Getting admitted to a PhD in a business school

How to select good doctoral program in finance and other fields

Which school should I apply for? Which are the best PhD programs in this field?

Get your PhD from a business schoolSo you have decided to pursue a PhD program in a business school. The natural question that follows is which school or which program to apply for. When trying to ascertain the quality of PhD programs, the first thing most people turn to are rankings. There are various ranking sources for business schools, departments and PhD programs available online.  For school and department rankings, the criteria employed typically involves the quantity of top-journal publications by a school’s faculty, the citation count of faculty’s publications, or a combination of these and other measures related to the quality and quantity of research output.  Here are a few useful links:

  • UTD top 100 Business School Research Rankings
    The University of Texas-Dallas maintains a ranking of business schools based on publications in journals across all business disciplines. It is pretty flexible as you can customize the rankings by applying filters such as by specific journals. For example, if you are interested in finance, you could rank schools based on their publications in top finance journals (such as Journal of Finance, Review of Financial Studies & Journal of Financial Economics). Arizona State University maintains a similar 'Finance Research Rankings' database.  

Citation based ranking of finance departments 

  • In their 2005 paper titled 'Research Ranking of Finance Departments: A Modified Citation Approach', Chan, Lung and Wolfe ranks finance departments based on "citations", or the number of references made to publications from a given finance department by other publications. This is a measure of the research impact of a finance department. Based on their method, the top 10 finance departments are located in the following schools:
  1. University of Chicago
  2. University of Rochester
  3. MIT
  4. Harvard University
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. UCLA
  7. New York University
  8. Ohio State University
  9. Stanford University
  10. Yale University

While rankings of business schools and finance departments give you an indication of their faculty’s overall research productivity, they don’t tell you a lot about the quality of their doctoral programs and how likely you will succeed in the program. It’s hard to quantify the quality of doctoral programs as they involve elements like the culture of faculty engagement and involvement with the doctoral program, and the level of attention and support given to doctoral students. However, it is reasonable to expect that such intangible factors will have some bearing on the research productivity of graduates from their respective programs. Professor Jean Heck, in his paper 'Establishing a Pecking Order for Finance Academics: Ranking of U.S. Finance Doctoral Programs' ranks finance doctoral programs by the research productivity of their graduates. The top 10 schools based on his method are:

  1.  New York University
  2. Harvard University
  3. University of Penn
  4. UCLA
  5. University of Chicago
  6. Cornell University
  7. Duke University
  8. University of Michigan
  9. University of Illinois
  10. Texas

Rankings do affect the reputation of a school, and graduating from a top-ranked school would definitely help open some doors when you enter the job market, not to mention the confidence boost you get from being admitted into a highly reputed school. However, do remember that if you are looking for an academic career (i.e. to become a professor), you will ultimately be judged by your publication record, and being admitted in a top school does not guarantee you publication in top journals. There may be some schools which do not score very high on rankings, but have a handful of faculty members who are well-regarded and publish prolifically, perhaps in a particular subfield or niche area. There could be advantages in applying to such schools. First, because these schools are sort of flying under the radar, the competition for admission would likely be less intense. Moreover, because smaller, less well-known schools typically have fewer resources and take in fewer students, opportunities for collaborating (co-authoring) with faculty and the attention given to each doctoral student could be higher too. All these could translate into a greater chance for the PhD student to have published research before he or she graduates.  

Another important consideration in choosing the right PhD is how finance your studies. Most schools offer scholarships to PhD students, including a stipend in the range of about $20,000 to $30,000 per year. For example, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business offers a stipend of about $23,000 per year. For most schools, the stipends are given to students on condition that each student works a certain number of hours per week as research or teaching assistants. One point to note is not to make direct comparison of stipend rates for different schools, as the location of a particular school will affect the cost of living of studying there. Other decisions like whether to stay on or off campus will also significantly affect your actual cost of living. A better way to make comparisons is to find out the general cost of living as well as the cost of different available accommodation options in each school, calculate an expected monthly cost of living amount for each school, and compare it against the stipend offered. Here are a few resources to help you figure out the general cost of living of different locations in the United States:

  • Cost of living comparison compiled by University of Notre Dame (
    Calculates the stipend amount required at various locations that will be sufficient to match the stipend offered by Notre Dame, after adjusting for cost of living using the College Cost of Living Index (CCOLI) according to the 2011 listings of the Economic Research Institute.
  • Interactive cost of living map by Purdue University (
    Compares cost of living at Purdue with several comparable universities at other locations. Includes information on the average 1-bedroom apartment rent, as well as the median house price in these locations.

Hope this article has given you some idea on how business school rankings work, and how other considerations could be material in your choice of a PhD program. In my next article, I will talk about how your undergraduate GPA affects your chances of getting admitted to a PhD program, and how you should go about handling standardize tests like the GMAT or the GRE.