What U.S. News’ List Means For Applicants

by Shawn O'Connor on

Numerous media outlets, including Businessweek, The Economist, the Financial Times, and of course US News & World Report, publish business school rankings, each with their own unique methodology. While there is substantial debate over whose approach is the most accurate, the impact of the various rankings comes largely from when they are released. As US News is the only publication to release rankings in the spring, their rankings are especially meaningful for admitted students deciding where to matriculate next fall and prospective Round 1 applicants deciding now where to apply in October.

The Shifts that Don’t Really Matter (Yet Get Most of the Attention)

The minute movements at the top of the rankings traditionally garner the most attention, but more dramatic shifts further down list are even more important to consider. Since US News released their 2013 Best Business Schools list on Tuesday, the media have been focusing on Harvard Business School (last year’s #2 school) tying with Stanford Graduate School of Business for first place on the 2013 list. However, from a strategic perspective, that is far from the most important takeaway. Most students considering both Harvard and Stanford will make their decision based on the culture, size, and geographic location of these schools, not on a tiny shift in the rankings.

Similarly, MIT Sloan School of Management’s slip to fourth this year after tying with the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) for the #3 spot in 2011 is also relatively insignificant in terms of where admitted students decide to attend and where prospective students choose to apply. With the exception of the most quantitative and entrepreneurial minded applicants, my clients at Stratus Prep have almost universally preferred Wharton over MIT, even when the rankings indicated that the two schools were equally strong.

Pay Attention to this Shift if You Want to Land at a Top 10 School

The most significant shift in US News’s Top 10 was Dartmouth (Tuck) which fell from seventh to ninth. This fall will likely have a significant effect on Tuck’s desirability among Round 1 applications next year. Many applicants, unless they are seeking out Tuck’s very distinctive culture, are already hesitant to attend Tuck because of the school’s rural location which inhibits recruiting, travel, and socializing outside of the school. These applicants will be further dissuaded from applying to Tuck in the 2012-2013 cycle by the erosion (albeit small) in the school’s ranking. Thus, if you are looking to land at a top 10 school and have a relatively weaker profile, I would strongly recommend applying to Tuck as, in the upcoming cycle, the school will likely be less able to be as selective as it has been in the past. However, applicants should be aware that every successful application to Tuck requires a clear demonstration of a passion for the school’s unique environment.

Game Change in New York

The new rankings will also likely dramatically affect students choosing between business schools in the New York metropolitan area, particularly those choosing between Columbia and NYU (Stern). This year Columbia rose to #8 from #9 in the US News rankings while NYU dropped from #10 to #11. Given Columbia’s long-established brand equity and concerns about NYU’s drop being indicative of a longer-term trend that could re-establish Columbia as the preeminent New York business school, a number of applicants with whom I am working who were previously leaning toward NYU are reconsidering based on the new rankings. While the difference between the schools in the US News rankings is modest, applicants’ concerns about NYU are further reinforced by the Financial Times’ Global MBA Rankings 2012, which came out in January, and put Columbia at #5 and NYU at #17. While I always counsel students to consider the specific programs and professors at the schools to which they have been admitted and while I continue to consider Stern a leading global MBA program, this growing separation between Columbia and NYU will likely impact applicants’ decisions moving forward, making Columbia even more competitive and NYU perhaps slightly easier to get into (though still very tough given its unbeatable location)

A New Star in the South

For students looking for one of the strongest regional schools in the South, Emory (Goizueta) has suddenly become a front-runner that every applicant in this region must seriously consider. In the new rankings, Emory jumped from #23 to #19 and is now tied with UNC (Kenan-Flagler). As John Byrne reported, Emory’s rise stems from the school’s increasing ability to help graduates secure jobs with very high starting salaries. Given Emory’s much-improved career services, applicants who are hoping to attend Duke but need a target/safety school in the region will now increasingly consider Emory. Emory is likely to become much more competitive in the coming cycle not only because of its improved ranking and starting salary data but also because, for lifestyle and recruiting reasons, many MBA applicants would prefer to live in Atlanta rather than Chapel Hill.

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BKKYJRPWZPEJECYDDPRXEFSAKE Joe

    I don’t think USN is that powerful. People should look at the 3 year averages and if there really is a trend that is substantiated by facts and not just USN’s East Coast bias.

  • Hoyet

    Well reasoned. as a prospective student, i agree with all of your choices…atl’s emory over chapel hill’s duke. columbia over nyu…even before the gap increased. and wharton over mit. and harvard and stanford have enough brand equity that if the rankings rank them anywhere from 3-50, we are just unlikely to believe in the intellectual honesty of those rankings…and will apply to those schools anyway.

  • Huntsman05

    You can talk about East Coast bias, but I mean…that’s where the movers and shakers in the US (and world) are. I can’t imagine West Coast schools offering better opportunities in our lifetime. With the exception of working for big companies/small employers like Facebook and such.

  • seeksleek

    I’d agree Notre Dame could be well on its way to the top 15-18. It is a great school. Darden and Dartmouth deserve better though. The schools did pretty well in recruiting during the recession years and Dartmouth’s average pay was top 4. And there are people who would only choose H/Stanford over Tuck! People who are serious about their fit….

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/L7JM27A3THCKUXYTLNQRWEFAL4 business

    As you correctly mentioned, Stern is a top tier business school. However, it all comes to which department one wishes to follow. Stern Finance department is ranked as #1 in the world: 
    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/fab6434a-48fe-11e1-954a-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1noMv8v00 . Therefore , someone who wishes to go into Finance will certainly have Stern as one of his/her target schools. I also believe that as rightly mentioned in one of recent articles in P&Q, MBA applications are falling steeply to the benefit of specialized programs in finance, etc. In this respect, Stern has leveraged its global reputation as a finance powerhouse being located in the financial Mecca of the world, and has launched outstanding specialized degrees in finance and risk management within its global degree programs.

  • Guest

    I’m surprised that such a comprehensive website has no info on part time/weekend mba programs. Some of the top schools now offer some sort of part time program. It’d be nice to see something related to this on here.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/L7JM27A3THCKUXYTLNQRWEFAL4 business

    http://www.stern.nyu.edu/programs-admissions/global-degrees/ms-risk-management-executives/program-overview/index.htm  excellent + Booth, MIT and HBS MBAs have done it/are doing it which means something. Check it out.

  • jay

    “the school will likely be less able to be as selective as it has been in the past”

    I highly doubt that falling two places in one release of the USNews ranking will have any significant impact on Tuck’s admission process or standards. Tuck is a great school with a strong reputation and it will likely continue to attract the same caliber of students as it has in the past.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/L7JM27A3THCKUXYTLNQRWEFAL4 business

    I agree with you as well. 

  • Dtg03

    I am surprised in general at how much emphasis people put on rankings. Sure, I narrowed my search to top 25 programs, but after that I considered fit first. Tuck was my first choice until those jerks at Financial Times went and ranked them #1 in the world and with it I feared went my chances. I then chose Emory, which is similar in class size and intimacy with faculty and peers and has great job placement. I believe I am Emory bound, but I am strangely enamored with the new Johns Hopkins program. Point being, pick a great program that is great for you. If you stay within the elite range, your job prospects will be fine. People stressing over 6,8,12,20 is kind of silly. These are very well accomplished people who will undoubtedly be successful with any of these schools on their resume. We are fortunate to be in a position to have narrowed our searches to such prestigious schools and don’t forget that. Most people would kill to even relate to the champagne problems people have on this site. 

  • Dtg03

    *Economist not FT ranked Tuck #1

  • $23342498

    When do schools typically release their new essays for the year? For example, this year’s application cycle is nearing its end, so when will schools release their new essay questions for this upcoming application season in the fall?

  • Bond

    He said Emory over Chapel Hill’s UNC, not Duke. Duke, based in Durham, is is generally perceived to be a cut above both UNC and Emory.

  • RC

    Shawn, what is your take on NYU Stern going down a notch at US News and FT.  Even if the school got a $100 million gift, Columbia would still be considered better – Ivy League, long-standing gap, etc.  But is NYU Stern going downhill?  What is the reason for the 10 to 11 drop?  Based on the stats, it looks like Yale beat them out by a hair?

  • RC

    Shawn, I also wonder about your comments regarding Notre Dame and Wisconsin.  No serious candidate is going to pick them over Booth, Kellogg, and Michigan just because of a few notches on a ranking.

  • Guest

    I don’t think Shawn meant that applicants would consider Wisconsin or ND over Kellogg/Booth/Ross.  I think he meant that for those applicants who aren’t quite Kellogg/Booth/Ross material should take a hard look at Wisconsin and Notre Dame if going to schoo/working in the midwest aligns with their goals.

  • SpotOn

    Just to continue beating a dead horse, from 2003 to 2008, NYU Stern was anywhere from 5-9 spots lower than Columbia.  From 2008-2012, the difference in favor of Columbia was 1-1-2-1-3. I would strongly doubt that a serious candidate looking at these numbers is going to think a seismic shift has occurred.  The reality is that if Dartmouth (a super school) did not fall, Columbia does not move up and Shawn’s comment is a moot point.

    On a different note, Business Week just came out with its undergraduate ranking and a number of top 20 schools showed movements of three or more places?  Were there any dramatic changes in schools over the last 365 days?  I doubt it.  Minute differences in measurements, including rounding, can move a school up or down a slot.

  • Arjen Robben

    People should look at unemployment reports and try to depict 4-5 year trends. Schools with less volatility and good results, are the schools you want to join. Rankings are nice, but they are not an accurate depiction of your goals. Rankings take into consideration things that you will never know whether you had a good deal or not (academic, professors, club activities). 

  • Guest

     i don’t get it

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