Oct 02, 2012

Thoughts on business school rankings - Assistant Dean Penny Paquette

The following post was originally published by Assistant Dean and T'76, Penny Paquette in October 2011.  The first business school ranking of this year is set to be published later in the week.

As application season gets underway so does the annual round of rankings of business schools. These rankings have become a fixture in the MBA world and lots of consultants and analysts have written about the usefulness of rankings and their methodologies. I thought it might be interesting to hear from someone who deals with both the inner workings of the rankings and their results. As Assistant Dean, one of my responsibilities is working with the publications that do the rankings, providing information and data and delving into the methodologies they use.

There are five major rankings that most applicants are aware of and may look at when considering business schools: Business Week, The Economist, US News & World Report, Forbes, and the Financial Times. Two of the rankings, The Economist and the Financial Times provide an international ranking where U.S. and international schools are ranked together. Business Week and US News do a separate ranking for international schools and Forbes only covers US schools.

While it is certainly true that the various rankings seek to measure different aspects of business schools and their MBA programs, the most important distinction among them I think is their sources of information: statistical data or survey-based “opinions.”

Forbes and the Financial Times use hard data collected from the schools themselves and MBA alumni. Business Week bases its rankings almost exclusively on survey-based opinions of students and corporate recruiters. US News and the Economist use a balance of hard data and opinion.

The usefulness to individual applicants of rankings based on hard data depends heavily on which data the ranking chooses to include (e.g., the FT includes lots of data designed to measure how “global” a program is while US News puts an emphasis on student quality and selectivity) and how rigorously the ranking publication checks the data and analyzes it (e.g., US News sends us back an analysis of this year’s data versus last year’s highlighting big differences and the FT visits schools periodically to do an audit).

The value of opinion-based rankings vary based on the selection of the group asked to give opinions (HR directors of companies that recruit MBAs in general versus managers who actually recruit at the various school), the way survey questions are crafted (asking the respondent to answer questions relative to expectations or relative to other programs that they have no knowledge of), and when the opinions are gathered (students as they are just graduating versus alumni 3-5 years out).

So, as you look at the various rankings think about the kind of information they are based on and what that indicates about their conclusions.