Fit vs Rankings: Which is more important?
Everyone wants to go to Harvard or Stanford or Wharton, and you probably do, too. They are top-ranked business schools. It will be an easy decision if you are admitted to one of these schools.
What about other schools? Obviously it's very difficult to get into one of these three top programs. It would be foolish for most people to apply only to these three and that's it. Other schools are good too – but there's a lot of them. Wikipedia lists around 300 business schools in the U.S. alone
. Which ones should you pick?Rankings are useful as a starting point for your school research.
Rankings show how different schools can compare against each other. They use data about a school and rate the respective criteria on an apples-to-apples basis – things like:
- GMAT or GRE score and GPA: How high is the bar? A school with higher average scores is going to be more appealing to recruiters.
- Number of applications and acceptance rate: How hard is it to get in? This is mostly a factor of how many applications they receive. If a school is very popular then this means that lots of people value their MBA.
- Graduation placement rates: How easy is it to get a job afterwards? A school where MBAs are successful landing jobs means that recruiters value those grads and its students are in demand.
- Surveys of recent grads, alumni, and recruiters: How satisfied are people who went here? Or who hired people who did?
The value of the rankings is that they crunch through all that data and give you a list to see, as objectively as possible, which ones are considered better. As schools implement changes to the curriculum to respond to changes in the world of business and better meet the needs of their students, the rankings should change over time to reflect the ones that are doing a good job. It's like Consumer Reports: When you want to buy a new flatscreen TV, you can go check out the big brand name models and see which one performed the best under different conditions. Rankings can be useful because they represent someone else's hard work and analysis. They're like a cheat sheet to which schools meet a minimum standard in performance and which ones excel.
Most of the rankings like BusinessWeek
and U.S. News
have the same MBA schools in their Top 20 lists, they're just in a different order. Those lists focus on the U.S. full-time programs. Other lists like Financial Times
include more international schools. They all use a different methodology, and the order the schools appear in on each list changes each year, but not usually by a whole lot. If you pick any school in any Top 20 list you're going to get a very good education there. Any school that makes it into these lists is a quality university.
Any school in the Top 20 is also going to have competitive admissions. How competitive it is (the acceptance rate) is not determined by the rankings. A school that's lower down the rankings might have a lower admit rate, which is not what you'd expect (Berkeley Haas – only about 13% of applicants admitted). And a higher-ranked school sometimes has a high admit rate (Chicago Booth – 23% acceptance rate). So the rankings do not tell the whole story.
If you want to be sure of getting in to a good business school, you need to use more than rankings.
An important factor to evaluate as part of your school selection process is School Fit. This is a difficult term to define sometimes; it's in the category of “you know it when you see it.” Just like with people, some schools will be a better match to you, based on your interests and personality.
There's an objective side and a subjective side to School Fit:
Objective: Are you a good match for the school based on your profile and goals?
Evaluate: Is your GMAT score in the school's 80% range for accepted students? Does this school offer specialized study in the field you want to pursue?
Subjective: Is this the type of environment that appeals to you? Do you feel comfortable when you interact with the school community?
You can get an answer to the objective side by sitting at your computer and reading the Internet; that will help you cross schools off your list if you're not a good match for each other.
The only way to get an answer to the subjective side is by talking to people. Ask your friends if they know anyone who went there. Attend an information session or a webinar. The more opportunities you have to interact with the school community, the more you'll come to understand what they're about. This level of engagement is the only way to be sure of School Fit. If you do this type of research then you'll be able to prioritize the schools based on the ones you like the best – not just the ones that are higher-ranked.
The main benefit to doing this work is that you will be able to speak in more detail about why you want to go to this school. This question frequently comes up in the interviews and it can help you stand out from the crowd.
Here's how to use rankings and school fit to identify your school targets:Start Wide.
At the beginning of your search, it may feel overwhelming, so it's OK to just use the Top 20 schools.Use a Filter for Objective Criteria.
Make a list of criteria that matter to you: curriculum or specialized majors available, location, size of school. Add on the criteria that matter to the school: 80% GMAT range, work experience. Filter your list of schools and cross out any that don't meet these criteria.Use a Funnel for Subjective Criteria.
If a school meets your objective criteria, it should only be nominated for your Priority List if it meets your Subjective Criteria. The best way to identify what your Subjective Criteria even are is to talk to current students and recent graduates at lots of top schools and see what they valued in the experience and what matters to them in looking back on their MBA. You'll become a more educated consumer that way and you'll know what to look out for. Then you can begin to promote certain schools over others on your list, based on the qualities that you experience when you interact with them.
Rankings are important as a baseline measure of quality in the graduate school world. You can't go by rankings alone to determine which school is right for you. School Fit is critical to determine if the school and you are a good match for each other. Rankings are necessary to begin this process, but School Fit is mandatory to succeed.
Apparently these criteria are robust enough when you start at the top of the river, but the decision will be a toss of coin and the schools will change on each of these characteristics based on every silly thing that matters only to you from the news to the subjects of research to the appointments of faculty and more distant to see but equally likely, area governments, school partnerships and of course not to dish you the chipped one but it could be a recession when you start! so the lumber is not what you wanted..