The All-Mightly Business School Rankings
Rankings of MBA Programs
For many applicants, recruiters, professionals, deans and admissions officers, business school rankings have become an obsession. While the rankings are helpful in some respects, most people take business school rankings far too seriously. The goal of many full-time business school applicants is to attend the best business school they are capable of getting into. But what does it mean to be the "best?"
Attempting to define why one MBA program is better than another can be a methodically difficult and subjective task. After all, what should the rankings be based upon: the number of volumes in the library, alumni giving, the average GMAT score, average or median starting salary, corporate recruiters' perceptions? The list is endless and many factors are subjective and may not be relevant to an individual student interested in attending a particular business school. Is a business school with an average GMAT score of 650 really better than a business school with an average of 630? Should you base your choice on the opinions of a particular group of corporate recruiters? If a large percentage of graduates from a particular business school go into investment banking and drive up the average salary, does that mean a graduate who goes into marketing can expect a higher salary than she could at a school with a lower average salary?
As arbitrary as the rankings can be, they are not going to disappear. There are ways to use the rankings and information they provide in a sensible and useful way:
Consider the Source
Each ranking is based on different criteria and sampling methods. Be aware of how each ranking is calculated and how the data and methodology affect the rankings and whether they are important to you.
Think about MBA Programs in Tiers
The difference between number 12 and number 15 in a ranking is probably pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Yet, the difference between a business school that is consistently ranked in the top five versus one ranked 12th or 15th may be significant. Instead of focusing purely on a particular number, group tiers of schools together. For example, Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, and University of Chicago are examples of business schools that are often ranked at the top of many lists. Consider these business schools, for example, as tier one schools. Other good business schools that consistently rank lower may be considered second or third tier. Generally, you will find that the same 20 business schools consistently remain at the top of the rankings lists though their individual rankings may change.
Many applicants want to attend one of the most competitive business schools only consider the top 50 MBA programs. While the top 50 programs may be considered the top tier according to some rankings, if those are the only schools you are considering, you may want to create your own tiers that are proportional to the quantity and quality of the business schools you are considering.
Compare Individual Pieces of Data
Only certain pieces of data may be relevant to you. Dissect the data to compare pieces of information that are relevant to you. If you find discrepancies in the data, do some research to find out the root of the number. You are likely to learn something significant about the school in the explanation.
Do Not Make Decisions Based Solely on Rankings
Of course rankings are important, but if you choose a business school solely because of its ranking you may end up at a school whose atmosphere, courses, requirements, and strengths do not suit you. If the school is not a good fit, you jeopardize your chances of getting in and doing well in the program. Utilize rankings in addition to looking at brochures and websites, speaking to current students and alumni, visiting the campus, and interviewing (when possible).
Do Not Downplay the Importance of Reputation
There are some MBA programs that are perceived to be ranked higher than they actually are. Schools that fall into this category are an exception when it comes to considering rankings. There are four situations when overall rankings typically cease to matter.
- Regional Preference
Many of the top business schools have the reputation of being "national" schools, which means that students come from a wide geographic area and that major companies from all over the country recruit on their campuses. But some business schools carry more weight in a particular state or region. Ohio State (Fisher) is an example of an MBA program that has a decent national reputation and an exceptional reputation in Midwest. The highest percentage of students are from Midwest and most recruiting corporations are from the area.
- Reputation of the University
Some business schools are perceived to be ranked higher than they are because of the good reputation of their parent university. Yale is an example of such a school. While Yale's business school is a very competitive school, it is not ranked as highly, relatively speaking, when compared to its undergraduate college. Yet, the Yale name gives people the impression that the business school is better than it is calculated to be by the rankings.
- Intangible Assets
There are some qualitative assets that rankings cannot effectively take into account such as enthusiastic alumni. Notre Dame is a prime example of a business school that is not ranked in the top 25, yet it offers top-notch networking and career opportunities through a large, loyal (arguably, obsessive) group of graduate and undergraduate alumni.
- Functional Area
business schools are often ranked with regard to their overall program. Occasionally business schools are ranked by functional area (e.g. finance, entrepreneurship, marketing). Depending on the career you are interested in pursuing, the overall ranking of the business school may not matter as much compared to the school's ranking in a particular area. Babson College's Olin School is a key example of an MBA program whose overall ranking is not commensurate with its across-the-board number one ranking in entrepreneurship. Someone interested in pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors may opt for Babson over an MBA program with a higher overall ranking.