Does program ranking REALLY make a difference? Why is it better to go to a higher ranked MBA school?
Gooooooooooood question. There’s been a TON of trust and power invested in the ranking systems out there as a way of deciding which are “the best schools.”
It’s not that the rankings MAKE the school better, but that the rankings TRY to reflect the “success” of the school. Each of the famous ranking groups (US. News, Financial Times, Princeton Review) has its own criteria (for the most part transparent, which you can read about on the ranking site), in which they give a certain weight to things like GMAT score, exclusivity, outgoing salaries, percent employment, etc. etc. These weighted values add up to some nominal “value” of a school… think the star rating guides that movie reviewers use. The higher the value, the better the school.
Now, let’s set all that aside. I think you do have to take the rankings with a grain of salt. Remember that the rankings are first and foremost a BUSINESS unto themselves, and a very lucrative business at that. So every year we will see certain schools go up and down on the list. Does this mean that all schools “goodness” changes every year, and exactly on the year? Of course not. It just means that if the rankings didn’t change, the ranking sites would have nothing to write about, and lose their customers. Sure, some years, a university may open a successful new school or department or hire a great new dean or pick up a world-renowned professor, but for the most part, there’s not a TON of variation on these scores.
So, when considering schools, of course prestige is important, but the difference between rankings (Haas being 7 and Columbia being 8, for example) is not really THAT important. It is FAR more important to choose the best school that FITS you. You’re the one shelling out the big bucks for that MBA, so you’ve got to be sure that you’re going to succeed—not just succeed, but THRIVE—in that program. Yet again, it all comes back to our mantra: go to the best school you can get into.