Penning a recent column for Forbes, the dean of Columbia Business School (CBS) took on the question of whether and how much the seemingly ever-multiplying rankings of leading business schools matter. His answer: yes – but an applicant’s individual needs should outrank any number affixed to a school in the many rankings that abound.
CBS Dean Glenn Hubbard, an economist, argues that the quality of a business school can be measured by two simple metrics, input and output. By input he means applications, specifically how many applications a school gets and whether application volume is trending up or down. “It stands to reason that the marketplace of prospective students will send the most applications to the best schools, which will, in turn, have more selective admission rates,” Hubbard wrote.
As for output, the second critical metric in Hubbard’s no-nonsense formula, he refers to what happens to students when they leave the school. “If the job market deems the students to have received a valuable education, they will receive good job offers,” he wrote, adding that data on job offers and salary levels are therefore an important factor to consider to get at the true quality of a school.
With just these two pieces, input and output, a picture emerges in which a consistent set of business schools repeatedly rise to the top, Hubbard pointed out. This assessment provides a quantitative means of differentiating the best schools from the rest. These schools, Hubbard continues, enjoy the “cascading effects of being a top business school,” including financial resources that allow for changes to program and curriculum as needed and the ability to attract and retain top faculty.
“Admittedly, the aggregate difference between schools in the top five or 10 can be slight,” Hubbard wrote. “That means that, while rankings matter, if you are thinking about applying to business school, the question is whether the rankings matter for you,” he continued.
Hubbard called it human nature to apply to a school because it gets ranked highly, likening it to seeing a movie or buying a book after it wins an award. “We want to experience the best,” he wrote. But regardless of ranking, depending on your own needs and goals, some schools will be better for you individually than others. “You owe it to yourself to do your homework on a school’s academic curriculum, career management efforts, alumni network, and ability to put you in front of leaders who are shaping business today.”