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Importance of Business School Rankings

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Business school rankings can play a very important part in your post MBA employment. The three most widely accepted rankings in the US are compiled by US News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Week. Each company uses its own criteria to determine their respective rankings, but they are often fairly consistent as far as which schools are included in the top 20-25 overall (generally considered top tier programs). Though usually the same schools are considered top tier by each of the rankings, the exact ranking may vary between each company’s list.

The Role of MBA Rankings:

There are several different MBA ranking profiles for MBA programs, each of which plays a different role.

Employer’s View of Rankings: Top tier schools continually produce highly sought after employees. The relationship each school has among certain industries and employers can have a major effect on how sought after their students are. Employers also view MBA programs differently. Some of the larger banks, Fortune 500 companies, and investment firms will only hire out of top ranked programs, while many regional and local companies have long standing relationships with smaller MBA programs and hire extensively through those schools.

Recruiter’s View of Rankings: Companies hire recruiters to fill their needs, and recruiters are going to do what it takes to find a match for the company. Because recruiters only get paid if their referral gets hired, some recruiters will spend more time and energy on the person who is most likely to get hired quickly and for the highest salary (on which the recruiter’s commission is usually based). Often times, the higher ranked the MBA program, the easier it is to find a recruit a job. This is not always the case however, as each student brings different skills and abilities to their job search.

Specialized Rankings: The rankings in the lists provided generally cover the entire MBA program, but there are specialized rankings as well. For example, instead of attending the highest ranked school they get accepted to, some people would be better off attending a B-school program that ranks very high for their chosen specialization, such as accounting, entrepreneurship, IT, finance, marketing, strategy, operations, or logistics.

What are the top ranked MBA programs in the US? Rankings vary depending on which ranking system you choose to read. The three most popular are:

  • US News and World Report: America’s Best Graduate Schools 2008. Published annually.
  • BusinessWeek: The Best B-Schools of 2006. Rankings released every two years, but school profiles updated annually.
  • Wall Street Journal: MBA National Ranking 2006. Based upon recruiter opinions on a multitude of criteria.

Common questions regarding MBA rankings

Will attending a top tier MBA program help my career prospects? Yes, to a degree. But your diploma alone is not a guarantee that you will get the career you seek. The most important thing a top tier MBA does for you is guarantee you access to some of the world’s brightest professors and programs, and an extensive network. Your network will be invaluable when you begin your post MBA job search, and can pay dividends throughout your career as well. Your degree can open doors to interviews, but it will not guarantee you a job or career progression.

Do you need to go to a top ranked MBA program to get a good job? No. Attending a top ranked MBA program is great for your career prospects, but is hardly a prerequisite for a successful career. In 2006, BusinessWeek surveyed the 500 top paid executives from companies in the S&P 500. According to the article, Is the MBA Overrated?, fewer than 1/3 of the executives had an MBA, and fewer than half of those had an MBA from a top 10 school. However, many of these individuals did have other specialized degrees such as law or engineering.

The most important thing to remember is that people with talent and drive will often find a way to succeed no matter what their background or situation. A top tier MBA does not define success.

Is the MBA rank the most important factor about choosing a B-school? No. Each person has his or her own needs when deciding which program to choose. And there are many options to choose from. Just because a school is not considered top tier, does not mean the school does not provide a valuable learning experience. There are many different programs and specialties to choose from that may meet your needs better than any top tier school can.

The MBA program I want to attend is not on any of the top tier lists. Should I go there? That is up to you. There are many factors that determine which MBA program is the best for you. Stay tuned for Part 7 of this series when I will cover “Other Deciding Factors for Choosing Your Program.”

My Opinion: Rank is important, but it is not the most important factor in choosing an MBA program. The most important thing to determine is which school is right for you and whether or not that school will help you achieve your goals. If you feel like a top tier program will benefit you in reaching your goals, then you should place more emphasis in your application to top tier schools. If you decide you only want an MBA for the knowledge you will get in the process, then a Top Tier program may not be necessary for your situation.

Here is the rest of my series on selecting an MBA program:

Note: Right now I am still in the process of deciding my goals. I know getting an MBA is the direction I plan on going, so wish me luck, and as mentioned before, feel free to leave comments, ask questions, or share your experiences! ;)


Published or updated February 27, 2011.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kyle

I just received my MBA last spring. I always tell people that are on the fence about getting this degree is to do it for yourself and don’t worry about the other stuff. People with strong ethics who work hard will succeed and obtain their goals no matter where they get the MBA. I placed very little emphasis on the rank of the school and it has yet to matter. But then again I am self employed. ;-)

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2 Brad F

My MBA is from a Top 10 school. IMHO- Getting a MBA is an expensive branding exercise. The better your brand, the more options you will have after graduation.

BTW – you should not underestimate the importance of location. If you are looking to join a firm in the Northeast corridor, it can be difficult (and expensive) to look for work if you are in the Midwest.

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3 Ryan

Kyle, I agree, the most important reason people need to get an MBA is for themselves. Personally, I want an MBA to help me change career fields and to *hopefully* be in a position where I can manage and make decisions.

But, I’m also sure you will agree that an MBA from certain top tier schools will open doors that would otherwise be closed to people without that particular degree. I think people would find it difficult to get into many venture capital firms, hedge funds, investment firms, private equity or some other highly sought after jobs with an MBA from “Online-University.com.”

That’s not to say an online degree isn’t worthwhile, but I think there is an expectation among certain employers. In fact, I know several people with online MBAs who have done quite well, and fully support that learning style. However, most of them are hard workers who will succeed wherever they go. They also weren’t going into private equity or hedge funds! ;)

I think the most important thing to consider is why you want an MBA, your goals, and what it will take to meet your goals. Thanks for the comment. :)

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4 Ryan

Brad, great comment. I think you said in 20 words what I tried to say in a full page. :)

Location is definitely an important factor… along with about 100 other things. I plan on writing more about that in Part 7. I hope you’ll come back to read it. :)

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