Rankings Still Sway Most MBA Applicants


When it comes to choosing the business schools to which an applicant is most likely to apply, MBA rankings continue to be the No. 1 criteria for prospective students, according to a new survey of applicants out today (June 15).

Applicants said they found rankings twice as important as the location of a school, its culture, or even its alumni network. And they found rankings to be more than four times as important as a program’s class size, recommendations from friends and relatives, or even a school’s facilities, despite the fact that many top schools have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to improve their buildings.

The second most important criteria for school selection was “career impact,” followed closely by a business school’s career placement stats. Though the importance of rankings was predictable and consistent with previous surveys, the magnitude of its influence on prospective students could be considered somewhat surprising given the severe flaws in various MBA rankings.


Applicants were asked to allocate 100 points toward a variety of factors that would influence their decision to select a business school program (see below). The respondents gave rankings the most points, 16, significantly more than any other factor. Career impact was given an average of 11 points, while career placement stats were given nine. A school’s location, its alumni network, and its culture were each allotted eight points, half as much as rankings. A program’s academic focus was given only six points, while the quality of a school’s faculty won only five points–less than third of the influence of rankings.

The survey–by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC)–also found that 14% of female applicants to business school submit the GRE for admission to business school, that female candidates are more likely to pay for test prep support, and that 30% of the applicants who use admissions consulting help begin working with their consultants more than six months before application deadlines. Candidates expect nearly a 50% increase in compensation by getting an MBA, a sizable increase over pre-MBA annual incomes that are slightly over $80,000 for men and about $70,000 for women.

Several consultants who held a webinar to release the survey results expressed disappointment that rankings would weigh so heavily in an applicant’s decision. “We beat the drum so hard every year, but it’s a new pool of applicants every year and people are motivated the same way,” said Scott Shrum, vice president of marketing for Veritas Prep and AIGAC secretary. “But it’s only natural, particularly when so many people are embarking on such a big decision.” Added Andrea Sparrey, AIGAC president: “A ranking feels more concrete for them (applicants) so it’s a lot easier to process that information than a career report.”

Respondents also told AIGAC that Duke, Chicago, Virginia, Tuck, and Kellogg were the schools that they believed got to know them the best during the application process. Yale, Columbia, NYU, and UC-Berkeley were on the other end of that scale. The number of applicants, meantime, who admitted that their recommenders had asked them to draft or write their letters of recommendation decreased ever so slightly from last year. About 38% of the applicants said their recommenders asked them to draft the letters, with the practice being more likely among international candidates.

Source: AIGAC 2014-2015 applicant survey

Source: AIGAC 2014-2015 applicant survey

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