How Should You Use MBA Rankings?

MBA rankings

  • Use MBA rankings as broad way of viewing which programs are ranked high, medium and low.
  • Do your own research on each program’s culture, size, location, career recruiting patterns, and the strength of its alumni network.
  • Weigh each of those program attributes according to your own personal and professional profile to define a list of reach and reasonable MBA programs for you.

The new year brings with it a fresh crop of MBA hopefuls who will soon begin mapping out their MBA application journey. School selection is an important part of that process. Naturally, most applicants look to MBA rankings to help winnow their target list.

Yet, we encourage clients not to focus heavily on rankings when making their MBA program selections. In fact, placing an outsized emphasis on rankings often becomes a distraction for some applicants.

Sarah on the SBC team shared insights as a longtime SBC consultant and daughter of a top MBA program Dean. She shared:

“Rankings are all very complex algorithms that assign weightings based upon different things– quality of faculty, ROI, average salary upon graduation, % of graduates with employment, etc.  “Rank” versus “value” is a subjective view. A ‘top’ school is different to every person.  Yale was top 30 when I went to school, but is top 10 now.  Ross was a Top 5 for many years and now it hasn’t made the Top 10.”

Rankings will come and go. We advise our clients to pick MBA programs based on what will add value to their career and life. We encourage our clients to research each MBA program to derive a strong belief in why that brand is meaningful to them. Prospective students would do well to focus more on each program’s culture, size, or the strength of its alumni network.

If you’re thinking about business school, you should decide the factors that will play a role in where you apply. Consider cost, location, program specialties, faculty’s areas of expertise, and so on. Keep these factors in mind as you research specific programs. This will help you home in on the ones that fit you best.

“Applicants see an MBA as a long-term investment in their future,” says Beth Tidmarsh, a former Kellogg School MBA Admissions Officer, now on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

Most likely, your list will contain a few under-the-radar programs that aren’t at the top of the rankings—provided, of course, that reputation isn’t the only factor that matters to you. Look at data points that are important to your own career path when determining the value of a particular ranking.

However, know that if you aspire 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. Like it or not, that’s the reality in those industries.

That said, we think ranking methodology would be improved by including measures that encompass diversity dimensions such as non-traditional industry students (or career goals) and social impact-oriented students/career goals.

MBA Rankings in an Exceptional Season

As Find MBA recently noted, business school rankings provide only a limited snapshot of a much larger picture. “Many students have jobs working for social good, which do not always have high salaries but are rewarding in other ways,” says Caryn Beck-Dudley, president and CEO of AACSB International. “The geographic location and cost of living can distort salary reports as well.”

“Too narrowly defined methodologies don’t allow for the intricacies of each program to truly shine, and thus can’t give an accurate representation of what the program can do for the learners.” —Caryn Beck-Dudley

Given the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic, several schools have opted to forgo participating in MBA rankings this year. We understand and support this decision. Schools shouldn’t be distracted by secondary priorities such as rankings. . At this critical moment, they must focus on program quality and students’ needs and safety above all else.

Ultimately, you should choose a program you genuinely connect with. 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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