How Business Schools Game The Rankings

Non-Full-time, full-time students

The problem – Schools want students going full-time who are not counted as full-time in the rankings, and seek another path to “off survey” students.  Schools might admit a student as conditional, part-time or under another status and then allow them to take courses on a full-time basis.  The admissions standards for part-time MBA students, which has no effect on the full-time U.S. News MBA rankings, are normally much lower.  GMAT differentials between full-time and part-time approach or exceed 100 points at many schools.

The solution – Define what a full-time student is in terms of credit hours, or their rate/percentage that they are moving towards graduation in each semester/term.  This will eliminate having a conditional/part-time student who takes the course load and has all the other attributes of a full-time student, not being counted.

Note: There is a related issue with Executive MBA admissions.  Most Executive MBA Programs don’t require a GMAT for two reasons – the applicants want to avoid taking the GMAT and many would have done poorly on it. So why have a person take a test, do poorly, and then probably admit them anyway?  Schools have decided that it is best not to test Executive MBA students at all, and pretend that old grades are a good indicator of academic ability.

Including all MBA students would be a more accurate reflection of the quality of an MBA program and the students graduating from a school.  If U.S. News really wanted accuracy in MBA rankings they would count the incoming statistics of all new MBAs in a given year in the MBA rankings, no differential between full-time, part-time, executive or any other kind of “MBA” at a school.  No one could graduate with an MBA without being included as an entrant at some point in time.  Counting all the MBAs at a school would roil the rankings as many schools have part-time programs that are the same size or much larger than their full-time programs.

While no ranking is perfect, the U.S. News MBA ranking can be vastly improved by a few changes:

1.       Delete the entrant term “fall” and add a year-long entrant time period.
2.       Create a GRE to GMAT conversion grid for schools to use.
3.       Define what a full-time MBA is, or broaden the survey to include all MBAs.

I hope that I am pleasantly surprised when the US News survey arrives sometime this “fall.”  The need for rankings to audit schools and absurdity of there not being a cost of living adjustment for salary can wait for future articles.

How To Boost A Reported GMAT Score By 100 Points


How can a school increase its reported GMAT number to U.S. News which uses average GMAT scores as one of several data points to rank business schools? The answer: By excluding special cases that range from enrolling one-year MBA students who enter before or after the traditional fall semester to urging students who have mediocre GMATs to submit a GRE score and by doing conditional admits. and transfers from part-time programs.

Most business schools have multiple MBA programs and accept both the GMAT and the GRE. They effectively report higher GMATs than they have by excluding significant portions of their total MBA enrollment. In the example below, the hypothetical school starts with 400 total students and an overall average GMAT score of 600 and ends up reporting to U.S. News that it has 117 MBA students with an average GMAT of 700, a 100-point improvement.

Once you remove the Executive MBA students, the part-time MBAs, the one-year MBA students, the special finance prep class MBAs, the GRE test takers, and donor relatives who are admitted on a conditional basis, you can literally boost a 600 GMAT to a 700 GMAT at a hypothetical school with a small MBA program and an intake of 117 full-time students.

You still need to have 117 full-time MBAs that start in the fall who have a 700 average. That is why there is so much competition in terms of fellowship for students that have great GMATs, good GPAs and are likely to get a job. These students get you ranked—they are loss leaders. The other MBAs get you money.

Many programs invest in their MBA by giving great packages to those that they have to report on in U.S. News.  They will make up the money with all of the others who want to attend a ranked program. In this case, the execs, part-time, one-years, GRE (who would otherwise be low GMATs) and donor relatives.

Program Student Intake Average GMAT Remaining Students Adjusted GMAT
Total 400 600 400 600
Executive MBAs 50 540 350 609
Part-Time MBAs 100 550 250 632
One-Year MBAs (May Start) 55 570 195 649
Finance Prep Class (July Start) 40 580 155 667
GRE Test Takers 35 570 equivalent 120 696
Conditional Admits (Donor relatives) 3 530 117 700