Business school rankings are an attempt by different publications to apply a methodology to the various aspects of an MBA program. This methodology then allows for a fair (subjective) comparison between all the affected b-schools. Different publications place different weights on the varying aspects of each b-school program. Often these weights change from year to year within the same publication. With the same publication, this leads to the inability to accurately compare schools from year to year. Across numerous publications, this just leads to confusion. For instance, some publications will rank Harvard “number one”, while others won’t even have it in the “top ten”. Is it possible for a b-school to change so much in one year? Not likely. As stated above, it’s most likely the publication.
So who can you rely upon? The two most consistent b-school rankings have come from “US News and World Report” and from Business Week. Business Week issues their ranking every other year, while US News issues them every year. Every other year is probably a good policy as b-schools, containing a certain amount of institutional memory, really don’t change too much from year to year. The top ten schools have very little turnover in these two polls. You can argue with their methodology but at least you know what you are going to get. These two heavy-hitters are the ones that everyone refers to and the only ones that that the business world really seems to care about with respect to bragging rights.
Other publications offer their own shot at rankings the b-schools with mixed results. Forbes gives theirs, the WSJ, the Economist and the Financial Times all have their own. These should be considered the second tier of b-schools rankings. Although these publications’ rankings may be totally legitimate with respect to methodology, they are not paid as much attention to as US News and Business Week because they are not as consistent. When these publications drop a Harvard or University of Chicago from their “top ten”, the methodologies that produced these incredulous results tend to lose, well, credibility. Question any ranking publication that has a school in the top ten one year and then in the 20s the next year. No school changes that much.
All this being, why should you even pay attention to the rankings? Why should it affect your decision to go to b-school? Simply put, perception is reality. Think about it, when you go to get that big banking or consulting job out of b-school, the big banks or consulting firms want the prestige that is associated with the top schools. They want that prestige and they are willing to pay for it. This is why recruiters also love candidate from the top 15 schools in the world. These top schools produce, maybe not the best candidates, but the most prestigious candidates. Usually, the top school’s produce the best and the most prestigious candidates. These students get paid the top dollar and their employer now has bragging rights.
Thus, the bottom line is that, love them or hate them, rankings do matter.