Many prospective MBA candidates seriously consider rankings before applying to business schools. However their role should be not overestimated in the school selection process. How to read the rankings.

How are the MBA rankings useful when selecting a programme?

The main goal of rankings in general and MBA rankings in particular is to inform prospective students about a business school's and a programme's notoriety. Rankings also provide a global picture of the programme's offering in a specific geographical area or more generally worldwide. It is a good starting point for prospective MBA students to become familiar with the MBA market. Nevertheless, it is very important that students do not limit their knowledge of this very specific market to only this source of information. Indeed, data collected may be subjective or may not have been fully checked for accuracy. Besides, if we compare rankings, it becomes clear that some programmes are not ranked the same from one publication to another, and that some MBAs appear in one ranking but not in another. The reasons for these variations lie in differences in the methodologies used. Therefore, rather than looking at ranks, MBA candidates should concentrate on ranges. For instance, they should collect the same ranking publications over several conse cutive years, and focus on MBA programmes showing consistency within a range of several places. If we compare rankings further, we see that the same pools of business schools are ranked among the best. This can help candidates narrow down their list of selected programmes. But candidates must remember that it is very important to check which criteria are used in each ranking, what their weightings are and to put them in perspective with their own criteria. The clue is to use the rankings to build a student's personal ranking according to his/her own goals, criteria and needs.

What would be your advice for MBA candidates when looking at rankings?

Here are our top 5 recommendations when looking at MBA rankings:

  • Be, and stay, critical towards rankings. Ask yourself why rankings are so numerous and published so often.
  • Rankings do not list all the MBA programmes currently on the market. Of course, they provide a selection of the best MBAs, but they are still only a selection of MBAs. Candidates must always remember that rankings emphasise the best MBAs on the market and not the MBAs that are best for a particular candidate. It is important that prospective students keep a critical point of view on data such as student/faculty ratios, placement percentages and financial aid. Rankings always favour programmes with large numbers of students because rankings do not always weight the results by the size of the programmes.
  • Some rankings focus mainly on one criteria above others, such as growth in salary or ROI several years after graduation. This may lack qualitative data that can be essential to make the right choice.
  • Always read the survey methodology -how the data are collected, reported and checkedvery carefully. Publications such as The Financial Times, The Economist, Business Week, US News & World Report give extensive details about their methodologies on their websites.

What tools other than rankings can candidates use to select the right programme?

As mentioned above, the information and data collected for MBA rankings can be subjective and may not reflect the reality or may not be fully checked for accuracy. Candidates must therefore do their own research and obtain information directly from the MBA programmes they wish to apply to. Only the MBA admission team or representative can provide the most up-to-date information. The best option is to visit the Business School, attend an ongoing course or seminar, and talk with current students or alumni.

Another very useful criterion for selection is accreditations. When applying to business schools, prospective students should examine carefully whether the programmes and schools of their choice are accredited by independent and recognised bodies. The three main accreditation bodies are:

  • AACSB International (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business)
  • AMBA (Association of MBAs)
  • EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System), run by the EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development)

To conclude, prospective students should aim to build their own MBA rankings according to their own criteria and goals. It is very important that their profiles match the right MBA programme. This is key to success. Access MBA will help you to achieve it.