US News released their annual MBA rankings this week, and I've been thinking about how that publication influences how people choose (a) which schools to apply to and (b) which school to attend. Today, I was reading this post
by Jon Frank of Admissionado
, where he states “Ignore money, go to the best school you can get into.” Now, I’ve read a lot of the material that Jon puts out and I have a lot of respect for the guy, but I don’t agree with this particular piece of advice. In my opinion, money should
be a factor in a lot of cases. I’m writing this post to get my thoughts down and to hear what others (including Jon) have to say about how rankings should influence applicant behavior. Why Rank Matters
- Higher ranked programs attract more of the best and brightest students (and thus alumni), and professors than lower ranked programs. This network is extremely valuable, especially when searching for jobs (both right away and mid-career).
- Some jobs require
not just any old MBA, but rather an MBA from an elite institution. Common examples include MBB consulting, high finance jobs, etc.
- Higher ranked programs have a stronger global and national reach. HBS, Stanford, Wharton, etc. all have much better brand recognition and stronger alumni networks across the world than say Keenan-FlaglerInstances When Rank Does Not Matter
- The quality of educational content is largely the same across schools. All MBA programs teach the same basic principles and methods independent of their rank.
- Your career progression after you land your first job is based almost exclusively on performance at work, and definitely not where you went to school. This is a critical point that I think is often overlooked. I get the sense that a lot of applicants believe ‘oh, if I can just get into H/S/W, then “I’m in” and I’ll be set for life--my golden ticket.’ That’s really not the case. If some random, unambitious person with 500 GMAT, 2.5 GPA and average work experience tricked H/S/W into accepting them, they would definitely not have this grand successful career as a McK consultant, I-banker, etc. because they got in… I think Alex Chu had the best analogy: you can put a terrible driver in a Benz, but they’re still going to be a terrible driver. How To Select Schools
- For me, the first question is – what career do you want to have? For a lot of folks the honest answer is “I’m not sure, but I want to make a lot of money.” And that’s okay. In this case, I agree with Jon – you should probably go to the highest ranked school you can get into. Higher ranked schools will maximize your exposure to a wide variety of lucrative opportunities. For others, they have a very specific answer. E.g., sassafrass wants to go pursue a non-profit career. Yale sends 5.4% of their grads into the non-profit sector, while Kellogg sends <1%. Sure, Kellogg is ranked higher, but Yale seems like a better fit given his goals.
- My next questions have to do with location – where do you want to be after graduation in the short-term? Long-term? During school? Many applicants either aren’t sure or would consider living in a wide-variety of cities/countries (ST, LT, and during school). Certainly nothing wrong with that! In this case, you’ll want to consider going to the highest ranked school you can get into as it will likely have the broadest reach. There are others who know exactly where they want to be ST, LT, and during school. E.g., I personally want to remain in New England in the ST, LT and during school, so it doesn’t make sense for me to apply to USC Marshall (8% placement in the Northeast) even though it’s ranked much higher than BU, BC, Babson, etc.
- My final question - where do you fit? There are some cultural differences between the programs, and it’s definitely something to consider. Although, this is not as relevant as the other two factors (in my opinion).
In essence, if you know what career you want to have, where you want to be and/or where you’ll fit best, I don’t think choosing schools to apply to or attend exclusively based on ranking makes any sense. If you’re in this bucket, then money should definitely be a major factor. If you’re still trying to figure these three things out (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; many people are), then I wholeheartedly agree with Jon – “Ignore money, go to the best school you can get into.”
Looking forward to some spirited discussion!