Understanding The Rankings
By Reading Between The Lines
By Robert Simmons
From sports to communication, prospective MBA's are
captivated by rankings. Everyone wants their favorite team to be the
best, and every MBA candidate wants to attend the best or highest rated
university. While sports teams can compete on the playing field to determine
who is better on a give day, business schools of higher management education
have no commonly agreed upon measures to allow for the comparison of
teaching and research programs. The overwhelming variety in size and
purpose of institutions makes the prospect of comparing universities
a daunting one for prospective students, and for b-schools themselves.
Business Week went directly to the source to compile
their list of top 25 business schools. They sent extensive questionnaires
to 9,598 graduating MBA students at 61 schools and to 350 companies
that actively recruit. The graduates were asked to answer questions
relating to teaching quality, program content and career placement.
Recruiters were asked to assess the skills of the students and rank
business schools on the overall quality and the success rate of graduates
in their organizations. In the October 2, 2000 issue of Business Week,
they expanded their rankings to 30 from 25. The "report card"
of the top 30 schools includes useful and easy to read tables of data
For many years, various bodies have undertaken statistical
and reputation rankings of b-schools and attempted to provide information
to prospective students. Increasingly, the importance and validity of
b-school rankings is a hotly debated issue. Many universities, including
highly ranked ones, are beginning to question both the data and methods
used by some ranking services. Of special concern are the aspects of
the rankings deal with the difficult to measure concept of institutional
reputation. Thus said, there is lots of ongoing controversy over rankings.
All too many applicants rely on popular business magazine
ratings to decide where to apply. Overwhelmed with the "top tier"
programs huge salaries and prestige captures most prospective MBA candidates
into thinking can I make it into the top five b-schools? Top ten, fifteen?
However, it's a mistake to rely only on the rankings
of a b-school when making a choice. Why> Primarily because statistics
and surveys can only show so much of a b-school. You can gain added
exposure to a b-school by speaking to its alumni, representatives and
employers. Not surprisingly, current students, recruiters, and alumni
know the rating game. The objective is: Give your school the highest
marks possible. The goal: that coveted-number one spot. Some schools
even remind their students of how their responses will affect the stature
of their program.
The rankings feature easy to measure stats such as
corporate poll, curriculum, and the average number of job offers. However,
these programs don't allow for any intangibles such as the schools learning
environment, though "team work" has become popular in recent
years. The rankings provide a framework for an evaluative purposes,
but this is like trying to evaluate a collection of paintings from different
periods, with the same criteria. Relying on narrow criteria to evaluate
subjective components fail to capture the very essence of a program.
The statistically measurable differences that magazines
base their rating on are often so marginal as to be insignificant. In
other words, it's often too close to call who is the "top dog."
An achievement of winning the number one coveted spot is meaningless
because the winners change from year-to-year, and from magazine to magazine.
The rankings do tell you something about the business school but it's
smart to use them as approximations rather than the declaration of law
or fact they're made out to be.
The rankings do not consider your values or all of
the criteria you feel is important. There are many variables that must
be considered. This years number one b-school, according to Business
Week is Wharton, however Wharton received a 3 rating in graduate polls
and an 8 for intellectual capita.. thus, it may not be number one in
the areas that are important to you.
The right way to choose a program is first to do your
homework and find a good match between your wants and needs, and those
of the b-school.
You need to consider your personal style and comfort
zone. If you are accepted into a "top tier" b-school but the
workload is destroying your life or your mentality is predatory you
will not do your best work. It will not matter how prestigious the program
is if you do not complete it.
Finally, you want to consider the atmosphere of the
school. Is it hostile, or friendly? Is it an environment conducive to
learning or is it cutthroat? If you go through a b-school with an atmosphere
of camaraderie you will never forget your two-year investment. However,
its up to you to decide how you want to remember it.
Here are some things that you may want to consider
in any b-school. Investigate, check web sites, e-mail students or alumni,
or simply ask questions of admissions people; but before you plump down
several year's salary to attend b-school, you get a feel for these aspects
of the school that go way beyond mere magazine rankings.
- Academic reputation
- International reputation
- Primary teaching methodology
- Renown and availability of professors
- General or specialized curriculum, e.g. e-commerce
- Emphasis on teamwork
- Fieldwork student consulting activities
- Student support and extra study sessions, accessible
- Academic support, libraries, facilities
- Grading/probation policy
- Work load/hours per week in class
- Class and section size
- Pressure and competition
- Summer and full time job placement, number of
companies that recruit
- Career advisement, workshops
- Geographical area of alumni placement
- Particular industries that the school more frequently
- Average starting salaries, after 5 years of work
- Networking with visiting prof's and alumni
- Guest speakers from industry
Quality of life:
- Location, warm/cold climate
- Orientation, special international student orientation
- Range of student clubs
- Size of that Russian speaking community
- Spouse/partner support group
- Financial aid
- Books, computer access
- Need for a car/public transport access
- Cost of living
Robert Simmons has a Masters Degree in Organizational
Behavior from Cloumbia, a Certificate in Negotiations and Conflict Resolution
from Harvard, and an MBA from Baruch College at City University in New
York. He has also taught at Baruch College and NYU. Pericles offers
a full MBA advising program. For contact information, please call: 292-5188/6463.