Do MBA Program Rankings Matter?

When attending any graduate or undergraduate program, school rankings tend to carry a lot of weight and have a recognizable impact on future opportunities. For example, attending an elite university such as Harvard will typically provide students with far more job opportunities, higher starting salaries, and a greater possibility of future success compared to a less well-known institution. But does the same hold true for MBA programs, particularly when many MBA applicants have very specific goals and needs?

For example, if you’re looking for a Production & Operations Management MBA from Georgia then the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech is #1 according to the US News & World Report. However, if you’re looking for an evening MBA program, the Goizueta Business School at Emory is always ranked in the top 25. So how do you choose?

There is an ongoing debate about MBA rankings. Do they provide applicants valuable data or do they mislead applicants in favor of particular schools? Also, how great is the marginal difference between schools marked 20th and 30th and schools marked in the top ten? While rankings always matter, if you’re applying to an MBA program, the most important thing for you to determine is if and how much the rankings matter to you.

First, it’s necessary to understand how MBA program rankings function. The major rankings include BusinessWeek, The Economist, Forbes, Financial Times, and US News & World Report. These institutions rank MBA programs based on criteria such as the school’s admission figures, average GMAT scores, placement data, and starting salaries for graduates. However, the rankings can also include subjective data such as student and alumni satisfaction. In order to get the most out of your MBA school ranking, you need to understand the particular methodologies that each ranking system uses.

MBA applicants who don’t understand these minute differences between the different rankings, may be confused as to why one school performs well in one ranking and worse in another. The question ultimately comes down to, how do you measure the quality of business school and how does that relate to each individual applicant? The biggest failing of the ranking system is its inability to integrate perspective student criteria. And that’s where you, as the candidate, have the biggest say.

Above and beyond any ranking, what you want out of the school should be the greatest determinant for the MBA program that you choose. The key is to create a list of criteria and then choose your institution based on how the program meets those criteria. First, look at the school itself: its personality, teaching style, prestige, location, course length, and costs. Then, look at what the MBA program can provide in terms of return on investment—the average post graduation salary, alumni network, specialization opportunities, and school influence. Once you have your criteria, create your own personalized school ranking.

Also remember that school deans will always state that their particular school and program is best. Instead, look to students. A key indicator of a good MBA program is the type of students who are going in and the type of students who are leaving the program. In an open market, the top schools will receive the most applications and those schools will continually receive more and more applications year-over-year. At the same time, top schools also graduate students and place them in high-value jobs with high salaries and high job satisfaction. Always look at student criteria when determining the right ranking and MBA program for you.

When it comes down to it, your particular MBA program desires should outweigh an arbitrary rankings list. If you’re looking for a great entrepreneur or leadership program, those top schools may not necessarily be represented within the accepted rankings system. Also, if you want to live and work in a certain area, attending an MBA program in the city and location where you’ll be searching for future job prospects is more important than attending an institution with a higher ranking.

MBA program rankings can and will always be very influential, but make sure you do your research and find the MBA program and school that best fits you. When you not only take the rankings but your own criteria into consideration, you’ll find that you end up with a much better program.

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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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