Ok, out with it. Go ahead. Ask me which MBA rankings are the best.

Well, all the rankings are good! Say, WHAT?

Let’s open this can of worms.

Because you see, as always, it depends. On the methodology of the rankings. On who is being surveyed. On what they are asked. On how & when the data was collected. On, of course, YOUR criteria & how you intend to use these rankings in your decision of choosing a B-School.

Let’s check out the Top MBA Rankings

Not sure if you have seen a ‘Yellow Pages’ before (check the banner image above). It was a nice big book (with yes, ‘yellow’ pages) full of listings of commercial businesses (based on what services they were offering).

To me, MBA Rankings are the yellow pages of business education. They can help you to distinguish between various programs. They are great lists to get familiar with the various B-Schools. The only difference between the different rankings is from the emphasis laid on various parameters. Let me introduce you to 5 of the most influential and popular MBA rankings from the media houses.

The Financial Times (FT) Rankings: These are among the most influential globally (and the most popular among my clients in India & Asia). A global ranking that covers 143 schools, getting into the top 20 is indeed prestigious for the participating schools. INSEAD, LBS, Chicago Booth, IESE, and Yale are in the top 5 schools this year. Though the survey is based on 20 different measures, compensation & internationalization get a lot of weightage. (Methodology here).

U.S. News & World Report : An US-only ranking, this is based on 8 criteria. High importance is given to student selectivity (25%) and peer assessment score by B-School Deans & Directors(25%). The majority of US applicants trust this ranking more. (Methodology here).

Forbes: This ranking is based on just one parameter- the return on investment(ROI) achieved by alumni five years post-graduation (5 -year MBA gain). There are 3 rankings- Best Domestic MBAs, Best 1-year International Programs & Best 2- year International Programs. All of these are published once in 2 years (latest is from 2019). (Methodology here).

Bloomberg Business Week: This fully relies on customer satisfaction. Weightage is given to 4 key groups: compensation, learning, networking, and entrepreneurship (based on what students, alumni, and recruiters think are necessary for assessing a B-School program). (Methodology here).

The Economist: This ranks from the student’s perspective and is based on the following: open new career opportunities(35%), personal development and educational experience(35%), salary(20%), and potential to network (10%). (Methodology here).

Poets& Quants: This ranking is a composite ranking made of the above 5 rankings. More emphasis is given to the US-only rankings. This does mitigate some of the faulty survey techniques and methodologies of the individual rankings and offers an interesting take on things.

How should you use these rankings?

So, School x is at Rank 3 on your favorite MBA Ranking list. Says who? According to whom? How? Why? Consider the answers to the following questions before making your decision.

Whom are they surveying?

For the FT rankings this year, Harvard, Stanford & Wharton (HSW) & Columbia famously skipped the survey. For the Economist 2021 rankings, 49 schools declined/were ineligible to participate and 13 B-Schools (including all of the M7 schools-Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, MIT, Chicago, Kellogg, and Columbia) boycotted the survey and still, they published a “Best Business School list”! So, it matters who is responding to these surveys.

What are they asking

Are the criteria being surveyed of great importance to you? Do you trust facts more or opinions more? Some of these surveys focus more on opinion-based criteria. While others are purely based on facts. But then it is also how the facts might be collected or computed which can alter the results.

What about the methodology?

You have to figure out how these B-Schools get there on the list. Many of these methodologies are flawed and nowhere perfect. Imagine each of these rankings to be a “Yellow Pages” book. They are listing B-Schools in some order (based on their set of criteria). Will you select a school just because it was on the first page? Forbes uses a 5-year gain (why only 5 years?). Economist rankings have been so unstable and always came up with the biggest surprises. FT rankings places a lot of emphasis on international diversity and the way it is calculated, which has an inherent bias not favorable to US B-Schools. And again, GMAT and GRE scores reported are faulty. These are just a few of the issues. Go through the methodology to know more.

Why do they do this?

Some things don’t change from the yellow pages era. For both media and B-Schools, this is done for brand recognition and advertising.

Don’t just don’t consider rankings at their face value -they may mean a lot or nothing.

So, what should I do now?

Rankings are a GREAT starting point for your research.

I love the ready-made lists and poring over the data shown. Some rankings do give out a lot of other data. The ‘create my short list‘ feature in Bloomberg Business Week is a neat tool to compare and know more about the B-Schools in the rankings.

But when it comes to using rankings in your decision-making, the suggestion is to make YOUR own ranking. “MBA Rankings” can factor in as a criterion in YOUR own ranking. At CareerLabs, we help clients arrive at this through guided tools.

So, go back to your own reasons and goals for the MBA and assess your fit with the program. That’s all matters in the end!


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