Why MBA Rankings Matter And How To Use Them

MBA rankings are important, but you need to choose the business school that’s right for you

By Scott Edinburgh

MBA rankings have become big business and there are a growing number available. US News and World Reports, Bloomberg Business Week, the Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal are just a few of the guides out there.

However, MBA rankings are just one of many tools when it comes to choosing a business school, and should not be the end all be all.

Why they matter

Your education is a critical component of your resume and naturally most prospective employers and investors look closely at where you went to school. Right or wrong, many will use the quality of your education as a signal of your potential value and these rankings most often shape the perceived quality of your education.

How to use them

  • Use them to get the lay of the land. MBA rankings provide a great overview of the business school landscape: what schools exist, where they are located and how they generally stack up.
  • Statistics such as average GPA, average GMAT, years of experience, acceptance rate and starting salary will give you some good benchmarking data. Use the rankings to get a high level of idea of which schools could be potential options for you.
  • Do not consider them the be all, end all. Plenty of applicants with a higher than average GPA or GMAT won’t get in each year and many with lower than average stats find their way in. The whole package matters so use these numbers only as an initial guide.
  • Find out each school’s industry area of expertise. The guides, particularly industry specific ones, are a great way to narrow down which schools are best for your specific career aspirations.

Keep in Mind

  • The ranking of the overall university, not just the business school, matters. Many potential employers or investors will not be familiar with the business school landscape but will know about the reputations of the universities themselves. Often, this university ranking can carry almost as much weight.
  • Average ranking over time is much more important than year to year fluctuation. When you are courting that investor 10 years from now, she won’t pay attention to what the ranking was when you applied but will look at what it is at the time. So, pay closer attention to general MBA rankings trends.
  • Nearly every rankings scale will give different results. Of course, certain schools will be in the top 10 in nearly every MBA ranking, but the general list varies considerably from source to source. As with historical data, the general trend is most important.
  • Rankings vary by industry! While all business schools focus to some extent on providing strong general management education, each school has a specific area of expertise. For instance, Wharton is better known for finance (but also very strong outside of finance) while Kellogg has a strong reputation in the marketing industry. Pay attention to how the schools stack up in the industry specific rankings as well.
  • Look at which schools your target companies recruit at. This can be almost as important, if not more important, as the ranking itself. At the end of the day, most candidates are looking for a specific job or role after business school and pursue an MBA with the goal of getting this job. Companies recruit at many schools, not just the top few. If you have target companies in mind, look at which schools they generally recruit at, not just at the rankings.
  • Location matters. Sure, you can live anywhere after you graduate from business school and companies from all over the world will fly to Harvard to recruit. But for obvious reasons, it is much easier to recruit at schools closer to your office. If you have a few schools in mind with the same general ranking (even if one is slightly better than the other), there can sometimes be an advantage to studying closer to where you want to settle.

Scott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA alumnus and founder of Personal MBA Coach, a full-service admission consulting and tutoring firm. Personal MBA Coach has been helping candidates on all aspects of the MBA application process for 10 years with a 96% success rate. Email scott@personalmbacoach.com for a free consultation.

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