Where Do Business School Rankings Matter

Which are the most prestigious business school rankings? Learn how to view them and why is it necessary to cast a critical eye on them.

Where Do Business School Rankings Matter

Each publication has its own proprietary methodologies that consider certain factors over others, with the result that business schools can be ranked higher in one publication and lower in another. Some publish rankings annually, others every two years. The Financial Times publishes annual rankings for different types of business schools and management programmes, including full-time MBA and Executive MBA programmes. Business Week publishes MBA rankings in even years and EMBA rankings in odd years. The Wall Street Journal publishes MBA rankings in odd years.

Business Week sends a questionnaire with more than 50 questions to MBA students at every participating school. By filling in the form, students can comment on the quality of their fellow participants, of faculty and teaching and of career services. This makes up 50 per cent of the survey results. Business Week also calculates a school’s intellectual-capital rating by tallying faculty members’ academic journal entries in 20 publications, from the Journal of Accounting Research to the Harvard Business Review. The scores are then adjusted for faculty size. The final intellectual-capital score accounts for 10 per cent of a school’s final grade.

Some business schools do not participate in the rankings or complete the questionnaires, such as Wharton and Harvard, although this does not prevent the publications from ranking them. The vast majority of b-schools do complete the questionnaires, although the results can vary enormously across the publications. Access MBA coaches therefore work together with you to generate your own b-school choices.

Range Rather than Rank

With the wide variation in b-school rankings, it is no wonder that prospective MBA candidates often raise questions about rankings at Access MBA fairs. All of the factors that go into each ranking are in fact lagging indicators, incorporating data and reflecting opinion that is at least one or two years old. Statistics such as GMAT scores, acceptance rates and recruiter opinions have been collected long before the rankings have been published. Hence, perspective candidates should not place too much emphasis on the b-school rankings, but rather on the consistency in which schools fall within a given range. They should apply to those MBA programmes which are consistently ranked within a range of plus or minus five places by the same publication over the past five years. Red flags are raised when business schools show wide swings in the rankings over time.

In discussing the Financial Times rankings, Sean Rickard, Director of the full-time MBA Programme and Director of MBA Admissions at the Cranfield School of Management, said, “It is greatly influenced by the age of the student and the sector in which they find work.  Hence, schools with students who are in their early 20s, who have relatively low salaries prior to studying for an MBA, and who are largely focused on the financial sector, will tend to do very well in the FT rankings.”

Furthermore, rankings often exclude information that may be critical to your success, such as the location of the school and the networking opportunities. “When it comes to the rankings, very little is ever asked about the quality of the learning experience and the personal development of the individual,” said Rickard. “These attributes can be discovered only by careful research, including, if possible, visiting the school and talking to alumni.”

Salary Growth Is Key to How Executive MBAs are Ranked

One of most respected EMBA rankings is published by the Financial Times, which bases its ranking on a survey of alumni who graduated three years earlier. In the case of its 2008 EMBA ranking, the Financial Times sent a questionnaire to graduates from the class of 2005. The salary growth between the pre-EMBA salary and the average annual salary three years after graduation is the foundation for the Financial Time ranking, counting for 40 per cent of the total weightings. It is no accident that the top three EMBA programmes in the Financial Times 2008 rankings were multi-national business schools with a huge global reach:

  • #1 ranked EMBA program was the Columbia / London Business School, whose 2005 graduates were earning on average $295,225 in 2008, an increase of 110 per cent.
  • #2 ranked programme was the Kellogg / Hong Kong UST Business School, whose graduates were earning $345,159, an increase of 91 per cent over pre-EMBA levels.
  • #3 ranked was the Trium EMBA programme, based on a partnership between HEC Paris, LSE, and NYU Stern, where its 2005 graduates reported earning $297,224 in 2008, an increase of 106 per cent.

Even graduates from business schools just below the top 10 reported strong salary growth. The German-based Kellogg-WHU EMBA programme was ranked number 12 by the Financial Times in 2008, because its 2005 graduates reported huge spikes in their annual salaries over the three-year period. The recently minted EMBAs earned on average $156,217 per year in 2008, an increase of 78 per cent over their pre-EMBA salaries!

Salaries were relatively high even towards the bottom of the FT ranking, which listed 95 EMBA programmes. EM Lyon was ranked #84, but its graduates reported earnings of $97,361 three years after graduation, an increase of 62 per cent. Although salary growth is the main focus of the ranking, the Financial Times ranking also looks at the value and quality of the EMBA, its diversity and research capacity. In fact, a total of 16 criteria determine the EMBA ranking versus 20 for the full-time MBA ranking.

Make Your Own Ranking

Everyone you talk to will have a different take on the MBA. “I wanted a global program with a balance between finance, management, economics, and international business,” said Armand Nachef, a highly educated mathematician of French and Lebanese roots who is a senior IT manager for a large multinational company based in Paris and who was admitted to the TRIUM EMBA. “I considered only the top business schools in France, the UK and USA. And in fact, TRIUM is located in all of these countries and so was the ideal choice for my needs.”

Arnold Longboy, Director of Corporate Relations & Recruitment Chicago GSB - Europe, said, “Developing a network of experienced executives will prove invaluable. What kind of alumni network will you join upon graduation?  How many are there, how successful are they and, more importantly, how accessible will they be when you need them? Explore how a school facilitates the access to, and interaction of, its graduates.”

If any lessons can be drawn from these two different viewpoints, it is that prospective MBA candidates should choose those business schools that meet their criteria. In its rankings of full-time MBA programmes, the Financial Times weighs 20 different factors. But how many of these factors are relevant to you? If you were interested in the quality of the faculty, you would look at the research rank. If you were interested in your earnings potential upon graduation, you would look at the salary percentage increase rank. By creating your own ranking, you will go beyond the aggregated index and drill down into the specific areas that matter to you.

Accreditation Is Critical

Business school accreditation is one of the most important factors you should consider before applying to an MBA programme. Accreditation by recognized and independent agencies indicates to candidates and recruiters that an accredited b-school has met strict quality standards. Three types of accreditation agency are essential to consider when applying to b-schools in Europe: (outside of Europe, there are numerous national and regional accreditation agencies.)

  • AACSB International (USA-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business)
  • AMBA (British-based Association of MBAs)
  • EQUIS (Europe-based Accreditation arm of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD))

In conclusion, the rankings are just one measure of a school’s reputation. Your time and effort would be better spent in looking at which business schools meet your own specific criteria. Your profile is what counts. Once you have selected those b-schools that are appropriate to your needs, then it is perhaps the right time to check their range of rankings.

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