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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 info@businessbecause.com, or simply post a comment below!