Confessions Of An MBA Ranking Guru

And if you want an overview of them all—and a better sense of the reputation and image of a business school—you should examine the Poets&Quants list. By combining the rankings and weighting them according to their credibility, Poets&Quants eliminates the anomalies that occur in any one list every single year and brings an applicant to the greater truth revealed in the rankings. As important as all these data points may be, I still believe that the bottom line is how well a school serves its students. MBAs, given their age and their work experience, are discerning enough to make valuable judgments about graduate education. And they want to be able to measure the full MBA experience as they make one of the most important decisions in their lives: whether to go to business school and which one to go to.

The greatest concern over the BusinessWeek survey is obvious: To the extent that MBA graduates are affecting the value of their degree when they fill it out, wouldn’t they simply rate their schools as highly as possible? It turns out that there is, indeed, a fair amount of cheerleading that goes on in these surveys. But because these grads have spent more than a quarter of a million dollars to get their degrees, they take the survey seriously. They tend to tell it like it is. And the few MBAs with an axe to grind, by the way, tend to cancel out the pure cheerleaders. With survey response rates of 50% to 60%, the sample size gives greater reassurance in the result. BusinessWeek also employs statistical consultants to examine the completed surveys to ensure there was no coaching or cheating.

Another legitimate concern is that the differences in scores on these questions are so minute that they are not statistically meaningful. That is often true, depending on the school and the specific question. Yet, when you add the scores from 50 or so questions together, the differences do tend to be relevant and meaningful—though not in every single case. Then, there is the question of expectations. Do students at Harvard Business School have far higher expectations of their MBA experience than those at Notre Dame or Michigan State? It’s safe to say they do.

If you go to the number-one business school in the world, you expect nothing but the absolute best. So Harvard may, in fact, be at a disadvantage in a survey that measures graduate satisfaction, even though the education and the experience it delivers to its students may be better than at a school that ranks higher. Bottom line: Like all rankings, the BusinessWeek take is a very useful source of information for applicants. So is the composite ranking now published by Poets&Quants. You simply need to be aware of the potential flaws and interpret the importance of these results for yourself.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Top 10 U.S. B-Schools (1988)
1988 Rank School
1 Northwestern (Kellogg)
2 Harvard
3 Dartmouth (Tuck)
4 Pennsylvania (Wharton)
5 Cornell (Johnson)
6 Michigan (Ross)
7 Vigrinia (Darden)
8 North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)
9 Stanford
10 Duke (Fuqua
Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek


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