Deciding on a university or business school can be an overwhelming process. When faced with the complicated decision of where to apply for both undergraduate and graduate programmes, rankings can prove to be a guiding light in the darkness, helping prospective students dissect all the areas to take into account and break them down. With growing numbers of business schools around the globe, these prestigious listings are a sure-fire way of knowing what to expect in terms of the quality of education you will receive at any given school. However, will also play an important role in the impact you will make on prospective employers after you graduate.
Employers are renowned for favouring highly-ranked schools over those lower on the list, won over by the guarantee of well-rounded, internationally-minded and adaptable graduates over potentially weaker candidates elsewhere. Unjustified? Perhaps, but a reality.
But should we stick to the numbers, or listen to our gut instinct when it comes to choosing where to study?
Rankings have only existed for some 40-50 years but were a necessary ‘evil’, put in place to separate the wheat from the chaff in the education sector. To make the rankings at all is a huge accomplishment, and whilst many straight-A students can afford to aim for the top of the pops when it comes to business schools.
For a school to be placed amongst the best 100 educational institutions in the world is increasingly difficult, and worthy of repute as competition grows, particularly in developing countries, with new schools vying for a piece of the action.
Whilst aiming for the top of the list makes absolute sense, it is imperative to be clear about what it is you are really looking for in a school before it comes down to the numbers.
A ranking is unlikely to help you decide between a school in a boutique-sized Master’s programme in Oslo and a Californian mass MBA-making machine promising the earth. Is Ivy League what you are after, stacked in tradition, or perhaps you are the entrepreneurial kind that needs a different take on pre-established business models?
Know whether an international exposure is your priority, compared to a school that has the highest percentage of women students or published faculty.
Ultimately, any school that ranks in any of the major publications can claim to be first, or at least top 5 in one of a list of innumerable categories. 1st for international experience; 2nd for career progress outside of the US, Best Return on Investment for MBA programmes in Europe. And so on ad infinitum.
Bloomberg Businessweek’s ranking, established in 1988, for example, places their emphasis on employability, but bases its results on 30% fact and 70% opinion, whilst the Financial Times uses no fewer than 20 different criteria to break down the pros and cons, such as careers services, gender parity, rate of employment, graduate opinion, return on investment and employer evaluation to name but a few. It comes as no surprise that rankings fluctuate massively year on year, with results based often on volatile elements out of the school’s direct control, or simple differences of opinion.
An economic downturn such as that of recent years has seen many a dent made in employment statistics, through no fault of the institutions themselves.
For a business school to figure on any of the numerous rankings around the world, there are, however, a number of certainties in play too. Each school must first have been endorsed by AACSB or Equis, two of the accrediting bodies that evaluate the aptness or otherwise of candidate schools. The school must have been established for at least four years and have seen its first class graduate at least three years before the ranking publication date.
This, if nothing else, takes the strain off incumbent schools and demonstrates, at very least, a certain quality based on length of trajectory.
Quality education itself is a subjective issue. Who decides what quality means? Does it mean a school with a highly international cohort, world-renowned faculty or one that is highly-esteemed by employers?
How is it that Harvard ranks number one every year without fail?
When asked about the role rankings play in the choice of graduate schools, Financial Times’ business education editor, Della Bradshaw said that “rankings are a useful tool, a snapshot in time. They are the starting point in your search for an MBA, not the finishing line”.
Where possible, it makes good sense to weigh up all the options. Visit your chosen shortlist of schools and take a few classes, chat to teachers, Admissions teams and Careers officers – these are your passport to a top job – and do a ranking of your own, based entirely on your own objectives. You’ll undoubtedly find that yours will be the one that stands you in the best stead for the future.
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