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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 and statistics.

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 faculty, tutoring
  • 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 feeds
  • 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
  • Campus
  • Orientation, special international student orientation
  • Range of student clubs
  • Size of that Russian speaking community
  • Spouse/partner support group


  • Financial aid
  • Tuition
  • 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.

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