Keeping MBA Rankings in Perspective

One of the most common questions posed by students considering a degree in graduate-level business administration is, “Does it matter where you get your MBA?” In many cases, the search for an answer takes students to published rankings of the nation’s business schools, where they hope to find unbiased insights into the specific MBA programs they’re considering.

While an MBA program’s reputation may carry some weight with potential employers, students shouldn’t focus exclusively on the prestige of the school or the perceived “brand equity” of a particular degree. Reviewing rankings can broaden your view by providing important information about the kinds of candidates a program usually includes and the outcomes they typically achieve. As a result, it’s important to understand how to decode this part of a school’s profile.

Evaluation Considerations

There are a number of different methodologies used to assess MBA programs. However, most ranking reports include information about:

  • Class Profiles: Profile factors like average GMAT scores, undergraduate GPAs, and work experience are the most common considerations. These capture the quantitative elements of the class most recently enrolled.
  • Employment Outcomes: These data points include factors such as average starting salaries, the percentage of students employed at graduation and 90 days after graduation, and sometimes the types of companies that are hiring graduates. Some publications also include information about the employers who hire MBA program graduates.
  • Student Satisfaction: This is typically measured through surveys of current and former business administration students.
  • Faculty Profiles: This information measures factors like the percentage of faculty with PhDs and the number of faculty publications in top academic journals.
  • Research Output: This information details the number of faculty publications in top academic journals and the amount of research funding that the school receives.
  • School Reputation: In some cases, schools are rated on the basis of reputation alone, with no additional context. Keep in mind, however, that reputation alone is not necessarily a good reason to choose a graduate school.

The weights given to each of these factors can vary depending on the publication. For example, some publications may place more emphasis on admissions standards, while others may place more emphasis on employment outcomes. As you begin to identify your goals for business school, you can start searching for specific programs that have the qualities you value most.

Graduation ceremony

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How to Use Rankings

MBA rankings can be a valuable tool for prospective business school students, but they're not the only factor you should consider when choosing a school. It's important to do your own research, to visit schools in person if possible, and to chat with an alum to get a feel for the school’s culture and fit.

Here are some tips for using rankings effectively:

Look at multiple rankings: Don't rely on just one ranking publication. Instead, consult multiple rankings to get a more holistic view of a target school’s strengths and how it compares to its peers.

Consider priorities: What are the most important factors when choosing a business school? In addition to your educational objectives, you need to consider your personal priorities when evaluating rankings. For example, if employment outcomes are a top priority, you may want to focus on rankings that give more weight to that factor.

Visit schools in person: There's no substitute for visiting schools in person. A visit can give you a chance to get a feel for the culture and fit, and to meet with faculty, current students, and some of its MBA students if possible.

Third-party graduate business school rankings can be a valuable tool for prospective students, but it's important to understand how they work and what they measure. By consulting multiple sources of information, applicants can gain insights into identifying schools that align well with their academic preferences and goals.

Additional Tips for Prospective Business School Students

Whether you're evaluating traditional or online MBA programs, there are a number of other things you can do to choose the right one. Here are a few additional tips:

Talk to current students and alumni: One of the best ways to learn about a business school is to talk to student ambassadors and alums. They can give first-hand insights into the school's culture, academics, and career services.

Consider financial aid options: Business school can be expensive, so it's important to evaluate the full range of financial aid options that may be available to you. Many schools offer scholarships, fellowships, and loans to help students finance their education.

Research different programs: There are a variety of different business school programs available, such as full-time MBA degree programs, part-time MBA programs, executive MBA programs, and specialized master's programs. Research different programs, including online MBA programs, to find one that is a good fit for your career goals and learning style.

Choosing the right business school is a big decision, but it's an important one. By better understanding how MBA degree program rankings work and what they highlight, it’s possible to increase your chances of choosing a school that will help you develop new leadership skills and achieve your career goals.

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