MBA Rankings: Validity and Effectiveness |

MBA Rankings: Validity and Effectiveness

By QS Contributor

Updated Updated

As the debate about the credibility and effectiveness of rankings continues, we bring you the burning issues as they stand currently.

There is an expression in English that there is ‘no smoke without fire’ – if you see smoke, there’s a fire somewhere causing it. The subject of rankings and league tables for schools is one of the many bones of contention in the education industry, especially in the MBA sphere given the costs and fees involved.

On one hand everyone wants to know how ‘good’ a given school is; business schools need to know they are on the right track for students and recruiters; MBA candidates want to ensure they are applying to a top MBA program, considering the size of their financial and time investment; professors know that the best schools will give them the best prestige and salaries; and recruiters want to guarantee hiring the very best trained and talented people available.

Imperfect representations

However, there is a compelling argument that all rankings are, by definition, flawed in some way. Dean Alfons Sauquets, of ESADE Business School in Barcelona, says that all ways of measuring school performance are “imperfect representations, and rankings are no exception”. He speculates that in attempting to assess schools and programs there is no hard and fast method but that rankings have become a necessary shortcut “in that they help candidates to sift through the huge amount of information available and the sheer number of schools offering MBAs and select the few programs they wish to find out more about.”

Rankings are also victim to the restrictions of the methodology created them, which is why no two rankings are likely to ever be the same. After all, how can a business school consisting of hundreds of different people, skills, professors with certain expertise, students from increasingly diverse backgrounds and interests be summed up neatly in one handy column? Are the differences between a school finishing 20th in a ranking and a school finishing 30th so vast? It seems unlikely.

Professor Dr. Wulff Plinke of the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, believes that rankings are a good thing only if they are done properly. Though necessarily subjective, “the outcome is a kind of competitive benchmark”. Like many others he is concerned that, in the current development of rankings, “too much emphasis is being put on specific criteria that affect the attitudes of young managers, in particular entry salaries and salary increases."


To others, the belief is that there is no smoke without fire - if a school consistently features in the top-level of several different rankings, they must be doing something right. Kim Keating, Director of Public Relations at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth maintains that “business school rankings are still a valid tool for prospective students, recruiters, and others interested in business education.” For her, the best way to approach major rankings is through their methodology, “to study the different aspects and attributes that each one is surveying.” She believes that the imperfections of rankings should be tolerated.

This can help some people consider what a middle-tier or low-tier school might be, and compare this to the costs involved, when creating their b-school shortlist. Craig Coltrane, anMBA graduate now in the media industry, used several methods to pick the right school “though rankings were not the most important of those. But the more I delved into it, the more a few names kept repeating in the rankings and in my searches on Scorecard on and those were the ones I focussed my search on.”

Rankings are only one of many different criteria that a candidate should look at when considering their MBA program. If one is going to use rankings as the basis for their selection – and the QS Applicant Survey suggests that, year on year, fewer candidates are doing so – they should look closely at the methodology of the rankings and see if it fits in with their own given beliefs.

This table shows that rankings actually only come an average 7th-8th place among candidates internationally.

Criteria for selecting your school of choice: Brackets refer to (2008) ((2007))


Return on investmentNorth AmericaLatin AmericaEuropeAsiaAfricaQuality of Research/Academic Staff1 (2)((5))6 (4) ((5))4 (4) ((4))4 (4) ((6))5 (6) ((10)Career Placement Record2 (3) ((6))2 (3) ((2))2(1) ((2))2(3) ((2))2 (2) ((2))School Reputation3 (3) ((3))5 (5) ((6))3 (5) ((6))9 (7) ((9))10 (9) ((8))

School Specialisations

5 (5) ((4))3 (7) ((4))5 (6) ((5))3 (5) ((5))7 (8) ((6))Recent School Ranking6 (7) ((7))8 (6) ((9))7 (7) ((10))8 (10) ((11))9 (10) ((9))Profile of Students/Alumni7 (5) ((6))6 (8) ((8))11 (9) ((11))11 (8) ((10))11 (12) ((11)Attended/Respected by Peers and Colleagues812121312Accreditation Status9 (8) ((7))9 (9) ((7))9 (8) ((7))10 (8) ((8))3 (3) ((3))Scholarships/Financial Aid10 (9) ((8))1 (1) ((1))1 (3) ((1))1 (2) ((1))1 (1) ((1))Teaching Style (e.g. Case Method)11 (11) ((10))10 (10) ((10))10 (9) ((9))7 (11) ((7))6 (7) ((7))Convenience of Location12 (10) ((11))14 (12) ((13))15 (13) ((13))15 (13) ((13))13(13) ((13))Addordability13 (13) ((12))4 (11) ((11))8 (11) ((8))5(6) ((4))4 (4) ((5))Course Length13 (12) ((13))14 (13) ((12))14 (12) ((12))14 (12) ((12))13 (11) ((12))Employer's Recommendation/Choice1513131214

Source: Applicants Survey 2009

Some weight their rankings higher to the number of international faculty on a program. Others weight them based on the average salary an MBA earns after graduating. Still others, such as the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes, focus on the percentage of class time devoted to sustainability and environmental issues.

Rankings can save time

The TopMBA Career Guide believes in educating MBA candidates to educate themselves and to find the right fit for individuals before they take the time-consuming plunge into applications, GMATs and essay writing. The first advice is to isolate options: spend as much time as you need to decide what exactly it is that you hope to achieve from a course. Where (in terms of countries) does this mean you’ll want to study? If you want to specialize in Latin American export, then Spain is a good alternative to the US. Perhaps if you want to work in Asia, an Asian business school may be your best option.

The notion of traditional, static rankings is being challenged for this very reason. The Wharton School regularly tops international MBA rankings, but can it be that it’s the best program for absolutely everybody? Also unlikely. And with this in mind QS created Scorecard as a solution to this concern. Scorecard allows candidates to personalize their rankings to suit their own individual criteria. So if, for example, you want to take an MBA with a strong entrepreneurial bias but you don’t want to leave Europe, you can search for the best programs to suit you using Scorecard. If faculty strength, or postgraduate salary, or in fact any of fifteen different criteria are important to you, you can adjust the settings on Scorecard accordingly. The best part is that it’s totally free to use, so we recommend that you use it as many times as you like and when the same schools keep appearing on the shortlists that emerge, well... as they say, there’s no smoke without fire.

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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