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Ranking the Rankings: The Best MBA Programs 2012

This article is for those who peruse and take very seriously the graduate (MBA) program rankings released by various entities and individuals.  How do I rate the rankings?

The same 20-25 schools are listed regularly so it seems we’re just shuffling the deck every year with the same cards. The US News and World Report has been ranking MBA programs for more than a decade. Those aspiring graduate students placing trust upon these periodicals should reflect on the ranking agency (source), methodologies (data gathering) employed, and the weighing of the variables. Here, as reflected in the literature, are some variables used by ranking entities.


MBA Acceptance Rate

The acceptance rate (usually expressed as the ratio of applicants to admittees) is usually based upon school policy and the admission committee. Alongside the MBA admission director during an applicant interview will often be staff, business faculty, current MBA students, and valued and interested alumni. Certain committee members will have a louder voice than others.


MBA Program Resources

Available space for classrooms, student support, and faculty offices is an important factor for a school’s ranking. An urban campus has space issues that schools with sprawling campuses don’t face. My school (University of San Francisco) recently purchased an additional facility (Folgers Building) in the downtown area to accommodate all our graduate programs. This could have a positive and profound impact on our graduate admissions policies.



Qualified, full-time business faculty often reflects a program’s worth.  The number of full-timers and course coverage may be limited by available funding. This is why adjunct faculty (usually practitioners) plays an important role in a successful MBA program. However, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB, the accrediting society) does not usually consider part timers in the accrediting process often leaving MBA programs with a cap on adjuncts. A limit on faculty numbers has a serious impact on the variety and number of courses offered thereby impacting admission strategies.


Additional Resources

Libraries, conference facilities, and electronic (smart) classrooms also bear upon MBA program ratings.


GMAT Scores

Common thinking is the higher GMAT scores an MBA program admits the stronger the students are academically. This, then, reflects favorably on the overall MBA Program. But the GMAT itself measures only how well you performed on that exam. Is it a reliable predictor for success in an MBA program? The score may be more dependent on money and time spent on test prep program. And the score may reflect a special student attribute—a knack for performing well on standardized exams. SAT, et al. Other, seemingly peripheral attributes and skills, such as endurance, critical reading, creativity, logical reasoning, and mastering the English language could help bump your score. There could also be underlying factors that impacts both GMAT scores and success in a graduate program—determination, and maybe even luck. What is the correlation between GMAT score and predictability of success in graduate school? Can you isolate even one variable? Probably, not. Lastly, your test score doesn’t reflect the amount of time you studied nor the number of times you took the exam.



In ranking MBA programs judges may also look at the average college GPA of an MBA class. But, there are so many factors at play with your undergraduate GPA. Did you work part or full time as an undergraduate? How rigorous was your program? Have a tutor? Change majors? Transfer schools? Suffer from grade inflation? Undergraduate GPA is inexact, predicting the results of a horse race to day based on past performances.

Starting Salary

Judging the quality of an MBA program on the starting salaries of its graduates is similar to evaluating parents in a baby contest. The new employee may bring experience, connections, or special talents to the workplace based on market demand. Years back recruiters were stalking every first year MBA students with a technical or science background. Any other criterion was seemingly irrelevant. A more relevant factor for judging the quality of an MBA program might be the percent of graduates that obtain new full-time positions within 12 months of graduation.

While it’s entertaining to read “top ten” lists by MBA ranking agencies (much like the top ten lists offered by Dave Letterman) most MBA prospects choose schools based on familiarity, family demands, cost, location, and, maybe, subsidies by a parent, spouse, or present employer.


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