Don't Blindly follow Business School Rankings

Business School Ranking FlawsBusiness School Ranking is tricky, and for publications, the evaluation is based on feedback from Alumni, Current Students, Professors, and Recruiters. Biases emerge from different actors in management education. The result is a concocted list with a high margin of error. Historical ranking plays a major role in maintaining status quo. Are you saying that Harvard, Stanford and Wharton remain the only top three schools offering world class education? There are at least four more equal or better schools that are not even featured in the top 10 list.

But the ranking is not based on an independent review but through the response from Alma matter and the beneficiary – the Recruiter. When you look closer, the response rates are as low as 20-25%.  Such low numbers should not influence the opinions of future MBAs, who will use the ranking information as the basis for their belief. Schools featuring in the top 20 list will spread the news furthest, and those who are not featured in top 50 will use some other dubious factors like top 10 MBA in London or  "Top 10 MBA near a beach", or an appropriate list where the ranking is below 10.

An unbiased observer might imagine that such distortion of ranking will find no takers but from the recent chats that we had with MBA aspirants, we found that they take the data as “Holy” information – data that should not be questioned. We cannot blame MBA aspirants. We hold on to irrational beliefs in our daily lives. Questioning data validity is a highly intellectual exercise that requires less distraction and more deliberation. In our world, both are in short supply. Once our basic beliefs are set, it becomes impossible to evaluate evidence to the contrary.

When you talk to alumni and current student who are not that thrilled with the program, the question that will come to you mind is “Has the guy lost it? Maybe he got his priorities wrong. Perhaps he is a creative type not cut out for an MBA.” At no point in our list of assumptions, do we concur to the evidence revealed by the current student. Perhaps, the so-called great MBA programs have professors in key subject expertise who are plain boring, and you would have learned the subject on your own.

The Admission process helps MBA programs attract some of the best minds, and credit is due for the relentless AdCom that make sure that the best and diverse minds occupy the classroom. What result are symbiotic conversations led by the dominant class members, and often the best experiences are the result of such interactions. The professors play a supportive role. Perhaps MBAs want such experiences but majority of them are in the class as career switchers. For such a large group, a structure on how to develop the new skills is essential more than the haphazard manner in which ideas are shared. But will any MBA student share such disadvantages. In our experience - Yes! They do.

Most Alumni from top MBA programs say in private that they would have reached their short-term goals without an MBA, but the network that they developed during the program is too valuable to be disturbed with honest opinions, and so they pretend. The returns are high when a group of talented Alumni share competitive information, and support each other. The externalities of an MBA – networking and brand value are what make them stay in the top. The course curriculum and professors are good, but the consistency of quality lacks in top 5 MBA programs. If the classroom experience for you means networking and sharing ideas, follow the Business School rankings.

For others, evaluate the program based on a combination of learning experiences (in-class learning via professors and classroom experience via classmates), post-MBA salary, post-MBA job mobility, and reputation among recruiters over 5 years after an MBA. After you reach your short-term goals, it is your ability to maneuver business strategies and personalities that would decide whether you can reach your long-term goals. An MBA alone is not enough.