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MBA Rankings And How To Use Them

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U.S. News is scheduled to release its rankings on Wednesday; late last week it teased out the top ten for that ranking (in alphabetical order). We decided to run a contest to allow candidates to predict the order of that top 10, the winner will be announced on Thursday. That all being said, we thought it would be timely to look at rankings and the value they provide for MBA candidates in the admissions process; how b-school applicants can use rankings to discover the “best” schools—for them.

U.S. News is one of many organizations that rank top MBA Programs, the list also includes BusinessWeek, Financial Times and the Economist. However, because business schools receive different rankings depending on the sources’ criteria, it can be difficult to understand which are the “best” schools. Although the general merits of each school are important, we also believe that it is important for MBA applicants to rank schools based on their individual needs and interests. Therefore we encourage students to use official MBA school rankings in the following ways:

Use MBA rankings to create a consensus

Sources rarely have the exact same rankings as each other, and therefore trying to determine the “top five” schools can be frustrating. However, 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.

Consider creating tiers, rather than focusing on a specific order


Because it is truly difficult to determine the specific order of schools, and because a number of schools are more similar in overall quality, than their particular offerings, it makes sense to tier schools together. For example, MIT Sloan, Northwestern / Kellogg and Columbia are all considered “M7” schools. All three programs are excellent, and for an individual candidate, any of the three could be preferred over the other two. A marketing candidate may prefer Northwestern / Kellogg, someone with goals to be on Wall Street may prefer Columbia while someone with aspirations to remain in the technology industry might prefer MIT Sloan. These three schools would naturally fit into a tier.

Consider the criteria used for each ranking

MBA applicants should assess schools based on how they will help them gain what they want from their business school experiences. Therefore we urge you to ask yourself what matters most to you in an MBA program. Some applicants may value strict adherence to the case method more than the amount or size of research centers, whereas other applicants may want a large number of diverse student organizations or a strong joint-degree program. Looking at the individual criteria from which rankings are calculated may help you judge business schools based on the specific factors that matter most to you. For example, if you are interested in entrepreneurship, then perhaps you should consider applying to an MBA program with a strong program in this field, like Berkeley / Haas, even if it receives lower scores in other areas—especially if these areas are not a main concern for you.

Think about where you want to go after business school


In addition to considering what you want to get out of your business school experience, you should think about how business school will help you pursue your future career. Therefore, some important rankings to consider may be the number of internships students gain at a particular MBA program or how many recruiters from different fields visit specific campuses. These rankings may be especially important if you need to follow a specific career path to achieve your career goals. Along the same lines, consider geography when selecting the schools in which you are interested. If you plan to continue your career on the east coast of the United States, MBA Programs located on the east coast may well serve you better. Similarly, if you plan to work on London after graduation, London Business School’s MBA Program will become a very compelling choice.

What should rankings do? 

Rankings should help new candidates determine a group of schools to which to apply. Once that list of schools is developed, we encourage b-school applicants to do further research in understanding the comparable merits of business schools, such as perusing admissions information, talking to professors and students, and visiting campuses.

Furthermore, we encourage applicants to check out our Clear Admit School Guides, which offer detailed profiles of the leading MBA programs.  Best of luck to those researching business schools!

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