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SOM: Ranking the MBA Rankings – Part 1

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SOM: Ranking the MBA Rankings – Part 1


Pursuing an MBA is a strenuous, full-time process which drains thousands of hopeful applicants each year. Studying for the GMAT, attaining a stellar GPA, developing outstanding people skills and having a portfolio of extra-curricular activities is just the start of the process. Hopeful candidates also put a lot of time and attention into which schools to apply to and eventually attend through the use of various rankings published by organizations such as Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Financial Times,U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and The Economist. These rankings have different criteria which levies certain schools over others. With so much information available for a prospective applicant to choose from, it begs the question, ‘Who’s Ranking the MBA Rankings?’

The answer to that question is John A. Byrne, Chairman and CEO of C-Change Media Inc., a digital media company that owns and moderates the collegiate website ‘Poets&Quants’. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com and executive editor of BusinessWeek where he worked for the better part of two decades, launching the magazine’s ground-breaking rankings of business schools. He is one of, if not the most knowledgeable individual when it comes to differentiating between MBA rankings.

STATE OF MIND’s Krishna C. Nadella had the privilege and pleasure to sit down with Mr. Byrne. The following is a Q&A between the two of them:

If I was an applicant, how would I contextualize the MBA rankings?

Get your head around who the players are – their general standing and status. They are helpful since they unleash a lot of information into the market which allows the market to work (even if the rankings are flawed). This has become an industry (started by John Byrne) where publishers have become obsessed with rankings as it helps them sell more issues of their respective publications.

If I could take John Byrne back to his 20s, what qualitative and quantitative data would you look at knowing the knowledge that you know now?

You have to know what is important to you:

  1. Superior Teaching – When taking into consideration the opportunity cost and actual tuition, you will be spending about a quarter million dollars towards an MBA. As such, you want the best teachers teaching you when that much of a monetary investment is on the line. You will spend more money on your MBA than on any other purchase (even more than an undergraduate degree) except maybe a house. An excellent service on PoetsandQuants.com provides which programs have the best teachers through student evaluations over the course of the respective school’s history. This allows applicants the ability to make an informed decision on which school to pursue.
  2. Small and Intimate – MBA programs are an excellent place where people get to know each other. Schools with strong alumni networks develop incredibly loyalty which speaks to the value of how much you will learn from each other. John notes, the most important and “most dirty little secret” occurs among your classmates who you learn the most from and not your teachers. With the large diversification of individuals from different educational and career backgrounds it is invaluable to have a small class size that allows you to grow these relationships. This enhances your professional network as the possibilities are endless to learn from your peers
  3. Brand Matters – This is directly related to the school’s ranking. There is no truth in one ranking, however, when you put them together you get to a greater truth which leads to the public’s perception of an MBA program. A lot of judgement in your resume goes into where you attained your MBA (the good and the bad). Brand is distinguished through each discipline (where you want to work, what skills you want to develop, etc.) – so choose schools that best suit where you will acquire the most amount of knowledge. For example, for finance students, make sure to look at the depth of each school since they will all have a “finance” course.

As a STATE OF MIND exclusive, John ranked the 5 major business school rankings.


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Can you speak on “context”, specifically on the historical presence of the US News ranking – especially as it came out a year after Businessweek’s?

If not for the US News rankings, we would not have all the data over the last several decades that is comparable across all schools. US News imposes a rule that as a school you have to always report the most important and basic information such as, the number of applications received, the number of people admitted, the number of people enrolled, the average GMAT score, the average bonus, etc. This is an incredible amount of data that people can use to make an educated decision. The formation of the US News ranking was incredible for the industry.

It sounds like US News holds a tremendous amount of sway with graduate MBA programs, “you don’t get us the information we need, you may not get the ranking you want.” Is that not somewhat a conflict of interest?

I love it as it creates a marketplace where information is available to everyone and is transparent. If the information wasn’t available, you wouldn’t be informed enough to make a decision. However, there is a flaw in the rankings – such as the heavy emphasis on schools to focus on high GMAT scores when looking at prospective applicants. Individuals who are in the 500s could make better business people than those who have scores of 700 or above, since the reports don’t look at a candidate holistically – what they bring to the table and what they might become. All these intangible aspects are taken out of the equation and yet are incredibly important since they show who you are as a person and who you will become. Unfortunately, if you are an Admissions Director whose school is competing in these rankings, you will be more likely to only accept individuals with high GMATs/GPAs. This prevents some great people from getting into great school since schools do not want to drop their rankings through lower GMAT scores or GPAs.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the 3-episode series with John! Until then, “What is your State Of Mind?”


Writer: Bukhtar Khan

Host, STATE OF MIND with Krishna C. Nadella
Every Life Is A Book…Make Yours A Bestseller!

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