If you are an aspiring MBA student, chances are you have already checked the results of at least one business school ranking. Are rankings important? Why are they all different? What is the best way to regard them when selecting the best programme for you? These are all valid questions you may be asking – and with this article, you should hopefully begin to understand MBA rankings a little better.

What are MBA rankings?

A business school ranking is essentially a list of institutions in higher education ordered according to various factors. You may be used to regarding this type of ordering as “best to worst”, when, in fact, this is not an accurate way to describe rankings at all.

Different rankings are published by different media outlets which have their own methodology or set of factors to consider. In other words, there is no one way to measure what is “best” or which business school is worthy of a ranking spot. Each publication gets to decide what data-collection methodology to use for their own ranking.

Do you see how this could turn out problematic? With many different publications available, the meaning, methodology, and value of rankings can get muddy, which explains the recent uproar related to these types of publications in business education circles.

The “unranking” movement

In May 2020, Bloomberg Businessweek decided to temporarily suspend its MBA rankings for that year due to the disruptions caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic. “Asking students, alumni and recruiters to take a rankings survey in this environment felt inappropriate, we were told. Staff workloads were already stressed. Data collected could be overwhelmed by the pandemic and not really show differences among schools,” Bloomberg News Senior Editor Caleb Solomon explained.

About two years later, in 2022, another media outlet – the Economist – announced the permanent discontinuation of its MBA ranking, citing “commercial” reasons. The decision came after the publication faced criticism for placing some schools in two consecutive editions of the ranking.

These are just two examples of the “unranking” movement that has swept up the world of business education recently.

Shaun Carver, who was former assistant dean for graduate programmes at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management (US), believes rankings in general need radically new ways to measure MBA value. He points out that “many stakeholders in the business school community have already critiqued the rankings for years, arguing that they tell an incomplete story about the value of a business degree in general and the reputation of individual MBA programmes.

According to the former assistant dean, business schools should be measuring and emphasising the impact their graduates can have on society instead of focusing on measurements such as test scores and salaries.

[T]hose who publish rankings now have an opportunity to change the way they evaluate business schools in the long run. A new methodology can address the rankings’ past limitations, while more accurately reflecting the role of business education in the post-pandemic future,” Shaun Carver says.

How to look at MBA rankings

If this is starting to sound too complicated, don’t worry. It’s very difficult to be objective when deciding on the right educational path for you. For that reason, business school rankings can seem overwhelming at first. However, with a subtle shift in your strategy, you can learn to extract all the valuable information you need to make the right choice without relying too much on this one source.

There are two secret ingredients that will help you do this. The first step is to always consider MBA rankings from a critical perspective. What is the methodology behind the publication you’re looking at? Does the ranking use data collected from business schools or from MBA alumni? The more you read, the more you will understand how rankings work and how to differentiate between them. Don’t take rankings at face value – always investigate where they come from and which parts make sense for you.

The second step is to combine different resources to make your final choice of MBA programme. You want to consider accreditations, professional tips, alumni advice, school fairs, different articles, websites, and brochures. Rankings alone will not be a helpful guide, but combined with these various sources, you can be sure that you will get to know your dream business school from all possible angles.

Although we don’t know what the future holds for MBA rankings, we can be sure of one thing – choosing the right programme is best achieved through good research that goes beyond the top-ranked lists.