How Business Schools Game The Rankings

This is an open letter to U.S. News editors from an admissions director of a prominent business school to improve the MBA world just a little bit by changing the wording on the U.S. News survey to be more exact, thus leading to a better ranking methodology.

Learn about business schools gaming the system and how they do it: everything from scheduling to GMAT requirements. Also, learn how to raise your GMAT score!Will this be the year that U.S. News and World Report finally alters their business school survey just a little bit so that it is more accurate and does not encourage MBA admissions offices to enter gray areas and create workarounds in order to “report” the best possible numbers?

As an admissions director for a highly ranked business school, I have a few suggestions for U.S. News to improve its data gathering in a way that would increase the credibility of the information it provides applicants.

When is Fall?

When asking about the qualities of entering students the term “Fall” is used.  This is a terrible term as it is limiting, inaccurate, and ambiguous, thus creating issues for admissions officials trying to give information that is both accurate, comprehensive and truthful. Why? Because it allows schools to hide the real GPA and GMAT scores of some of their MBAs.

This term is awful, as it ignores reality and Newtonian physics – the movements of the earth around the sun, and the spin and angle of the earth.

Fall in North America generally is considered to be from the fall solstice, normally around the 23rd of September, to the winter solstice, normally around the 21st of December. Since most MBA programs start in August and early September, the most accurate answer for most MBA programs should be zero entrants.

Of course, we all know the intention is to get a read on entrants in the fall semester/term, which normally starts in August or September, right? As a U.S. focused survey U.S. News does not need to concern itself with the shape of the earth and that “fall” is different for schools below the equator, such as those in Brazil, South Africa and Australia. But it should make these dates explicit so that admission officials can’t interpret fall in a way to exclude students with lower GMATs or GPAs.

Now to address the gray zones of class start dates, requiring the GMAT, and the non-full-time student who is actually going full-time.

Start Date

The problem – It is true that some schools enroll MBA students only in the “fall” term, the traditional start, for these schools the term has accuracy.  Many schools have developed MBA programs that start at other times of the year, often January, May or even June.  The way that the survey is worded, most schools are naturally going to admit their “poor test takers” to these other start dates.  Some schools might even start a special “summer session” that coincidentally is full of poor test takers.  These non-fall starts are an Enron-like maneuver, instead of “off balance sheet” financing you have “off-survey” students who are enrolled and paying tuition but not counted in surveys when it could hurt the school’s ranking.

The solution – Define entering students as all of those entered from a date in one year to a year later in the next year, such as students who entered between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014. Oddly enough this is the type of wording already being used by U.S. News for MBA employment.

Requiring the GMAT

The problem – It is likely that the more GMAT exceptions a school has, including GRE test takers, the more they are entering a gray zone to boost their GMAT average. Most of those who are not required to take the GMAT either took the GMAT and did not do well, or were likely to do poorly if they did take it and then worked with the school to be admitted without a GMAT.

Example – Recently we were competing for an applicant with excellent credentials and a GMAT lower than our school’s average.  We encouraged the applicant to re-take the GMAT. The applicant told us that another school, actually one of the schools lauded in a recent Poets&Quants article for being one of the “Top 50 Schools With Biggest Increases in Average GMAT Scores,” told the applicant that he could be admitted if he took the GRE.  Basically, he was told that if he takes the GRE the school will pretend that the prior GMAT did not exist.

The solution – The number of GMAT exceptions reported to U.S. News needs to be made public and U.S. News should create and publish a GRE conversion table to a GMAT score.  While the conversion can’t be perfect,  it will be better than having “off survey” test scores. 

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.