MBA Rankings: Friend or Foe


More than likely when you started the process of looking into MBA programs, the vast array of MBA rankings were a great source of information for many of you.  And truth be told the rankings offer a good place to start your search and can help you potentially narrow down the schools to which you may apply. MBA rankings will come in every shape, size and color that you can imagine and the variety of information given within each ranking can be very helpful in one part of the application process. And while they may be helpful early on in the process the rankings should not be a significant factor in final choice on which school you will attend.

The most popular MBA rankings are Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report.  In addition, compiles all five of the above MBA rankings, applies their own methodology and releases its own version of the top MBA programs. This compiled list can be advantageous as no individual ranking is going to give you a complete picture of a particular school. As a matter of fact, even the composite list from Poets and Quants will not give you the be-all and end-all of these lists to which everyone concurs.

Is very important to consider a few things when utilizing MBA rankings:

Methodology Matters

It is important to understand that each ranking site will use its own methodology to arrive at its list. Some may focus more on the student experience, others may focus more on quantitative data about the the students, placement data and others on faculty research or employer feedback. Ensure that you understand what methodology is being used by each particular publication and that you have given significant consideration to the most important factors in deciding where you will attend.  This will help you determine which MBA rankings may weigh more in your decision as to where to apply.  Bear in mind that methodology on a particular ranking can change from year to year as is the case with the BusinessWeek rankings coming up this year.

Rankings for Guidance, Not Decision-Making

It is impossible to make a final determination on what school you plan on attending based strictly on published MBA rankings. There is clearly not enough information on the screen in front of you for you to use as your sole basis for that decision.  Doing so would likely have a significant negative impact on your business school experience and it is imperative to visit the schools you are interested in and talk to current students, faculty or administrators. This is the only way to get a truly accurate sense of the culture of an institution. In addition, most schools will provide a list of alumni that you may contact as well. Visiting institutions and asking the right questions will help you understand the culture of that particular institution, what kind of resources are available to you as a student or what extracurricular activities are well represented and well-organized.

As former admissions officers, most of us likely had a love-hate relationship with MBA rankings - we loved them when our school was near the top, we were less fond of them when we were on a downward trend. Clearly the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this blog is… In general …MBA rankings can be considered a friend when utilized appropriately. However, if not researched completely or if weighted too heavily in final decision-making, they can easily change to foe.

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