U.S. business schools top the rankings, but European programs provide more bang for the buck

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The latest MBA rankings are out, and they tell two very different stories. U.S. business schools hold eight of the top 10 spots in The Economist’s 2013 ranking of full-time MBA programs, but European and Asian schools appear to provide a much greater return on the investment.

For the second year in a row, Chicago University’s Booth School of Business took home the top spot, followed by Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, University of California’s Haas School of Business and University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Somewhat surprisingly, Harvard slipped to the sixth spot, right behind Spain’s IESE. HEC Paris was the only other non-U.S. institution to crack the top 10. The top ranking U.K. program belongs to London Business School, which finished twelfth.

The methodology behind the study is rather complex, with factors like networking potential, quality of faculty, student diversity and qualitative assessments playing a role. Click here for the full breakdown.

What’s more interesting, frankly, is the raw data provided by the schools. Looking at the top eight U.S. programs, the average salary for new graduates sits at just over $116,000, a 58% increase over students’ pre-MBA salaries. The average tuition for students attending those programs was just north of $112,000.

Compare those numbers to the averages for the top eight ranked European and Asian schools and they don’t look near as impressive. The average starting salary for graduates of those programs, including London Business School, Bath and Hong Kong University, was $120,000, just higher than the average for top U.S. graduates. However, European and Asian business school grads saw, on average, a 103% increase from their pre-MBA salary. What’s more, the mean tuition was just $76,000, roughly $40,000 less than what U.S. students paid. (Researchers converted the salaries to average 2012 exchange rates for the comparisons).

Moreover, non-U.S. students were able to achieve higher starting salaries despite generally poorer board scores. The average GMAT score for students attending one of the top eight European or Asian programs was well below 700. Each U.S. school in the top eight boasted an average GMAT score above 700.

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