MBA Rankings – Useful Tools or Hot Garbage?

As an MBA applicant, you might be tempted to rely solely on MBA rankings when making your school selection. But that would be a mistake.

While some aspects of the various MBA rankings can be useful in your initial research, you have to realize that rankings are mainly designed to benefit the organization that publishes the list, rather than you, the applicant. Further, most of the rankings are arbitrary nonsense, built on very, very shaky foundations.

As you might already be able to tell, we have mixed feelings about the overall usefulness of MBA rankings, and we want to be sure that they are consulted responsibly. So we have combed through the data, studied methodologies and underlying goals, and prepared breakdowns on the most popular listings that you are likely to encounter during your research, including global MBA rankings and rankings focused solely on US schools. You can read about our general findings on this page, with more links to focused pages below. We have also included some tips on how to choose a business school that is right for you—rankings be damned!

You can read in-depth analysis of each major ranking on their individual pages:

How to Use MBA Rankings

MBA rankings capture something real, in the sense that an HBS MBA commands more respect than a Columbia Business School MBA, which in turn is respected more than one from UCLA Anderson. If you are totally new to MBA world, a ranking can quickly orient you on which business schools are considered most desirable by applicants and post-MBA employers.

The ranking also correlates strongly with the selectivity of those business schools and your chances of admission. You know that you’ll need a great profile in order to be a realistic candidate for top programs, since those programs attract large numbers of highly qualified applicants. So if you’re applying with a low GPA, low GMAT and average work experience, you should not be targeting the programs at the very top of the rankings.

Beyond that? Once you generate a short list of target schools, you should put the MBA rankings aside.

U.S. News MBA Rankings

MBA Ranking Concerns & Considerations

In general, there are some broad considerations that you should make when looking at MBA rankings.

MBA Programs Manipulate Rankings

The easiest way for MBA programs to manipulate MBA rankings is to focus on raising their average GMAT and average GPA. There are always candidates in the applicant pool who have great stats, but slightly weaker professional experience. Admitting a few more students with this profile can help a school to boost its ranking, with the school hoping that they can “fake it until they make it” — after the ratings increase, and the increase in applications to the business school, they hope they can make things right by admitting students who have both great stats and great experiences.

MBA ranking methodology

Another way to manipulate rankings is to recruit students who obviously have high post-MBA earning potential. The most famous example of this was the Adam Allcock scandal, in which Stanford GSB awarded large financial aid packages to students with extremely high pre-MBA earnings, despite a stated policy that only need-based financial aid was available. The suspected motivation? Stanford wanted to give high earning private equity professionals a reason to prefer Stanford over Harvard, therefore helping Stanford to show the highest post-MBA earnings of any school.

Strategies like these can influence rankings, but don’t make the program more valuable to its students.

MBA Rankings Ignore Fit

If you are having a miserable time during your two years, you will not get the full benefits of the degree. Don’t forget that a lot of the value of an MBA program is the network you build with your peers. It’s easier to build a strong network when you’re surrounded by people you admire and want to spend time with.

MBA Rankings Are Designed to Generate Ad Revenue

The ultimate purpose of MBA rankings is to generate page views and advertising revenue for the organizations that publish them. For this purpose, it’s great if the rankings are controversial, with many schools rising and falling each year so that everyone has to monitor the rankings obsessively for updates.

But, factors that influence the value of an MBA program actually change very slowly. For example, it takes time for top business schools to recruit new faculty, build relationships with new post-MBA employers, and raise donations from alumni to support expanded resources for the students. This means that the value of a given MBA program changes slowly, with very, very few events actually justifying a dramatic change over a single year.

So How Can You Find the Best MBA Program?

Once you determine roughly which schools you are qualified to attend, we encourage you to focus on the practical questions that will help you figure out which program will provide value to your career. These are simple, practical questions:

Answering these questions will help you find a business school that can enhance your career.