John Byrne recently left "Business Week" as their Executive Editor to start C-Change Media whose first offering is Poets and Quants, a site devoted to the MBA space. He started the Business Week MBA rankings while at that publication and he has not gone rogue in reporting the truth about them and in setting up face off comparisons between them.
If you or anyone you know is considering an MBA, his site is a must. He recently shared the following with me and I am reprinting it here with his permission.
How much weight should you give business school rankings in deciding where to go for your MBA?
Like most things in life, there is no simple answer. Surveys show that the number one factor in choosing a business school is reputation and image. There is no single more influential measurement of reputation and image than a ranking.
Still, it's important to remember that there are no perfect measurement systems to determine the best schools. The methodology behind every ranking -- whether Business Week, U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, or The Economist --has inherent flaws built into them. So you need to know what a ranking is actually measuring and whether those measured attributes even matter to you. That's one of the reasons why I launched PoetsandQuants.com. There's way too much information out there without enough insight and analysis. We took apart all of the rankings, closely examining their strengths and weaknesses, and published our own ranking of the rankers. Yes, I did this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. After all, I have the rather dubious distinction of starting this game by creating the first regularly published business school rankings at Business Week in 1988.
You also should know that many of the media brands that rank business schools have tweaked their methodologies over the years, making year-to-year comparisons even on the same ranking tricky business. And in truth, the differences between a school that ranks fifth and one that ranks tenth can be so close as to be statistically insignificant. That's also why we published a new ranking of the top schools with index numbers attached to each position so you can decide whether the differences in rank are great enough to matter.
Under no circumstances should you choose a school solely on the basis of its ranking in any of these surveys. It is merely one factor among many to weigh. Far more important than a school's rank is its culture and how that environment matches up with your personality, your study habits and your ultimate professional goals.
If you're interested in a smaller, more intimate setting to study for your MBA but still have the advantage of a supportive alumni network, you would choose Dartmouth's Tuck School or Stanford over Harvard or Wharton. If you're keenly interested in going to Wall Street, you might favor Columbia or Wharton, arguably the best business schools in finance. If you want a school based on the first year compensation it will likely get you, then Harvard or Stanford is where you want to go.
Of course, very few people can get into these elite schools. And that's where rankings become far more valuable because their primary benefit applies to schools that are not universally among the top 10 or 20 institutions. Why? Because that's where there generally is less information available to make the best decision. Long before there were rankings, for example, there were at least 50 schools that contended they were among the top 25, and 100 schools that claimed they were in the top 50. Rankings, however imperfect, have helped to put more accountability into what business schools claim.
Even so, rankings perpetuate elitist thinking. The prestige and value of an MBA experience shouldn't only go to the brand name schools that end up on these lists. There are hundreds of other business schools that can offer you a first rate education and an invaluable experience. A business school, whether it's in the top 50 schools or not, is a marketplace of ideas. It is filled with smart people who want more out of their lives and are willing to invest their time, their intellect and their money to get it.
So while an MBA from a brand name school high in the rankings does have more cache, will open more doors and impress far more people, the actual educational experience may only be slightly better than what you could get from a program that fails to make a list of the top 50. As Lee Shulman, the former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, told us recently, "Just because it's Kleenex doesn't mean it's the best place to blow your nose." Just because it's Harvard doesn't mean it's the best place to get your MBA.