By Peter Walker for CNN
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(CNN) -- Every year, would-be MBA students face one overriding question -- what's the best business school? The answer, unfortunately, tends to be annoyingly vague: It depends on what you want.
But help is at hand. A new survey uses student feedback to rank 282 business schools across the United States on a whole series of factors, everything from the quality of the teaching to a family friendly environment.
Conducted by the Princeton Review, a U.S.-based group which aims to offer unbiased advice to students, the latest version of the business school survey asked the opinions of 18,000 students, combining these with statistics provided by school administrators.
The results, available on the group's Web site, are augmented by a selection of comments submitted by students, helping prospective applicants pick the right place for their needs.
"We don't believe that any one business school is the best overall," the report's authors say in an introduction to the survey.
"Instead, we believe there is a best business school for you. Moreover, the prestige of an academic program does not constitute the exclusive criterion by which a school should be (or is) judged."
Of the 11 lists, one reflects the more traditional 'best business school' rankings most closely -- that of Toughest to Get Into.
It sees the perennial big hitters of Harvard, Stanford and Columbia in first to third, with other well know names such as Wharton and Berkeley's Haas School of Business there as well.
Unsurprisingly, Harvard gets good feedback in the student comments. "If the first semester is representative of the whole experience, I'll be a happy grad," one new entrant writes.
However, when Best Overall Academic Experience is ranked, Harvard sits in 10th, with Wharton taking top honors, followed by Amherst's Isenberg School of Management.
The same names tend to crop up in other academic-based rankings. For example, Stanford comes first in Best Career Prospects, ahead of Columbia, Wharton, Harvard and others. For Best Professors, Amherst and Harvard also feature, although the top spot is taken by Indiana University's Kelley School.
"The first thing that I noticed was that all of my first-year professors had written top-selling books for their academic field," one admiring Kelley student writes. "Soon after attending classes I realized that these were the best professors I had ever had."
There are, however, other factors apart from pure academic rigor. Many MBA students, as well as taking a year away from their careers, have spouses or children, making lifestyle another important consideration.
Brigham Young University's Marriott School in Utah was ranked the most family friendly, followed by the Stetson School of Business in Atlanta and Dartmouth College's Tuck School in New Hampshire.
Marriott "provides a success-oriented environment that also promotes students' finding an elusive work-life balance," one happy customer reports.
Others enthused about Emory University's Goizueta School, which topped the list for Best Campus Environment, hailing "fantastic facilities" such as a school-wide wireless computer network.
Meanwhile, the primarily African American Howard School of Business in Washington DC, ranked top for Greatest Opportunities for Minority Students, received praise for its community-like spirit.
"What is lovely about Howard University is the easy access to professors and the close relations the students have with their professors. They not only impart their knowledge but also treat the students like family," one student says.
However, for all the mass of information on offer, the survey's authors note that it can only ever be a guide to possibilities.
"Some business schools in our book and on our Web site may be ideal for certain students but wrong for others, depending on the interests and needs of each individual student," they say.
"We offer a range of ranking lists to help students choose the best school for them."
Opinions, please. The survey aims to help students find their best business school.
FACT BOXFT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006
FACT BOXEMBA SNAPSHOT
Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.
A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.
A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.