What U.S. News’ List Means For Applicants

by Shawn O'Connor on Print Print

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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  • 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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