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MBA Program Rankings

Issues and Insights

MBA program rankings are used widely by prospective students and employers, but these ranking lists have also generated a good deal of controversy. As useful as such lists may be, they should always be used with an element of caution. Here we discuss some of the issues you should be aware of when consulting MBA ranking lists.

The U.K’s Association of Business Schools (ABS) describes itself as “the representative body and authoritative voice for all the leading business schools” in the United Kingdom. Whilst recognising the growing influence of business press ranking lists, the ABS contends that these lists can: “just as easily mislead as they can inform.”

The ABS argues that the selection of a business school is both complex and highly individual, so it’s difficult to reflect such matters in a list based on a few criteria.

MBA program rankings have clearly sparked a healthy debate about how different MBA offers can be compared. It could be argued that business schools now provide more comprehensive and consistent information to assist prospective students in making their choice. However, the other side of the debate is the extent to which rankings based on this information can be trusted. Especially when one adds to this the subjectivity of selected or weighted criteria applied to information collected from the schools themselves and from other sources.

MBA Program Rankings – Misleading or Informing?

In their paper: A Responsible Approach to League Tables, the ABS proposed a number of criteria to help readers better judge the quality of a ranking list. In addition you can find specific issues highlighted in the wikipedia article on MBAs: Masters of Business Administration.

We’ve drawn on these and other sources to produce a short set of points to be considered by anyone using a published list. Before you come to any conclusions based on MBA program rankings, think about the following:

  • MBA Program RankingsMost lists only consider a few, top business schools in their calculations. This is despite the existence of a large number of schools, often more regionally focused, and many of which offer excellent programs.
  • Business schools are often selected for inclusion in the lists but it’s not always clear how and why the selection was made.
  • Ranking lists have different criteria, so be sure you’re aware of how the lists are compiled and why.
  • There are question marks as to whether the research methodology is robust and clear – so be wary!
  • How objective do you think the assessments are, or do you think they are too much influenced by subjective or other factors?
  • Are the criteria sufficiently wide enough to capture the diversity of the MBA experience?
  • Criteria are weighted differently to notify their relative importance but are they as important to you?

To address at least some of these issues, many of the MBA program rankings publications now provide more flexibility in the way their lists can be used or even tailored. Some allow readers to adapt the data they have collected, enabling a degree of personalization about the way the programs can be ranked.

For example, the Financial Times MBA program rankings allows users to select particular criteria to see how different business schools rank for that paricular criteria. It’s possible to select criteria to add to the MBA ranking table (you may need to check that this is set for the correct year) then click on the specific column to see how business schools rank for that criteria.

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We consider the Financial Times and two other popular MBA program rankings publications in our article: MBA School Rankings. You can also read more on the range of ranking criteria used by different business publications in our article: MBA Business School Ranking. There we elaborate on the importance of reflecting on the way a particular list has been generated. So what are the issues with MBA program rankings? In many ways they can be very useful tools to help inform an important decision.

Studying for an MBA can be worthwhile but it’s also a big commitment in time, money and effort. But remember to use them with a degree of caution, and only as a part of a wider assessment of what will suit you in your choice of business school MBA.

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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