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by Vault Education Editors | March 30, 2011


Most of you are responsible users of rankings, so the following maxim probably need not be uttered. The rankings are just a guide. Or repeated: The rankings are just a guide. In the case that you had a mental lapse, Businessweek has provided prospective business school applicants with a guide on how to make the most of MBA rankings, which, you know, are just a guide.  

View the rankings as opinion

Admissions consultant Linda Abraham’s advice is to see the rankings for what they actually are: "They are collections of data and surveys. They are opinions."

When to use rankings

Business school rankings can be a good and free source of data and information.  "Use rankings to figure out where to apply," says Sara Neher, an assistant dean UVA's Darden School of Business. "Don't use them to decide where to go."

Think in terms of tiers, not individual ranks

The impression given by rankings is that the quality of a school is accurately expressed by the number sitting to the left of the school’s name, so the difference in quality between schools ranked 30th and 50th is more or less the same between schools ranked first and 20th. In reality, among the top schools, the differences are often insignificant, says Douglas Bowman, a marketing professor at Goizueta.

Understand what each measurement means

How important is the metric that measures how often faculty publish in major academic journals?  According to Noonan, a professor at Goizueta, most students will say that it isn’t much of an influencing admissions factor. What they don’t realize is that published research is a proxy for how innovative and engaged a school’s faculty might be. Applicants should make sure they fully understand each rankings measurement before deciding which are of importance to them.

Know where the data came from

Don’t just accept the data as it’s presented. That kind of behavior wouldn’t bode well for business school, anyways, no? Understanding data requires knowing the source of that data, says MIT Sloan’s associate admissions director Julie Strong. Ask: "Did the school provide the information the publication uses to determine the rankings? If not, who did? How often are the rankings done? Is the information you're looking at two or three years old?"

Don’t forget the specialty rankings

While the best-overall school rankings get all the attention, don’t overlook the specialty rankings. Admissions consultant Graham Richmond of Clear Admit, says to see which schools are good for finance, which for marketing, and see which school’s programs match their own career goals.

Create a personalized list

Use the rankings data to create your own spreadsheet that incorporates the different parts of each rankings that are most important to you, says Richmond.

Remember what Einstein said

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."


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Filed Under: Education|Grad School