Want to spark a full-on fracas this holiday? Forget the finer points of impeachment or the maddening inconsistencies of Star Wars. Just bring up rankings. Graduates of elite schools? They love rankings…until they’re around alumni from comparable schools. Then watch them bandy dubious stats and stories back-and-forth. No doubt, the ‘rankings don’t matter’ crowd will chime in – a knee-jerk defense of their debt-laden liberal arts degrees that fast-tracked them to phone sales. Sitting out, you’ll find the trade school grads, busy scrolling through their phones for boats to fit in their new garages.
Yes, ripping rankings is a hallowed tradition in the vein of snarking at gaudy holiday decorations. Rankings are subjective and elitist, some say. They measure the wrong items or apply the wrong weights. With schools versed in the criteria, they can be easily gamed too. Yes, school rankings feel like the 21st century equivalent of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 – more a measure of airplay (i.e. reputation and relationships) than quality. They are flawed instruments, ones that aren’t pegged to individual needs.
WHY RANKINGS MATTER
Take The Financial Times, a hodgepodge of 20-some metrics that include titanic variables like female and international board membership. Here, CEIBS makes the Top 5 – despite ranking behind 92 MBA programs with Bloomberg Businessweek. In The Economist, Stanford GSB inexplicably ranks behind two California MBA programs. Of course, there is U.S. News – the so-called ‘gold standard’ that confers a 25% weight to a “Peer Assessment” survey completed by deans and MBA directors. Translation: respondents – with nominal day-to-day experience at other institutions – have the platform to knock down their competitors. Such glitches almost elevate simpletons like Forbes, which strictly measures post-MBA pay…every two years.
Why bother with rankings? Simple: they are a starting point – the frame of a puzzle that’s sure to include missing pieces. Fact is, there is no substitute for talking to alumni and students, poring over employment reports and classrooms, dissecting Linkedin profiles, attending MBA fairs, and visiting campus. In the end, rankings are based on data, quantitative and experience-driven. They provide insight into academics, culture, experience, network, and outcomes. More than that, they reveal momentum, trends, and outliers. Broken down, they can guide prospective applicants to the questions to ask and the directions to pursue.
These days, every business schools tout their “collaborative culture” and “experiential learning” (among other buzzwords). Their messaging is laden with the same tested copy that plays on applicants’ need for community, impact, and prestige. To that, rankings act as a check, the invisible hand that pushes business schools to add new amenities, treks, and courses. In the end, they hold schools accountable for living up to their promises, lest they face leery applicants and dispirited donors.
This year, P&Q authored nearly 50 articles analyzing various MBA-related rankings. Aside from examining the usual ‘name’ rankings, P&Q collected original data and produced exclusive rankings in the areas of online MBAs, undergraduate business schools, and entrepreneurship. Wondering where your target school or employer stands? Check out our links to our best rankings from 2019.
Poets & Quants
U.S. News & World Report
The Financial Times
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