MBA Rankings: Friend or Foe

More than likely when you started the process of looking into MBA programs, the vast array of business school rankings were a great source of information for many of you.  And truth be told the rankings offer a good place to start your search and can help you potentially narrow down the schools to which you may apply. MBA rankings will come in every shape, size and color that you can imagine and the variety of information given within each ranking can be very helpful in one part of the application process. And while they may be helpful early on in the process the rankings should not be a significant factor in final choice on which school you will attend.

The most popular rankings for business schools are Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report.  In addition, poetsandquants.com compiles all five of the above rankings, applies their own methodology and releases its own version of the top MBA programs. This compiled list can be advantageous as no individual ranking is going to give you a complete picture of a particular school. As a matter of fact, even the composite list from Poets and Quants will not give you the be-all and end-all of these lists to which everyone concurs.

Is very important to consider a few things when utilizing the rankings:

Methodology Matters

It is important to understand that each ranking site will use its own methodology to arrive at its list. Some may focus more on the student experience, others may focus more on quantitative data about the the students, placement data and others on faculty research or employer feedback. Ensure that you understand what methodology is being used by each particular publication and that you have given significant consideration to the most important factors in deciding where you will attend.  This will help you determine which rankings may weigh more in your decision as to where to apply.  Bear in mind that methodology on a particular ranking can change from year to year as is the case with the BusinessWeek rankings coming up this year.

Rankings for Guidance, Not Decision-Making

It is impossible to make a final determination on what school you plan on attending based strictly on published rankings. There is clearly not enough information on the screen in front of you for you to use as your sole basis for that decision.  Doing so would likely have a significant negative impact on your business school experience and it is imperative to visit the schools you are interested in and talk to current students, faculty or administrators. This is the only way to get a truly accurate sense of the culture of an institution. In addition, most schools will provide a list of alumni that you may contact as well. Visiting institutions and asking the right questions will help you understand the culture of that particular institution, what kind of resources are available to you as a student or what extracurricular activities are well represented and well-organized.

As former admissions officers, most of us likely had a love-hate relationship with the rankings – we loved them when our school was near the top, we were less fond of them when we were on a downward trend.  Clearly the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this blog is… In general …business school rankings can be considered a friend when utilized appropriately. However, if not researched completely or if weighted too heavily in final decision-making, they can easily change to foe.

About the Author


My career in MBA Admissions spans more than 20 years and includes three outstanding institutions, NYU Stern School of Business, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I was Assistant Director of Admissions and Alumni Affairs at Stanford, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at NYU Stern, and Director of Admissions at Wharton, in addition to serving as senior-level administrator helping establish Wharton’s campus in San Francisco.

I am fortunate to love what I do: guiding students through every stage of the business school admissions process – from candidacy building to application crafting to interview Prep and beyond. In my free time you’ll find me on me cycling from one end of San Francisco to the other, trying to perfect something new in the kitchen or spending time with friends and family.