Do Rankings Still Matter When it Comes to Business School?

 | August 20,2010 02:06 pm IST

Is it really all about the name when it comes to business schools? Many young, aspiring MBAs think their only hope at success comes with a diploma from one of the top ten business schools. But attitudes are changing, and rightly so.

After all, what makes the perfect business school really isn't universal opinion.


According to figures from, the largest international survey of potential business school applicants, business school rankings are no longer the major factor behind a student's choice of MBA programme. The most important factor now is a school's reputation, followed by the success record of its career placement office, return on financial investment, the availability of scholarships and other financial aid and the range of subjects that the school specialises in. The survey asked over 6,000 aspiring MBAs who attended the 2006 QS World MBA Tour what would be the key factor behind their choice of school. The ranking of the school was only the sixth most important factor, having slipped continuously throughout the past three years.


For the last decade, the management education sector has been obsessed with the ranking of business schools. Titles such as the Financial Times, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal sponsor regular surveys that stoke interest to the point that their coverage produces some of their top selling editions. There is now a growing controversy about whether these rankings provide useful information for MBA applicants, or are misleading and creating a 'herd instinct' towards a few schools, which benefits nobody.


Business school officials differ in their views of rankings. Although the Wharton School frequently tops rankings, Dean Pat Harker feels: "There is a very strong consensus among parties (alumni, faculty and staff of other institutions), that the ranking methodologies are severely flawed. Some people believe that if the rankings help us, who cares if they are flawed or give a limited view of the school? But we can't have it both ways. We either endorse a defective, inconsistent practice, or we speak out, offer better alternatives for information, and work with the media to enable them to report with more useful, objective data."


Joern Meissner, a professor of Decision Sciences at Lancaster University Management School, agrees: "Lancaster does well in several rankings, but not others. All rankings are of limited value because the factor weightings are applied by one decision-maker - the ranker - and don't necessarily reflect the needs of the majority of applicants."


Kim Keating, Director of Public Relations at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth maintains that rankings have an important role to play. "Business school rankings are still a valid tool for prospective students, recruiters, and others interested in business education.


The best way to approach the six major rankings is to look at them as a whole and study the different aspects and attributes that each one is surveying." She believes that the imperfections of rankings should be tolerated.

TopMBA has responded to these pressures from candidates and academics by producing QS, which allows candidates to formulate their own rankings, based on audited data. It's obvious that what is important to one MBA candidate may not be an issue for another. Scorecard allows its user to select criteria such as country, specialization, and return on investment, amongst numerous other factors that may be decisive factors to one's selection. The results are well respected and the recruiter feedback provides a credible, independent basis for ranking schools.

Ultimately, the main problem with rankings is that they aspire to make objective something that is fundamentally a very personal and subjective process. Users need to delve into each ranking and identify the elements that can provide useful information or insight into schools that may interest them.