Making the Most of Business School Rankings

Choosing a B-school can be a gamble. MBA applicants shouldn't rely on rankings alone, but the data they include are a valuable resource, admissions experts say

Whenever business school rankings are released by any publication, readers flock to the Bloomberg Businessweek Business Schools Forum to analyze the lists.At the moment, forum participants are debating the order of business schools in U.S. News and World Report's latest ranking. So far, 44 messages populate the discussion thread, and many suggest different ways to rank the programs, each participant bringing his own preferences to the discussion.

Admissions directors at top schools and consultants who advise B-school applicants agree that many B-school hopefuls rely too much on the rankings and get caught up in the lists instead of the more valuable data that come with them. They warn that this can ruin a business school application, because admissions committees are unimpressed when applicants have chosen them simply because their school is No. 5 on a certain publication's annual list.

"Stop thinking of them as rankings of anything," says Linda Abraham, president of Accepted.com, an admissions consulting firm in Los Angeles. "They are collections of data and surveys. They are opinions."

Still, rankings serve a purpose in the application process and can be valuable to MBA candidates who know how to use them properly while keeping the lists themselves in perspective, say admissions experts.

Business school rankings are available free online, which can help people save money on admissions consultants, says Sara Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business (Darden Full-Time MBA Profile). "Use rankings to figure out where to apply," she says. "Don't use them to decide where to go."

What Each Ranking Measures

Indeed, rankings are of the most service to applicants near the start of their business school search, says Patrick Noonan, associate professor of decision and information analysis at Emory University's Goizueta Business School (Goizueta Full-Time MBA Profile). Applicants, say experts, should use the rankings to narrow down the list of schools to which they'll apply. But first they must understand what each ranking measures, says Noonan...


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