My Thoughts on MBA Rankings

BusinessWeek recently released their 2012 business school rankings. Rather than go into the mechanics of the rankings and bitch about how my alma mater NYU Stern is only ranked 16th (just kidding, I don’t care), I’m just going to spew my thoughts about how rankings fit into the overall b-school experience.

Like I mentioned, I don’t really care for business school rankings, but I understand why they’re important:

  1. They ignite change. B-school administration will say they don’t care about rankings either. But when their rank goes up, they publish glowing press releases that highlight all the improvements they made. When their rank plummets, they denounce the survey’s methodology, carefully craft answers to potential candidates’ questions about why their rank dropped, and commit time and money to improve on the metrics that gave them a lower ranking. Yup, seems like they don’t care at all.
  2. For the most part, prospective MBA students choose a business school on two primary characteristics – rank and location.

Regarding #2, I don’t think these are wrong factors to take into account – just incomplete. These two factors are where applicants should start their application process, not end. There’s nothing wrong with a top-tier applicant narrowing down his or her initial list of schools to the top-10 ranked programs in major metropolitan areas, for instance. But many times that’s all applicants think about.

I believe that smart applicants will go further; they’ll really understand what they want to get out of business school (e.g. switch to the finance industry?) and the type of environment in which they want to spend their next two years (e.g. competitive or collaborative?), and any other factors that might be important, then really dig in to the fine details of each school that may fit his or her needs. B-schools aren’t just MBA factories; they’re living, breathing entities that will impact you for not only the next two years, but the rest of your life.

Another important factor is brand. No matter how many times Chicago’s Booth School of Business sits atop BusinessWeek’s rankings, that brand just isn’t going to be as powerful as Harvard Business School, Stanford, or Wharton. Brand is a powerful thing that should be taken into account, but like rank and location, it probably shouldn’t be the primary factor.

I understand that many of these factors aren’t mutually exclusive, but the message that I’m trying to convey is that there’s much, much more to b-school selection than rank. At least there should be.

For those of you who have MBAs, I’d love to hear some of the factors that you used, outside of rank and location, that helped you select the school you attended and how it worked out for you.

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on MBA Rankings

  1. Depends on your goals. If you simply want the stamp of approval from one of the Big 3 to enter an industry that covets them, then go ahead and brand-chase.

    But meet enough duds from Harvard/Stanford/Wharton (and good lord, there are many), you’ll quickly realize how little the brands correlate with quality. Don’t get me wrong, those schools certainly have smart, high-achievers as well. But if you want the best overall experience and are more focused on learning whatever it is you need to learn to do whatever you want to do, I’d reason that location, campus culture, and class size are most important (in that order). Brand is a distant fourth.

    Re location, is the school in close proximity to your desired industry? If so, you’ll have a much easier time accessing said industry, as most b-schools have direct ties to their local industries (Berkeley/Stanford, for example, if you want to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur). Furthermore, you can do local internships during the academic year and won’t have to uproot yourself when interning during the summer.

    Re campus culture, b-school is a perfect time to incubate ideas, and having like-minded people around helps immensely. If you wanna be a finance jock, you’ve got Wharton/Chicago. For the wanna-be entrepreneur, Stanford/Berkeley/UCLA are hotbeds. A marketing whiz? Yay Kellogg.

    Finally, class size. Depends on whether you want a wide network (large class) vs a deep one (small class). That’s a matter of personal preference, but having gone to a smaller school, I’d say classes of 300-400 are ideal. They’re large enough to be diverse, but small enough to be familial. People will shout “Norm!” when you walk in the classroom (which is nice, even if your name is Lisa).

    So again, if you want to be part of an industry that simply requires a H/S/W MBA, do what you’ve gotta do. But if you’re more focused on the actual learning as opposed to branding, feel free to use the above criteria.

    1. Hey Sam,

      Great points! I totally agree. I went to school to get into sports marketing, so NYU Stern was a perfect fit. You got my point exactly – there are many important factors in such an important decision. Thanks for your comment!

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