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How To Look Beyond Rankings When Choosing An MBA Program

Rankings drive the higher education world. Yet, there are a number of other important factors to consider that go beyond common rankings.

Aviva Legatt, a contributor at Forbes, recently discussed how applicants can go beyond rankings when determining which MBA program they want to attend.

Rankings are Important, But Should be Taken with a Grain of Salt

Gareth Howells is the executive director of MBA, MiF, & Early Career Programs at the London Business School. Howells tells Forbes that 75% of LBS applicants “use rankings to assist their decision-making process… or to shortlist schools when deciding which to apply to.”

Many popular rankings rely on specific criteria, which aren’t necessarily of equal importance to all applicants. For instance, according to Forbes, 50% of US News rankings rely on career placement success with 35% relying on starting salary and employment rates. The remaining 15% falls on recruiter-provided feedback. Despite the inaccuracy of this statement – 40% of the U.S. News ranking weight is based on recruiter and peer surveys – the ranking has some usefulness. Notably, it can guide applicants who are intent on pursuing a traditional job with high salary, such as banking or consulting.

Other rankings, such as the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, rely more heavily on student and alumni input. This ranking is based on 45% student and alumni input, with 35% on employer reputation score, and 20% on job placement rate score.

Understanding Career Outlook and Finances

There are a number of supplementary sources applicants should consider on top of looking at rankings, Legatt notes. For one, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics offers “Occupational Projections Data,” where applicants can see the pay, projected industry growth, and required degree for a number of occupations. This tool can be especially helpful when paired with rankings for a particular course of study and career path.

Finances are important when it comes to an MBA education. Analyzing and comparing a school’s return on education can be useful when determining how cost will play into a decision.

Bob Park is former head of career strategy & professional development at SoFi — a financial planning company. Park says rankings often can miss important factors such as salary-to-debt ratios.

Aviva Legatt

“For example, when we ranked business schools by average salary, we found that our top 20 included most of the top 20 found on the US News and World Report MBA ranking,” he says in a blog post. “However, when we re-ordered by salary-to-debt ratio, only one US News program – Stanford Graduate School of Business – remained in the top ten.”

Teaching Methods and Student Input

Park also recommends that applicants consider looking at a school’s teaching method. Each school offers its own unique teaching style. For instance, Harvard Business School is famously known to employ the “case” method of teaching, where students analyze cases to apply theory and concepts.

Park says understanding teaching methods and how you might fit into certain a certain school’s method is crucial.

“Are you extroverted and want to engage in debates with classmates? Then the case method might appeal to you. The HBS website states that class participation is so important that 50% of a student’s grade in many courses is based on the quality of class participation,” Park says. “Or are your quantitative skills lacking but you really want to go into investment banking where those skills are valued? Then you might consider a school known for its quantitative approach so you can develop the hard skills you’ll need to find the job you want.”

mbaMission is an MBA admissions consulting company. In a recent blog post, the company highlighted student input as an important factor when deciding on an MBA program.

“One way to look beyond business school rankings is to speak with MBA students,” the post reads. “Even if you do not have direct access to students, reaching out to them in a targeted way—via email, club Web sites, and social media—can be quite easy. If you are conscientious, you will be able to gain some great insight into the school’s academic environment and then have time to learn more about the atmosphere on campus.”

Regardless of what an applicant is looking for in an MBA program, it’s important to not solely rely on rankings when deciding. Occupational outlook, costs, teaching methods, and student input are all important factors to consider.

Sources: Forbes, mbaMission, Bureau of Labor Statistics, SoFi

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