The Truth Behind 3 Common MBA Rankings Myths

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

One of the very first places a business school hopeful begins the school selection process is by looking at annual or biannual MBA rankings. The most frequently consulted lists include those published by U.S. News, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Forbes, Financial Times and The Economist.

I always say rankings are a useful starting point, but should not be used in a vacuum. Here are the three most common MBA rankings myths and some tips for keeping things in perspective.

[Look beyond a top business school for your MBA.]

Myth 1: A highly ranked program is always better. While this sounds logical, you should look closely to determine if a school is better in ways that suit your personal list of priorities. Each ranking uses a somewhat different methodology.

Forbes includes a calculation of return on investment five years after graduation; BusinessWeek looks at satisfaction levels of students and recruiters as some of its factors; U.S. News surveys b-school deans and directors and takes GMAT and GRE scores into account, among other indicators; Financial Times gives a lot of weight to reported salaries three years after graduation; and The Economist in part assesses the MBA degree’s ability to open new professional opportunities.

Job placement statistics and average salary post-MBA are the most important criteria for many MBA candidates. You may find that a smaller regional school, while not highly ranked nationally, has an excellent record of placing graduates in the industries of their choice.

Make sure you’re looking at the data points that are important to your own career path when determining the value of a particular ranking.

Myth 2: All employers care about the rankings. Employers may or may not care about the rankings that you are considering. Chances are they don’t pay close attention to all of the available rankings. If they did, their heads would spin, as rankings can vary significantly school-to-school and year-to-year.

If you’re aspiring to a highly competitive position in banking or consulting, a potential employer will likely give an advantage to an applicant from one of the elite schools. That’s the reality of the game. For other industries, if you’re coming from a second-tier or third-tier school with a solid reputation, your education will be just fine.

For a more immediate answer, check out the annual career or recruiting reports from MBA programs you are interested in. These are usually posted online and they allow you to see if the company or industry you want to work in recruits at your target schools.

You can also contact the human resources department at companies you’re interested in and ask them point-blank where they recruit and which schools they like. You may be surprised by the answers you get.

Myth 3: A top-ranked school will remain on top. Rankings are basically an indicator of the MBA market at a given time. They reflect job placement, salaries and the climate or culture of a school when the survey took place.

While it’s true that a school in the top 10 isn’t likely to plummet 50 spots in the rankings, never assume that a school ranked in the top three will remain there forever.

A school could be ranked at the top one year, which drives up applications because it’s now the “hot school.” But times change, and the program may fall out of favor for one reason or another.

You may find that 15 years later, when you’re an alum and want to leverage your hot degree, your school may now be ranked No. 10. If rank is the only reason for choosing a program, it might seem like a huge disappointment.

Ultimately, you have to choose a program you genuinely connect with. Evaluate qualities like the school fit, culture, location, class size and teaching methodology.

Don’t worry about whether you’ll get into “the best MBA program of all.” Figure out which business school is the best one for you.

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