Wall Street Journal Feb 2012

The Wall Street Journal

What’s News from B-Schools
by Melissa Korn
Febryary 24, 2012

Reputation Ranks Highest In B-School Choice

Rankings rule when it comes to choosing a business school.

According to a new survey from admissions consulting firm Stacy Blackman Consulting Inc., 56% of applicants say reputation is the most important factor in picking an institution. Two-thirds of survey respondents characterized a school’s ranking as “extremely important.” Less than one percent of the 652 applicants surveyed said rankings are “not at all important.”

Though it makes sense to use rankings as a starting point to determine what institutions an applicant should consider, Ms. Blackman says applicants rely too much on the lists to make their final decisions, especially because a school’s position could change depending on the publication, methodology or year. For example, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School was ranked No. 1 by the Economist in its latest list, but landed in the 18th spot in the Financial Times and the 14th position in BusinessWeek.

Business school rankings vary according to how heavily a publication weights certain factors. For example, job placement rate and starting salaries might be ranked highest on one survey, while recruiter impressions of the school are ranked more heavily on another.

Ms. Blackman said she was surprised by how few people ”“ zero, according to her survey ”“ paid attention to a school’s size. Just 12% said culture was a top priority, and a handful of respondents wrote in that a course’s content mattered most.

“People don’t pay enough attention to the program that’s truly a good fit for who they are,” Ms. Blackman said. Though reputation is certainly important, she says applicants should also heavily weigh the strength of the school’s alumni network, as well as what courses are actually taught in the program.

Application volume for full-time, two-year M.B.A. programs may be down, but candidates are still hedging their bets: Ms. Blackman found that applicants are sending out more applications than they did in years past. According to the survey, more than 21% were applying to five schools, 14% to six schools and 13% to seven or more.

“There’s no such thing as a sure thing” in admissions, especially as schools seek more diverse candidates, she said.

Though this is the first year she conducted the survey, Ms. Blackman said that from her own consulting experience, applicants used to focus on just two or three schools.