B-school rankings: Should I pay attention to them?

Jul 7, 2010
Tags: Academics, B-School, Choosing the Right School, School Selection

Written by James Stevens, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management

As admissions officers, we are often asked about the importance of rankings in evaluating schools. In my opinion, rankings can provide some valuable information to prospective students as they begin to research MBA programs, and they may introduce individuals to programs they didn’t previously consider. 

However, just as applicants know that no single component of their application can represent the richness of their background, experience, and potential (and hope that it won’t be the only measure that the Admissions Committee considers), no single ranking can capture a business school’s distinction or impact. Business schools, like individuals, are multidimensional—their success is based on a variety of factors, including research visibility, teaching effectiveness, business outreach, fundraising, and their unique culture.

The proliferation of rankings, mainly due to publishers who wish to sell more newspapers, magazines, or online subscriptions, is to some degree a good thing. It creates a greater selection of metrics to evaluate business schools. At the same time, I maintain a healthy skepticism about the methodologies used in all rankings, each of which can be legitimately criticized. Each ranking places a different weight on opinion surveys of alumni, students, employers, business school deans, and MBA program directors, as well as on data regarding admissions, student placement, and faculty scholarship. The dramatic swings in year-to-year rankings of any business school cannot accurately reflect dramatic swings in the quality of the school. Real improvements in relative quality take time to achieve and cannot be captured in the annual ebb and flow of rankings. 

My advice to prospective students is this: Determine what factors are important to you when deciding what schools might be the best fit. Talk to current students, alumni, and staff at those programs. Attend admissions events and visit the campus. Ask questions. Your individual preferences on the kind of learning environment, culture, academic focus, and location should have a much greater impact on the program you choose to invest in than where an individual school falls in the rankings.