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MBA Business School Ranking Criteria

What exactly is an MBA business school ranking? Thinking about an MBA’s “rank” can be a useful exercise when you’re trying to decide which program is best for you, but are these rankings really that straightforward?

Independent ranking systems can help inform your decisions but it’s important to think carefully about what each ranking system means. These systems are controversial in the business school world, yet they have become a very popular way to compare different programs and their providers.

In this article we look at three of the most popular ranking systems. We explain the differences between the three and offer some advice on what to look for and think about, before making up your mind about any MBA that takes your eye. Studying for an MBA is a huge commitment in time, effort and finance, so use this page to help you understand what MBA business school rankings really mean. Decide which system helps you rank the programs listed according to your needs.

MBA Business School Ranking – What is it?

MBA Business School Ranking Criteria

The MBA has become one of the most popular masters programs, and arguably the branded management program world-wide. This popularity means huge global demand for MBAs, which is met by thousands of business schools, offering an equally wide range of different programs.

A number of well-known publications now produce an MBA ranking list as a tool for comparing and contrasting different business school MBAs.

However, useful as this can be, problems arise when each of the publications uses very different criteria to rank the MBAs they list.

To help you think about how to solve this problem, this article looks at three well-known ranking publications:

  • The Financial Times (FT)
  • Business Week
  • The Economist

Although each of these publications is highly regarded, with a global reputation for business research and journalism, the MBA rankings they produce are invariably different. Why? Because each uses a different approach to compiling the ranks. Each uses different criteria and each emphasizes different aspects likely to influence prospective students in their choices. That explains why there may be so much variation from one MBA business school ranking list to another. So how do you determine which might be the most helpful to you?

Which Ranking Criteria Do They Use?

The starting point is to be aware of the approach each publication takes in compiling its list. Each publication produces its MBA business school ranking using different criteria and from differing perspectives. Some place greater importance on graduate salaries and faculty publications, others weight their rankings more towards employer perceptions, whilst others consider the student perspective as most important.

The Financial Times bases it ranking on three main areas:

  • “alumni salaries and career development”
  • “the diversity and international reach of the school and its MBA”
  • “the research capabilities of each school”

The FT’s ranking criteria are complicated but notably, 40% of the rankings are based on salary indicators, with the previous two years’ information forming 50% of the overall ranking score. The MBA ranking criteria for the FT is explained in more detail here: FT’s ranking explained.

Business Week adopts a different approach, asserting that its ranking is based on one issue: customer satisfaction. To achieve this they survey students and corporate recruiters. This accounts for 90% of their ranking score. The final 10% takes into account academic indicators based on faculty staff’s intellectual output (books and papers published in respected journals, etc). You can find out more about how Business Week explains its business school rankings here: Business Week’s ranking explained.

The third example we’ve included, The Economist, says it ranks business schools from the students’ perspective. This publication surveys students and then ranks elements according to the importance placed on each by the respondents. The Economist suggests that, over the years they have been polling students, four elements consistently emerged as most important:

  1. career opportunities
  2. personal development
  3. increased salary
  4. building a network

More detail on The Economist approach to MBA business school ranking is outlined here: the Economist ranking explained.

So what does this snapshot of MBA ranking systems tell you? There is much to be gained from using any of these criteria but only if you are fully aware of how they are used to compile a ranking list. By all means use such a list to help you find the most suitable program for you, but make sure you’re fully informed about the differences in focus and approach each publication applies. Ask yourself, which criteria are more important to you? Then, make sure that it is a complementary process that you use alongside your own detailed reserach in to what you are really looking for.

What Matters for You? How Would You Rank an MBA?

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Useful as these MBA business school ranking criteria might be, they can’t reflect the wide range of reasons and preferences underpinning individual choice of program. In many ways, ranking potential MBAs of interest to you is a very personal process. Beyond the main elements listed in the systems discussed above, there will be any number of subjective or personal factors which will influence your choice of program.

Top-ranking MBAs may be important to someone wanting to gain wider international exposure, but this is not necessarily right for everyone. An MBA from a local or regional business school may be far more appropriate for someone seeking to build a smaller, more focused network of contacts. Clearly such a subjective approach will be important to the individual, but this may not necessarily be reflected in the better known ranking systems.

So think about the criteria already discussed and those below, but make sure you relate each to your own situation. The best MBA for you will be the one that best balances these features with your personal needs.

  • Potential Salary – important but how much increase will make the qualification worthwhile to you?
  • Knowledge and expertise – of the staff teaching the program
  • Curriculum – is the MBA general, executive, specialized, appropriate to your current and future needs?
  • Career potential.
  • Quality and nature of the learning experience – it should always be high quality, but is the delivery method appropriate for you?
  • Potential to build a network.
  • Regional or international exposure.

Above all remember that whichever MBA you choose, you are the most important element of the program. Your attitude and desire to learn are fundamental to MBA success. Combine this with a good program and the learning to be gained from your peers on the program, and you will really see the benefit of such a degree.

Whether you’re already studying for an MBA, or thinking about enroling, one way to keep yourself up-to-date is to use the extensive free articles on this site. See our Ideas, Tips and Tools page, for some great tips on how to use the site. If you are looking for ways to implement these ideas in your organization then see our: Services to Business page and use the contact us form to send us your enquiry. Then there’s our on-line store which contains a wide range of resources to help you with your career development.

Some final thoughts about your management and leadership development training. Getting the content right is important but don’t overlook the need for a robust learning process. Read our article: Business Management Education: Re-thinking our Approach for a view that challenges conventional thinking about management education and development. Then in our article: Leadership Management Training we discuss one approach to providing that robust learning process. One that ensures stretching and stimulating content, which leads to a positive impact.

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