It's difficult to determine how much weight I should put on the rankings. What should I consider when reviewing them?

Nov 7, 2011
Tags: Choosing the Right School, MBA, School Selection

Written by Carrie Marcinkevage, MBA Managing Director, Pennsylvania State University, Smeal College of Business

Rankings are great to help you get an initial sense of program types, yet dangerous if used to make sweeping comparisons among schools. The most common rankings are U.S. News and World Report, Bloomberg Businessweek, Financial Times, The Economist, and new player in the field who ranks the rankings themselves, PoetsandQuants.com. In fact, John Byrne, former chief editor for Businessweek and Fast Company wrote a thoughtful blog on this very topic entitled “Do MBA Rankings Really Matter?” 

Among these rankings you’ll find significant differences in what they value. Some focus on post-MBA employment timing and salaries. Others focus more on a program’s reputation among students and alumni. The most important step in reading the rankings: don’t look at the numbers until you’ve looked at the formulas. Then you’ll know exactly why one school was rated higher than another, and you can be much more discerning about what’s important to you. 

One great method of making the rankings for you is to take individual sections from various rankings and make up your own. Is having a small class important to you so you have more faculty access and individual attention? Then take the columns of class sizes and make your own list. Then put in their GMATs and starting salaries to narrow down your choices. Compare back to the original rankings, but don’t let the pre-defined methodologies drive your decision. 

One mistake admitted candidates make is choosing their program solely based on which school ranked highest. The first risk – what if that school drops in the rankings next year? You’ve thrown your dart at a moving target. The second risk – what if another school you overlooked is a better fit through its curriculum, culture, or core employment relationships? You may get the degree at the school you chose for the ranking, but the experience you get at a school you chose for the program itself will give you much more opportunity to grow and develop, and that will develop into a great resume and a lifetime network of colleagues.

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