Academic Survey and a survey completed by the business schools themselves.

The survey completed by schools covered quantitative indicators such as the salary of graduates, class profile etc. For the purpose of the Global MBA Rankings 2018, QS did not ask schools to survey their alumni. Instead, schools provided career progression information on their alumni to MBACSEA compliant standards.

Data received was based on 2016 graduating class (for employment info) and incoming 2016 class for class composition. When this data was not available we used the most recent available data provided by the schools.

To be included in the Global MBA Rankings 2018, the program must be taught mainly on-campus (i.e. not distance-learning), be taught full-time (or at least have the option to be) and have a class size of at least 10 students. We also required schools to provide us with relevant data in the majority of indicators to be included (see FAQs).

A total of 13 criteria form the basis of five key indicators that programs were ranked on: ‘employability’, ‘entrepreneurship and alumni outcomes’, ‘return on investment’, ‘thought leadership’ and ‘class & faculty diversity’.

QS Global MBA Rankings 2018 Breakdown

  • Employability – 40%
  • Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes – 15%
  • Return on Investment – 20%
  • Thought Leadership – 15%
  • Class & Faculty Diversity – 10%
Employer Reputation (Employability)QS Employer Survey 2012-201735.0%
Employment Rate (Employability)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU5.0%
Alumni Outcomes Index (Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes)Various Lists of Successful and Diverse Companies10.0%
Entrepreneurship (Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU5.0%
10Y ROI (Return on Investment)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU15.0%
Payback Month (Return on Investment)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU5.0%
Academic Reputation (Thought Leadership)QS Academic Survey 2013-201710.0%
Research Impact (Thought Leadership)Scopus - 2011-2015 Period2.5%
PhD Faculty (Thought Leadership)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU2.5%
Gender Balance – Students (Class & Faculty Diversity)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU2.5%
Gender Balance – Faculty (Class & Faculty Diversity)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU2.5%
International Mix – Students (Class & Faculty Diversity)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU2.5%
International Mix – Faculty (Class & Faculty Diversity)Reported by Business School, Validated by QSIU2.5%

The Indicators:


The backbone of the rankings is the QS Global Employer Survey, which asks employers from which schools they prefer to hire. Between 2012-2017, we collected 158,000 responses from global employers to the QS Global Employer Survey. More recent responses have been given the greatest weight in this ranking.

Employers across all sectors and industries take part in the survey, and include Facebook, Google, Uber, Wells Fargo, Bank of America etc. The total score for this indicator also considers the employment rate for students, three months post-graduation, based on MBACSEA standards.

Entrepreneurship and Alumni Outcomes

The Alumni Outcomes Index looks at the schools associated with 49,000 CEOs, executives and board members at the biggest companies in the world including Apple, Amazon, UBS, IBM, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, ExxonMobil, AT&T, PepsiCo. etc.

To do this we considered over 150 global and regional lists, including the Forbes 2000, the FT Global 500, top social media influencers, and various specialist publications. This is combined with the proportion of students from each program who have gone on to set up their own business.

To reflect a growing trend of students interested in setting up their own companies post-graduation, entrepreneurship accounts a considerable proportion of the entrepreneurship and alumni outcomes. 

Return on Investment

We used a number of data points to determine return on investment, which can often be one of the hardest metrics to accurately predict, with many permutations and possibilities. We looked at a 10-year return on investment, mapping average post-MBA salaries against average salaries before enrolment, taking into account forgone salary as well as tuition and cost of living (using Mercer statistics). Salary increases are factored into both pre and post-MBA salary, with the latter increasing at a higher rate, as you would expect. Schools are given a graded bonus for the number of entrepreneurs produced, to account for the slower, but potentially much higher return for those starting a business. We also take into account the percentage of graduates accepting employment within three months of finishing their studies.

We feel 10 years gives a more representative and meaningful return on investment compared with some rankings that use a five-year approach. No loans or scholarships were included in this methodology. We recognize no ROI calculation is perfect but believe we have come up with the best approximate ROI calculation with the data available.

Thought Leadership

This indicator is based on 172,107 responses from academics from 60 countries around the world, who elect which institutions they believe are the strongest in their subject area. We also include research impact; as per the QS World University Rankings by Subject methodology, we measure citations per paper, rather than citations per faculty member. Another measurement that we take into account here is the percentage of faculty with a doctoral degree.

Class & Faculty Diversity 

To give a clear representation of diversity within a program we looked at the percentage of female students and faculty members (schools with an equal split receiving the highest possible score). We also looked at the percentage of international faculty overall at the business school, and the international mix of students on the MBA program.


Q) How are currency rates calculated?

A) Currency rates are accurate as of 1/1/2017, while salaries reported in reputational surveys were converted using an average for the years in question. Conversion rates do fluctuate and we take this into account in our calculations.

Q) How is the data validated?

A) All data received from schools was subject to verification checks, including, where possible, comparison with historical data, peer schools and other published sources. QS reserves the right to alter information if a more accurate source is found. Employer/academic questionnaires were also audited for multiple or false entries.

Q) What if a school didn’t provide all the data required?

A) When data was not supplied (by a minority of schools), QS surveys such as the QS Global Employer Survey, the QS Global Academic Survey were used in conjunction with QS research into publicly-available data to make an accurate estimate. Examples of sources include schools’ employment reports and class profiles.

Q) If a school didn’t provide data how can you be sure the information used was accurate?

A) Information used in these cases was compared with a number of sources and verified as best as possible to produce an accurate figure.

Q) How are weightings fairly applied to get an overall score?

A) We use z-scores to ensure the data is reliably combined to produce an accurate and fair overall ranking. You can read more about z-scores here.

Q) Why are there schools missing who you might expect to be present?

A) Schools are excluded if they did not fit the criteria necessary to be present in the ranking, if the program was too new, not enough data was provided etc. 

Q) We’re a business school and want to be involved in the next rankings. What do we need to do?

A) Contact [email protected] to find out, and to ask any other questions you might have regarding the rankings.

Q) Is there a more detailed explanation of the methodology used for these rankings anywhere?

A) Yes! If you would like to read more about the methodology used in these rankings, please visit the QS Intelligence Unit website where you can find more information.

This article was originally published in November 2017 . It was last updated in September 2019

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