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How to Use MBA Program Rankings to Your Advantage

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There are a number of authoritative sources that knowledgeably rank the “top” MBA programs each year.  Because the methodologies of these rankings can differ considerably, however, a given school may well be ranked quite differently across these various lists, making it difficult to decipher which are the “best” schools. For that reason, we’d like to talk today about how b-school applicants can use MBA program rankings to discover which schools truly are the best — for them.  Although the general merits of each school are important, we also believe that it is essential for MBA applicants to develop ranked preferences for schools based on their individual needs and interests.

Here are our tips for using official MBA school rankings:

1. Use rankings to create a consensus. Ranked lists of top schools are seldom identical, which makes it difficult to identify which schools are in the “top five” or “top ten.” Instead, it’s best to compile these different sources of rankings to form a consensus regarding the top schools. For example, if your target program is consistently listed in the top 15, regardless of its individual ranking among different sources, you should feel confident that it is regarded as a top school by industry professionals and future employers.  You may not be able to pinpoint the ultimate “number one” school, but you will be able to distinguish between the different tiers of schools.

2. Consider each ranking’s methodology. MBA applicants should assess schools based on what they want to get out of their business school experiences, both personally and professionally. We therefore urge you to ask yourself what matters most to you in an MBA program. One applicant may value the use of case studies or another method of instruction, and be less interested in the number or size of research centers on campus. Meanwhile, another applicant may prioritize a robust variety of student organizations and the availability of a strong joint-degree program in law, medicine, or another discipline.

Looking at the specific criteria from which rankings are calculated may help you judge which rankings to weight – and which business schools to target – based on the specific factors that are most important to you. For example, if you are interested in entrepreneurship, then perhaps you should consider applying to an MBA program with strong curricular and programmatic offerings in this field, even if it receives lower scores in other areas that are lower-priority for you.

3. Plan for the long-term. In addition to considering what you want to get out of your educational experience, you should think about how business school will help you advance toward your professional goals. Therefore, you may want to give more weight to rankings whose methodologies account for the number of internship offers students receive or the number of recruiters from different fields who conduct on-campus recruiting at a given school.

This can be particularly important for applicants who are very committed to a specific post-MBA path and want some assurance that the opportunities they’re seeking will be available once they arrive at business school. Finally, return on investment (i.e. average salary upon graduating) is another criterion employed by some ranking sites, for applicants who are concerned about their own bottom line or expedient student debt repayment.

In addition to collecting a range of rankings and looking closely at their respective methodologies, we encourage b-school applicants to go beyond these numbered lists as they work to understand the relative merits of the MBA programs they’re considering. This might include perusing the program’s website, speaking with students and alumni, and making plans to attend an info session or visit the campus. And, to gather in-depth information without leaving your home, we encourage applicants to check out our Clear Admit School Guides, which offer detailed profiles of the leading MBA programs and side-by-side school comparisons. Best of luck to those researching business schools!