What the Financial Times EMBA Ranking tells MBA Students

October 16, 2023

Analysis of the various categories from the participants' perspective

The Financial Times (FT) Executive MBA (EMBA) Ranking is without a doubt one of the most prestigious MBA rankings in the world. Every year, leading business schools worldwide eagerly await the ranking’s publication. To them, it is all about making the list – the higher up, the better. But what kind of conclusions can MBA students derive from the most important global MBA ranking? How can they interpret the various categories? Prof. Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, provides a short analysis of the FT EMBA Ranking on the occasion of the most recent publication.

Pic of the MBA school building in Vienna
The WU Executive Academy's Global Executive MBA is one of the Top 45 EMBA programs worldwide - but what does the FT Ranking really mean?

The Financial Times EMBA Ranking is based on an elaborate process thoroughly examining 17+1 criteria, primarily focusing on graduates’ salary and career development, diversity of the business school as well as research and CSR. The various criteria are differently weighted, and the majority of the data is collected from alumni. The remaining data, mainly quantitative data on participants, faculty members, program contents, and research activities, are provided by the business schools. This year, a new category was introduced: the carbon footprint of the business school. But what kind of information can MBA students draw from the individual categories, and are there interesting insights to be gained that are accessible only at second glance?

Which business schools can enter the FT EMBA Ranking in the first place?

For the ranking, the FT only considers business schools that are accredited by AACSB or EQUIS. What is more, the program must be cohort-based, with students enrolling and graduating together, and have at least 30 graduates each year. The Financial Times ranks the Executive MBA programs according to the following criteria:

“Salary today” and “salary increase”

Weight – 16% and 17%: the first two alumni-related criteria are the average salary three years after graduation and the salary increase in comparison to the pre-MBA salary. For the salary increase, both the absolute increase and the increase relative to the pre-MBA salary are taken into account. The salaries are converted into US dollars.

FACT: this weighting of the salary criteria amounting to 33% of the total ranking makes it increasingly harder for business schools from Europe and CEE to compete with their Asian counterparts. At first glance, this makes perfect sense. But at second glance, this also means that, for instance, European schools cannot compete with salary increases beyond 100% for alumni of Chinese elite universities and thus face a grave competitive disadvantage that is very difficult to compensate even with excellent results in the other categories. So with regard to salary, the Financial Times ranking paints a slightly one-dimensional picture as a certain rank does not necessarily denote a program’s quality. Compared with the previous year, however, adjustments have been made here, as these two categories were previously weighted at a total of 40%.

Pic of stacked coins as a symbol of salary increases of MBA students
The annual income and salary increase of the students are 2 of the most important criteria in the Financial Times ranking. Photo © CC0 Licence

“Career progress”

Weight – 6%: career progress is calculated based on the level of seniority and the size of the company alumni work in three years after graduation in comparison to before their MBA studies.

FACT: see “work experience.”

“Work experience”

Weight – 5%: “work experience” refers to the relevant pre-EMBA work experience of alumni, considering the seniority of positions held, number of years in each position, company size, and work experience abroad.

FACT: participants significantly contribute to an MBA program’s quality. The more experienced they are, the more their classmates benefit, and vice versa.

“Aims achieved”

Weight – 6%: this criterion explores the extent to which alumni reached their goals or whether or not completing the EMBA has paid off for them.

FACT: a high percentage suggests that future MBA students can expect the program to live up to their expectations.

“Female faculty,” “female students,” and “women on board”

Weight – 5% for the first two categories, 1% for the third: percentage of female faculty, students, and members on the advisory board.

FACT: diversity is a key criterion when it comes to the quality of an MBA program. This does not only apply to participants and faculty but also to the make-up of the advisory board.

Pic of an all-female MBA class
Diversity as an indicator of quality: the proportion of female students and lecturers is also included in the ranking.

“International faculty” and “international students”

Weight – 5% and 6%: these criteria evaluate the diversity of the faculty and students. To this end, the percentage of faculty members and participants from a country other than the country in which the MBA program takes place is calculated.

FACT: the quality of faculty members is reflected in their practical experience apart from their teaching and research activities as well as in their experience abroad. Such experience enables them to teach students about the particulars of various national and international markets. The same applies to the make-up of the class: participants contribute to the program through their wide range of professional and personal experience in different industries, functions, and cultures. For the quality of a program, this is as important as the experience of the faculty members. The higher both percentages are, the higher the chances to learn something new.

“International board”

Weight – 1%: percentage of advisory board members whose citizenship differs from the country in which the MBA program is offered.

FACT: the board is of great importance as it offers crucial advice in the development of a program. An advisory board made up of members with vast international experience contributes to creating a program fit to the challenges of a globalized and digitalized world.

“International course experience”

Weight – 5%: this criterion deals with the percentage of classroom teaching hours that are conducted outside the country in which the business school is situated.

FACT: a high percentage indicates that students will gain a wealth of international experience in the course of their studies – either by taking part in international study travels or by attending lessons at one of the business school’s partner institutions abroad. In general, such modules consist of specific lessons at local partner universities and company visits, which allow participants to closely get to know companies directly at their premises and talk to top managers about their experiences.

Bannerimage of the Global Executive MBA
The WU Executive Academy's Global Executive MBA places great emphasis on internationality - a factor that also plays a major role in several of the ranking criteria.


Weight – 1%: number of languages required in order to graduate.

FACT: for most programs listed in the Financial Times EMBA Ranking, the language requirements in order to graduate encompass one language. Usually, this language is English. Some programs require two languages or point out, with an asterisk, in their program description that the program is not entirely offered in English.

“Faculty with doctorates” and “FT research rank”

Weight – 5% and 10%, respectively: both criteria show the quality of research conducted at a business school. In addition to the percentage of faculty members with doctorates, the Financial Times takes a closer look at the number of papers published by faculty members of a business school in 50 of the most significant international journals. This number is then weighted according to the faculty’s size.

FACT: excellence in research directly benefits a business school’s students: not only can faculty members incorporate the most recent findings in their teachings, they are also experts in presenting these findings in a manner suitable for students, enabling them to easily put the lessons learned into practice. This means: the higher the quality of research, the more up-to-date contents are.

“CSR rank”

Weight – 3%: in 2018, a new ranking criterion was added to the Financial Times EMBA Ranking: corporate social responsibility (CSR). Here the FT takes the proportion of core courses dedicated to CSR, ethics as well as social and environmental issues into account.

FACT: for years, MBA programs have been criticized for their focus on facts and knowledge and failing to equip managers with the skills needed for responsible leadership, conscious of their actions’ impact. The higher the ranking of an MBA program in this category, the more the curriculum encompasses topics such as ethics, sustainability, and responsible leadership.

"Carbon Footprint"

Weight - 4%: This year, the FT EMBA Ranking has added a new evaluation criterion: the carbon footprint. This is calculated using the university or school's established net zero target year for carbon emissions and a publicly available report of carbon emissions since 2019. Since, in addition to diversity, sustainability is one of the increasingly important issues of the future, it is welcome that this is now also reflected as a category in the ranking.

"Overall Satisfaction"

New since last year is the category "Overall Satisfaction". Here, alumni rate the Executive MBA program. In addition to various questions concerning their experience in the program, they are asked to rate their overall satisfaction on a 10-point scale.

Find here more information about the Global Executive MBA of the WU Executive Academy.

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