Selecting Your Target MBA Program: Take Rankings With a Grain of Salt

By - Aug 3, 09:16 AM Comments [0]

How many readers moved to Norway, Australia or New Zealand last year? (Stick with us—we swear we are going somewhere with this line of thought.) Maybe a handful, but how many of this handful moved because the United Nations (UN) determined that people who live in these countries have the highest standard of living in the world? (The United States moved from 15th to 4th.) We are guessing that not one person moved from country to country after reading those rankings. Why? Because decisions about where you live require you to consider matters that are practical, emotional, professional, etc. These are complex decisions—Norway’s top ranking lacks context, because it measures some variables that may not be terribly important to you and likely does not measure others that are (for example, your proximity to your family or the quality of the bar scene or weather in Oslo). So, when you rationalize the score against your personal considerations, you will likely determine that running to the local consulate and immigrating to Norway would not make much sense. Furthermore, these data are static, and real events continue to individually shape each country (for example, Iceland was number for several years and has been hammered by the global credit crunch), making the UN’s rankings out of date upon publication—possibly even before.

So, why are we telling you all of this? Between U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times, Economist, BusinessWeek and occasionally the Wall Street Journal, there are plenty of rankings available to simplify what cannot be simplified and obscure your perspective. For example, Stanford came out on top via U.S. News with a perfect 100 point score. Meanwhile, Harvard finished second with a score of 98; MIT and Wharton tied for third with a 93 score and Kellogg came in fifth with a 92 point score. What exactly does this one point difference between MIT and Kellogg mean to you now? What will that difference mean to you in ten years? Do these rankings take into account whether you would be more comfortable with MIT’s flexible curriculum (where you have to choose your courses almost immediately) or HBS’s first year required curriculum, where you would take a series of courses determined by the school? Do the rankings measure whether you would be happiest in Boston, Chicago (or Evanston) or Philadelphia? Do they determine whether or not the school matches your academic specialty? The answer to all of these questions is, of course, no!

Our point is that rankings should be taken with more than a grain of salt—a bucket, perhaps?—and that you should take the time to identify the factors that are most important to you (pedagogy, academic/professional specializations, location, class size, etc.) – the ones that we have outlined in this series! Further, rankings are released each year and thus place emphasis on the short term. However, your relationship with your school and your classmates will endure long after you graduate, regardless of how your school is ranked in 2019, 2029, etc.  In fact, when we have asked MBA grads ten years out of business school whether their school’s ranking is relevant in their current life or career, they have overwhelmingly answered in the negative.

So, we hope that if you choose to consult the various business school rankings, you will do so with a sense of humor and an open mind. On the other hand, if you choose to make your decision based solely on rankings, as some definitely will, we politely ask that once you have completed your MBA studies, you send us a card from Norway. We might just come visit. We hear that they have some top-ranked fjords!

By Jeremy Shinewald, Founder/President, mbaMission

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