MBA students reassumed their bragging rights yesterday when The Wall Street Journal placed the Stephen M. Ross School of Business back atop its list of best business masters programs in the country.

Sarah Royce
A student walks past construction of the Ross School of Business yesterday afternoon. (STEVEN TAI/Daily)

After holding the top spot in 2004, the school dropped to second last year. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business took second place.

The Journal judges business schools by how attractive they are to corporate recruiters looking to hire MBA graduates, basing its rankings on the responses of 4,125 recruiters.

Respondents only ranked schools they had recently visited, and a school had to receive at least 20 recruiters’ comments before being considered in the final count.

This past academic year, 287 firms visited Ross. Most recruiters who responded to the survey said the program provided the best practical experience to students.

Most of this practical experience comes from the school’s multidisciplinary action projects, Business School Dean Robert Dolan said.

The school requires all first-year MBA students to complete field-based projects. Students work in four- or five-person teams to identify solutions to real-world corporate dilemmas. Students also work side-by-side with executives.

“Unlike the typical business school case study, the problems (multidisciplinary action projects) address aren’t defined,” Dolan said. “A lot of management responsibilities involve figuring out what your options are in the first place, rather than deciding among already specified options.”

Many MBA students said this program played a vital role in their decision to attend the Ross School of Business.

“Programs like MAP provide entrepreneurial experience that you can’t really get anywhere else,” said MBA student Ryan Baxter.

Rankings like the Journal’s can play a large part in students’ decisions to apply to a particular business school. But not all publications put Ross at the top.

Business Week ranks executive business schools. Its most recent report, released eight months ago, ranked Ross fourth.

“We definitely saw a surge in the number of applications we received after Business Week published its rankings,” Dolan said. “I expect the Journal’s ranking will have a similar effect.”

The Journal asked recruiters to determine the quality of each school in 21 categories. These included curriculum, faculty qualification and various student skills such as work ethic and teamwork orientation.

In addition to the recruiters’ evaluation of these qualities, the Journal scored schools on recruiters’ intention to continue recruiting and the number of recruiters each school attracts annually.

Some said an additional feature of the Ross School that sets it apart from the notoriously cut-throat Ivy League programs is the humility of the students enrolled in the program.

“Recruiters like students who are both smart and humble,” said Ronald Alsop, the Wall Street Journal editor who authored yesterday’s article. “Recruiters believe students at the University of Michigan possess both of these qualities.”

Dolan said the culture at the University of Michigan doesn’t attract arrogant students.

“The University of Michigan is a very demanding place, and it should be because students here have high aspirations,” Dolan said. “At the same time, there is a very compassionate side to the students here, and that compassion attracts individuals of a moral caliber that corporations respect.”

The business school’s top rankings informed second-year MBA student Brendan Lippman’s decision to apply to the school. But the school’s strong connection to the rest of the University was what finally convinced him.

“The Ross Business School seemed to be more a part of the overall university,” he said. “It is good to interact with students in other programs besides the business school.”

University Provost Teresa Sullivan said the ranking is heartening.

“Because this is a poll of recruiters, it tells us our graduates are meeting the needs of the corporate community,” Sullivan said. “The program’s combination of theory, critical thinking and multidisciplinary continues to prepare our students to be leaders.”

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