How Important are MBA Rankings?
Today US News & World Report released its hotly anticipated annual rankings for MBA programs. These rankings, along with those of Bloomberg, Businessweek, Forbes, The Financial Times and The Economist, have become akin to the Holy Grail for many MBA hopefuls. While the data in the rankings have value, the rankings themselves have real limitations that applicants frequently ignore.
Rankings measure divergent aspects of a program, frequently using superficial metrics. Even when examining the same parameters, different rankings assign different weights to metrics such as GMAT scores, return on investment (ROI), and recruiter satisfaction. As a result, results can vary widely: Duke Fuqua was ranked #6 by Businessweek in 2010, #15 by The Financial Times 2012 Global MBA programs, #12 by US News in 2013, #12 in Forbes 2011, and #18 in 2011 by The Economist.
To make any sense of this numerical stew, applicants must understand each ranking’s methodology. For example, Businessweek bases its rankings on employer and student surveys with a dash of “intellectual capital,” while The Financial Times mixes in diversity and international reach, alumni salaries and career development, and research capabilities.
Once sophisticated MBA applicants understand what’s being measured, they need to evaluate which rankings measure and weigh as they do. If there isn’t an exact match, the data contain noise and can become flawed.
Many of the metrics reflect either inputs (GPA, GMAT) or outcomes (ROI). What about measurements of educational quality? You can’t rely on a simple reading of rankings here, either. Educational quality is highly subjective, and student objectives also vary, making “quality” different from student to student. For example, a woman interested in strategy consulting who wants to attend a business school with a strong women’s network should look at different factors than a man interested in management in the global energy field. For her, the surveys conducted by US News and Businessweek on leading schools in general management, and those by The Financial Times that rank schools based on the percentage of women in class and on faculty would be of strongest interest. In this case, looking at the metrics for very specific criteria, not the school’s overall rank, is most relevant.Continued on the next page