What Matters More than MBA Rankings?

MBA rankings

The majority of people interested in having us as admissions consultants are laser-focused on the top business school brands. They think of the MBA as a long-term investment in themselves and their futures and know that having a degree from an elite B-school carries serious cachet.  MBA rankings influence some applicants so much that they won’t consider anything outside of the  M7 schools.

“Magnificent Seven” (M7) Business Schools

That said, we discourage clients from focusing too heavily on MBA rankings when deciding where to apply.  In fact, our team believes that the most underestimated influencer of how to define a top program is employment recruiting. Often, applicants don’t consider how much of an impact an MBA makes on their career path and future employer. It also greatly affects your possible future job location and even your post-MBA salary.

In our B-Schooled podcast episodes #90 and #91, host Erika explored whether MBA rankings matter in the school selection process. In certain cases, the answer may be yes. For example, applicants looking to break into a top investment bank or “MBB” management consulting should know that those firms are unlikely to recruit outside of the top 15 schools.

You can see who recruits at each business school through its online employment report. If the companies that interest you aren’t on their list, it will be difficult to get a foot in the door there for a post-graduation job.

“Students who weren’t in those top programs would need to rely a lot more heavily on networking to get interviews with those types of firms if that’s where they wanted to end up,” Erika explains.

 Curious about your chances of getting into a top B-school? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant. 

Going Beyond MBA Rankings

When you’re talking about programs within the M7, focus more on where you think you’d have the best fit overall. Consider where you’ll feel happiest because the post-grad career opportunities within that elite group are strikingly similar. Once you start comparing the top 15 to the top 25, you’ll see bigger differences when it comes to recruiting.

Are you targeting a large company that has clearly defined post-MBA roles or an MBA rotational program? If so, a strong business school brand name is going to be helpful initially to get those roles after graduation. But a lot of times, MBA applicants focus too intently on that first job out of the program. You’ve got decades of your career ahead of you, and who knows what kind of career moves you might make.

MBA rankings

In the end, what matters is that you feel good about where you’ll spend two years of your life. Not to mention a lot of money. That’s why things like location, the culture of the program, and class size should be on your evaluation list. Likewise, consider whether the school has a reputation for a specific area of interest, such as marketing at Kellogg, Wharton for finance, Stanford GSB for entrepreneurship, etc. Finally, research the strength of each school’s alumni network, as you’ll be tapping into this resource throughout your career.

Only a small fraction of employers exclusively expect candidates to hold an elite MBA. In every other case, having an MBA degree from a solid program will give you the professional edge for your target career path or employer.

So, don’t freak yourself out thinking, “It’s M7 or bust.”  Remember, you’ve got a long career ahead of you.

Consider Geography

If you know you want to work in a specific part of the country or for a regional company that hires more local candidates, rankings may not matter as much.  For example, say you’re deciding between the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and Michigan State’s Broad MBA program. If you want to work at a top bank or consulting firm in Michigan but possibly also want to have the opportunity to move geographically, then a top 15 program like Ross might be the one that benefits you more.

But if you want to work for General Motors or one of the other automotive companies based in Michigan, and you plan to stay in that industry long term, an MBA from Michigan State could be fine. It’s well-known by those companies and you’ll have a solid local and regional network.

Applicants don’t have to a school in the same region where they foresee themselves ultimately ending up. But if you’ve never lived in a metropolis before and you’re going to feel overwhelmed in an urban location, that’s something to think about. On the flip side, will you go stir-crazy studying in a remote rural area when you’re used to the bustle and convenience of city life? Business school is stressful enough, and your environment will have a significant impact on your overall experience.

Lastly, consider whether it’s important to have friends, family, and a support system nearby. Applicants planning to bring a partner with them to B-school— 30% of HBS students come with partners—should also ensure their smooth transition.

Will Your MBA Peers Help You Level Up?

As we’ve mentioned, getting into an M7 school is no easy feat. There are simply not enough seats for all of the über-qualified candidates who apply. Lucky applicants who do land a seat can count on having a highly accomplished and impressive cohort of fellow students. To use a sports analogy, playing with those who are more skilled than you will push you to become a stronger player.

With a top 15 school, you’ll still be surrounded by impressive and ambitious people. Some might even have gotten dinged by M7 programs. Or maybe they didn’t apply to those schools at all. But at some point, beyond the top 25, you will find a difference in the caliber of students. You might have more people with only a few years of work experience or who don’t have the level of accomplishment of those at some of the higher rank programs.

In any program, your classmates are the ones who will go on to become the tightest and most reliable part of your MBA network. Depending on how much you anticipate calling upon your network in the future, that’s really something to consider. If that’s important to you, get ready to do your research. Find current students or alums to network with and see if you get a feel for the type of person that’s there and if you would feel both comfortable and motivated.

Consider the Resources 

It’s a virtuous circle. Top-ranked MBA programs are more expensive to attend but they also crank out higher-paid graduates who then go on to give lots of money back to the school. All of that ultimately results in better facilities, more resources, more famous speakers and professors, etc. Those programs attract world leaders, titans of industry, and the buzzy CEOs making headlines today.

Yet many schools outside of the M7 also have amazing alums and adjunct professors. Some programs, such as Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, pride themselves on having faculty who get to know their students extremely well during their time on campus.

In fact, you have a better shot of getting one-on-one time with them and actually getting to know them than you might at an M7, where professors are more consumed with research outside of class. This is especially true if the school has a bigger class size and everybody wants to be with that one rock-star professor.

If going abroad as part of your MBA experience is a must, make sure that the programs you’re considering offer that. It could be something like a pre-matriculation trip, a class project, an entire course, or even an exchange program for a semester.

Next, let’s not overlook the cost of attendance. As you can imagine, M7 schools come with the highest price tags. While those programs do offer some financial aid, you’re likely to get a more generous package at a T15 or T25 school, which would also cost less overall across two years. It’s also helpful to compare your current salary to the post-graduation salary averages listed online at your target programs. How much of a bump are you looking for after graduation, and how much student loan debt are you willing to take on overall?

Let’s be real, you’ll need to budget for the fun stuff, too:
@stacyblackmanconsulting #sbcyourfuture #bschool #mba #bschooladmissions #budget #savings #money ? original sound – Stacy Blackman Consulting

Keep Rankings in Perspective 

The truth is, there’s been little change to the top 20 business schools since MBA rankings first began way back in the late 1980s. We’d go so far as to say the best way to be ranked in the top 20 now was to have been in that top 20 when the ranking started! Remember, the schools’ reputations are subjective and very hard to shake or change for every program.

The main thing is to figure out what you want—not what your parents, grandparents, or significant other wants.  It’s your life. Go with your gut, look beyond the MBA rankings, and focus on what you truly hope to get out of your MBA experience.


Please request a free MBA advising session with Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help with your complete MBA applications. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.


(323) 934-3936

Latest Blog Post

Stanford MBA Deadlines for 2023-2024

Is the Stanford Graduate School of Business on your shortlist of target MBA programs? Then get ready to mark your calendar because here are the Stanford MBA deadlines for the 2023-2024 admissions season! Stanford ...