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Is An MBA From A Business School Ranked Outside The Top 20 Worth It?

Matt Symonds, co-founder and director of admissions consultancy Fortuna Admissions, answers your Applicant Question of the Week

Thu Nov 29 2018

It's time for another BusinessBecause Applicant Question of the Week!

Every week, we give you the opportunity to ask one of our chosen admissions experts anything you want to know about getting into business school. One question each week is chosen for our expert to answer.

This week, the question comes from an anonymous MBA applicant.

Their question is answered by Matt Symonds, co-founder of Fortuna Admissions, an independent admissions consultancy. His Fortuna colleagues include Caroline Diarte Edwards, former admissions director at INSEAD, and Judith Silverman Hodara, formerly director of admissions at Wharton.

Matt is also the founder of the World MBA Tour and former director of the business school events and rankings company QS Quacquarelli Symonds.

Applicant Question of the Week:

Dear BusinessBecause, 

I'm worried about getting into a top-ranked business school—is an MBA that's not from a top-20 business school worth it? Is it still possible to get the same career benefits from a lower-ranked school? 

The Answer:

With many thousands of talented applicants applying for a few hundred places in the MBA classrooms of the top-ranked business schools, we can understand why candidates are concerned about their chances of admissions success to those high-ranked colleges.

My colleagues at Fortuna Admissions point out that their former job title focused on admission, not rejection. Their greatest reward was to craft the diversity of the incoming class, and for every 740 GMAT and fast-track career at McKinsey, Google, or Goldman, they would also offer places to candidates whose personal experience and attitude made them stand out in a crowded applicant pool.

Nobody is an offered a place at a top-ranked school if they don’t apply, so you have nothing to lose by putting together a thoughtful application to a highly selective school.

Rankings provide a limited snapshot of what defines the ‘best schools’. More important are the factors that make any school the best choice for you. A school with accreditation from AACSB or EFMD has already demonstrated the rigour and quality of the business education they provide and could be perfectly placed to accelerate your personal and professional development at a fraction of the cost of Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, or Wharton. You may even have a better shot at getting a scholarship at a less competitive school.

My co-director Caroline Diarte Edwards explains that much of the foundational curriculum that you will cover in an MBA will be very similar across schools, so in terms of building your knowledge and skills, you can gain a great deal at a lower ranked school. “It may be easier to stand out academically and in on-campus recruiting at a somewhat less selective school.”

She adds: “If you are looking at accelerating your career within the same company or within the same sector, or starting your own business, you may not need the brand name recognition that a top business school confers.”

Judith Silverman Hodara emphasizes the importance of location. “If you know that you would like to start your career in a specific region, it could be a good idea to attend a school in that area—regardless of rankings, proximity to specific industry and a local alumni network can be really beneficial.

"A school such as Vanderbilt Owen in Nashville is at the heart of the US healthcare industry, and over 450 companies compete to recruit MBAs every year.”

Some lower ranked schools may have specific course offerings that fit your individual interests and have electives or clubs that relate to your career interests.

For those interested in the luxury sector they should look closely at Italy’s MIP Politecnico di Milano with close ties to fashion and design, or France’s NEOMA Business School with campuses in Paris and the Champagne region of Reims.

And if you want to shift your career in the direction of AI or fintech, there are great options beyond MIT Sloan and London Business School.

EMLYON Business School has devoted considerable resources to the AIM Institute that prepares students to work with and manage AI technologies, while Imperial College Business School takes full advantage of London and a heritage of technological innovation.

So it’s important to do your research, and you may find that a lower ranked school is an ideal fit for your personal goals.

Ask an Admissions Expert a Question!

Next week, we'll have admissions experts from business school giant MIT Sloan School of Management here to answer your applicant questions.

Kristen Lindeman and Shauna LaFauci Barry (pictured) are both associate directors of MIT Sloan's office of admissions. Shauna has been working at Sloan for 15 years, and Kristen for seven, so together they have a wealth of experience about helping get students like you into the best business schools.

You can submit a question on our TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn pages, send us an email to, or simply post a comment below! 


Student Reviews

emlyon business school




On Campus

Intense courses, helpful professors

I am an international student in my 3rd year and I love going to this school and do not regret chosing it for my BBA. The classes are helpful, professors are always there to help as well and we have a very understanding administration.




On Campus

Leadership in an amazing city

I decided to do my exchange in Emlyon because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, and I found a space with very capable People.. participatory, empathetic and full of leadership. I will never forget Lyon, apart from giving me an unforgettable experience, he gave me great friends




On Campus

A lot of opportunities professionally and socially. A unique program in France.

You can choose your courses and do your internship, exchange whenever you want. It's flexible and adapted to the needs of each student. A great program and a great city! Professionally, it opens a lot of doors for you to find internships or jobs in France or abroad thanks to the network and career events.




MSc in Digital Marketing

Combining both worlds into one, this course gave me all the on-demand technical skills in data science while maintaining a business-oriented approach. Thanks to the strong academic profile of this university I was able to secure an internship and full-time job at Amazon.




Top Business School fostering innovative entrepreneurs

EMLyon is one of the best business schools. The campuses, associations and courses offered provide the students with the best options to build the future they have chosen. The various opportunities to study and work abroad also offer a deeper understanding of the world, not only economy-wise but social, which helps the student become as well a better individual and not only a pre-formated business school student.




Emlyon campus in Paris

It has a great international community and you have access to many international tools, courses and professors. I had many networking events and workshops for students. Campus and some details of the program could have been improved or need to be bigger in order to have a better student life.




On Campus


Overall good content and good activities. Lack of administration but still ok. Good flexibility and liberty offered to the students. Finally, the amount of internship is also a good way to improve qualifications.




Good Reputation and International Business School

The course was not well adapted but it was up to the mark. The professors are very well experienced and their experience comes in handy while working on assignments. The facilities on the campus are top class. Truly professional. I really like spending time in the learning hub and using all the available resources. Lyon is an amazing city. You will never get bored.




On Campus

MSc International Hospitality Management

The best educational experience of my life so far! It’s been full of exposure and great connections. From Lyon to London, Paris, Los Angeles and Las Vegas! Truly an exceptional way to discover the world of hospitality.




On Campus

Real networking opportunities

- meeting new people, specially professionals during seminars or evening meeting at school. - going abroad to study luxury - being involved as an ambassador to promote the school and the program I was into (MSc LMM) - having such a great professional core




On Campus

white baccalaureate in the world of work

I really appreciated the MS SDAI as a whole. The teaching staff, the different subjects, the university exchange, TEM... I started my internship in a consulting firm having acquired a solid foundation. Downside for CentraleSupélec, which I found far too academic for a program such as this.