Do MBA Rankings Matter?

How to evaluate business school rankings and read the opinions of education experts?

Do MBA Rankings Matter?

When trying to figure out which business schools are the best for a candidate, the most popular tools for assessing qualities are rankings and accreditations. But what are they and which ones should prospective students be looking at most closely?

Nowadays rankings are gaining more and more recognition. They started not so long ago in 1977 with the Carter Report, the Ladd & Lipset Survey and the MBA magazine. Subsequently in 1988 Business Week popularised business education by publishing its first ranking. Much has changed since then – the 80’s fashions have gone out of favour, the Berlin wall came down and rankings have become a powerful opinion-making machine. They are an intrinsic part of the MBA industry and are probably here to stay. It is key for business schools to maintain a position in the higher levels of the rankings and as a result ranking methodology has become a criterion for the quality of education provided by the schools themselves.

There is some debate as to whether this is a good thing or not. One thing is certain, however, that it is certainly not very academic. However, it is undisputable that rankings have popularised business education making access to complex information easier.

Methodology of rankings

The problem lies not just in the methodology which allows for huge swings on a year-on-year basis. It is also partly in the eye of the beholder. The data should be looked at critically and not as the ultimate truth. It is important when researching into a given school to look at the place it held a couple of years previously. There is no better evidence of quality that the rankings can give us than the stability of a given school. Upward and downward leaps may mean many different things, not necessarily bad, but excessive volatility is not desirable.

Some of the most recognised rankings are The Financial Times, Forbes magazine, The Economist, Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and US News & World Report. The Financial Times puts emphasis on the weighted salary of MBA graduates (20%), salary increase (also 20%) in the last three years of the career of alumni. 10% is for the number of articles of faculty members in academic journals, 6% is for international mobility, FT doctoral rank – 5% and faculty with doctorates – another 5%.

The most important news in 2013 was that Harvard retained its first position, for the fourth year running, followed by Stanford and Wharton. Business Week’s biennial ranking surveys the opinions of students - 45%, and corporate recruiters – another 45% of the final result.

Publications in academic journals account for 10%. The first three US schools in 2012 were “the usual suspects ” Chicago (Booth), Harvard and Wharton – the same result as two years ago. For internat ional schools the first three places were occupied by London Business School, INSEAD and IE Business School.

London Business School, INSEAD, IESE, Hong Kong UST, MIT: Sloan, and Booth. Forbes has a biennial ranking which solely examines return on investment over the five years following graduation.

In 2012 the best American business schools according to the magazine were Harvard, Booth and Stanford. In Europe these places were held by London Business School, INSEAD and IESE.

Accreditations are a better method

Rankings are a good way to keep informed but we recommend candidates to take school accreditation more seriously. Accreditations entail the certification of a certain level of quality of education and provide more realistic evidence of the true standing of a particular school. The Association of MBAs (AMBA), EQUIS, managed by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) are the three main certification bodies. They can assess whether a school meets certain academic criteria and if it is able to maintain them.

Applicants should check carefully which schools they send applications to. Neither rankings, nor accreditations alone, however, are sufficient guarantee that a certain place is suitable for them. If used properly, of course, they are useful and helpful. However, finding  the right programme that best fits one’s individual needs and career aspirations is the most important personal challenge for everyone.

Rankings: Opinions from Education Experts

"Finding the right school for you is all that matters"
An Interview with Matthew Wood, Director, Marketing & Communication, EFMD

What do you think about rankings criteria?

Rankings do have drawbacks as the criteria they look at are often narrow. But they have been a helpful tool for many people in helping to make an initial selection of schools to choose from.

What advice would you give to applicants who are trying to choose the business school that best suits them?

Ask yourself this question: Would you consider spending anywhere from 15,000€ to 100,000€ and more on buying a car without testing driving it? The answer I hope is NO! This is exactly how you should view your MBA/Master selection – it is a hugely important decision to make that takes time and research to get right.

Accreditation is one important factor to look for - is the school accredited? If not, then why not? Other factors to consider include things such as: differences between Business Schools; teaching excellence versus research excellence; practical skills versus academic theory; teamwork versus competition.

Which questions should we be asking business schools and ourselves?

Do I choose full-time or part-time? Do I meet the minimum entry requirements? How long has the school been running its MBA? What is the average GMAT score? Do members of faculty have business experience? What is the average years of experience of the students? Which companies recruit from the school? Can you talk to students and alumni? What have been the most recent changes to the programme?

Although there is a cost involved I would strongly advise that you attend one of the numerous MBA fair/events and then spend the time visiting potential schools before you make your final choice. Speak to current students, ask to sit in on some classes, get a feel for the atmosphere of the place and ask yourself: is this right for me because that is all that matters.

"Business school should aim at quality, not at high ranking"
An Interview with Maria Coello, IESE’s Corporate Information Unit Director

What do you think about rankings criteria?

Rankings have different results because they are based on different criteria/methodology, etc. This means they are great for highlighting different aspects of an MBA to consider but it’s important to look at the results in context.

Does competition for higher placing in the rankings contribute to improving the level of education?

I think it is the other way round: competing to provide high-quality education contributes to improving a business school’s position in the rankings.

First and foremost, a business school’s aim is (or should be) quality, not a high rank. Being first in the rankings should be a consequence, not a cause.

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