Do Rankings Matter? A Few Ways to Think About this Common Question
One of the most frequent questions that we get is whether rankingsreallymatter. Do you have to go to the top ranked MBA program to be successful in life? Clearly the answer is no. There are many paths to success. But, let’s be honest: ingenerala graduate of a top-ranked program wil
l have more recruiting options and degree portability in order to switch careers, work in different locations, etc. However, this is just a generalization and not a rule. And it’s also not the only reason to select an MBA program for reasons that we’ll lay out below.
So, at Vantage Point we have a love / hate relationship with the rankings. While all of our consultants chose to attend programs in the top 10, we firmly believe that finding the right school fit is much more important than where your school falls in the rankings in many cases. Going to business school is not only a massive financial commitment, it’s also two years of your life. You need to find a program where you’re comfortable with the location, your fellow classmates, the culture of the school and the academic model. How you “rank” those attributes is personal to you and you shouldn’t let U.S. News or anyone else dictate to you what the relative importance of any of those factors should be.
As such, unfortunately the question of rankings is not a simple one, and we can’t give a one size fits all answer. In fact, this question is so hotly debated that no matter how we answer, someone is going to take issue and disagree with us. Therefore, take this with a grain of salt, but in order to give you some framework of considerations, we’ve broken the proverbial question of how important rankings are down into three guiding questions to help you answer for yourself how focused you should be on this topic.
1) Are you gunning for a hyper-competitive company?
For applicants who are interested in the most competitive post-MBA careers such as investment banking, private equity, management consulting, big brand houses, and the big tech firms, etc; rankings do matter. Many of the top companies in these fields recruit exclusively at the top MBA programs and have less-formalized methods of applying for candidates at other schools. What this means is that you can likely still apply regardless, but it will be more challenging. How? For applicants who are hyper-focused on these types of companies and jobs, think of on-campus recruiting as you would the first few questions on the GMAT: to get that top score, you need to nail the first few questions, which then puts you on a “track”. On-campus recruitment at a top school puts you on a track for those hyper-competitive, post-MBA jobs. If you do well during the networking period of talking with recruiters who are at your school multiple times per year, you’ll have a better shot at landing that summer internship and eventually full-time position.
To better understand this, let’s look at McKinsey & Company, a premier management consulting firm that is often at the top of “dream MBA job” lists. Kellogg, which is consistently in the top 5 ranked schools, will represent our top tier school for this analysis, and UNC Kenan-Flagler, which has a solid program, will represent a strong top 20 program for purposes of this illustration.
On McKinsey’s website, it allows you to select a school and view the “Campus Calendar” of activities and deadlines relating to internship and full-time MBA recruiting. This tool shows you all of the planned campus events for any particular school.
For Kellogg, where McKinsey was the #1 recruiter for the class of 2015 with 34 hires, they ran almost two events per week last fall. These included networking events, case and interview prep, and other types of workshops. For Kenan-Flagler, they had just three events listed. These included two application deadlines and a webinar with the Jakarta office. In other words – they didn’t have an on-campus presence for the most part.
Again, this is just on-campus events, but on-campus events are reflective of two things. First, they represent where the company is spending its recruiting budget and such, where it expects to get the majority of its incoming class. Second, it tends to reflect the strength of the school’s alumni network at a particular company. While there are exceptions to this that we’ll highlight in discussing the portability of your MBA, in general the higher the alumni concentration, the easier chance you’ll have of getting into a company. Recruiters and interviewers are more likely to have a positive bias towards your school, and you’ll also have more opportunities to network.
2) Do you envision yourself moving around the country or world for work?
The portability of your MBA (essentially how well known your school is outside of a given geographic area) is a big consideration for applicants who are not wedded to one city or region. The Harvards, Stanfords, and Whartons of the world have national and international name recognition. While nothing will help you more in your career than your work experience and career network (which is not limited to which business school you attend), the reality is that having an MBA from a top program can provide another benchmark or recognition point for a potential recruiter in the future.
For recruiters who are faced with a stack of qualified applicants, the fact that you attended a program they recognize serves as another validation point. This may not be fair – your school isn’t necessarily reflective of you and your unique potential and we know plenty of smart people fall through the cracks, and just as many not as qualified people make it through. But it’s a reality that we need to acknowledge and consider if you’re talking about rankings.
The flip side of this argument is that some of the top 20 and top 30 schools have phenomenal regional networks. For applicants with roots in Atlanta, you can’t go wrong with Emory’s Goizueta Business School. It’s a great program, and one glance through Linkedin shows alumni well-placed in blue chip Atlanta firms such as Coca-Cola and Home Depot. However, it’s a regional network – a full 58% of the class of 2015 stayed in the south.
As a proxy for the portability of each MBA the table below shows the percentage of each class of 2015 who stayed in their given regions –
Graduates stayed in the region of the school:
Harvard – 43%
Wharton – 44%
Kellogg – 33%
Emory – 58%
UT – McCombs – 64%
3) How important is an expansive and broad alumni network to you?
The strength of the alumni network is one of the main benefits that you gain with an MBA, and one which will pay dividends throughout your career. Here, size matters, as does geography.
The size of your alumni network is going to be determined by two factors – the size of your program’s class, and the how old the MBA program is. For a newer and smaller program, such as Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Business, which was founded ~60+ years after some of the top 10 programs, there are simply fewer established alumni networks in different companies and cities around the world than some of the older and larger schools like HBS.
However, alumni networks can be strengthened when you consider that in many cases you have access to the entire school’s alumni network, not just your program’s. So in the case of Vanderbilt, there’s a massive alumni network of undergraduates, many of whom hold prominent positions through the business world. Georgetown’s McDonough is another great example: while its business school is relatively young, Georgetown is an internationally-known brand with a rock-solid reputation and many, many successful alums around the world.
The strength of the alumni network (again – strength is relative to what you want to get out of it) also varies significantly depending upon whether the school is regionally focused or not. Looking at the example of McCombs, an excellent program!, there’s a massive network of McCombs graduates, but with 64% of graduates staying in the Southwest, that network is going to be less valuable to you if you decide to move to say London. However, having a regional alumni network can oftentimes be incredibly powerful, again assuming you want to stay in that region, as the business community will be dominated by those graduates. As an example, there are a ton of UNC and Wake Forest MBA graduates at the top banks in Charlotte, NC, and they have a very, very strong network for recruiting others from their alma maters.
One last point on academics and learning as it relates to rankings…
Many applicants view rankings as a proxy for the quality of the educational experience that they’ll have while in business school. In general, as long as you’re going to a top 25-ish program, the content in the classroom will be pretty consistent. Most of these programs will use the same Harvard case studies and a collaborative, team-based learning model that helps you to build strong relationships and networks among your peers.
So, back to the original question: do rankings matter? Of course it depends. There are other factors in your life that should be considered when making such an important decision, so hopefully this post highlights for you that rankings should be only one consideration and dimension but that there are different paths that can all lead to success!
As always, we are happy to help you think through the different qualifites of the schools you’re considering and determine which schools may be best for you and your individual circumstances and goals.Contact usto speak with one of our consultants as you start your MBA journey!
http://www.hbs.edu/recruiting/data/Pages/location-details.aspx?loc=United+States&view=usa – Northeast regions
Wharton Class of 2015 recruitment profile – Philadelphia and Northeast regions
Kellogg Class of 2015 recruitment profile – Midwest region
http://goizueta.emory.edu/documents/FTMBAEmploymentReport.pdf – South region
https://www.mccombs.utexas.edu/MBA/Full-Time/Career/Statistics – Southwest region