Why Applicants Can Ignore the 2024 U.S. News MBA Ranking


On April 9, 2024, U.S. News released its annual ranking of the best MBA programs in the U.S. We pay attention because the U.S. News MBA Ranking is typically considered to be the most credible and reliable of the various rankings publications (including Financial Times, The Economist, etc. LinkedIn even got in the game this year). And it’s always interesting to see who the winners and losers are.

However, we believe that serious applicants can ignore this ranking altogether. And here’s why.

Why Applicants Look at the Rankings

First of all, let’s ground ourselves in the value of the rankings. When prospective MBA students peruse the U.S. News MBA Ranking, what they’re truly seeking is insight into the desirability and competitiveness of those schools relative to others. That’s it. They want to gauge which schools will provide them with the best education, network, and opportunities for career advancement.

It’s also driven by ego. They want to understand which programs are considered to be the “best”, which is usually correlated with low acceptance rates, so they feel validated when they get in. And hey, that’s totally OK. We live in a world where credentials matter.

However, the reality is that these rankings often fall short of providing meaningful insights in any given year.

Rankings are Fairly Worthless from Year-to-Year

One of the primary ways that the U.S. News MBA Ranking falls short is the significant changes from year-to-year. For example, this year, NYU Stern climbed 5 places from the prior year to be ranked #7 overall. And Columbia Business School fell 4 places to take NYU Stern’s prior year position at #12.

But the truth is no program is changing that much from year-to-year to warrant such large swings. The professors, the curriculum, the recruiting relationships, etc. are far more constant from one year to the next. Instead, fluctuations can usually be attributed to far more tactical factors like changes in methodology and shifts in data reporting.

And perhaps more controversial is our view that the publications are incentivized to make changes. Changes lead to more news headlines and more clicks, which is how the publications monetize the rankings. Just saying!

The Disconnect Between Perception and the Rankings

The other driver of our stance is that the rankings fail to capture applicants’ nuanced perceptions of the schools. While a particular school may rank highly according to U.S. News, it may not align with the commonly held view of that school. For example, HBS, typically considered to be the #1 or #2 MBA program in the world, is ranked #6 this year, behind its Boston peer MIT Sloan and the 2 Chicago schools, Kellogg and Booth. Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a single applicant who wouldn’t choose HBS over those other schools, absent outside factors. So in that scenario, does the ranking have much value?

So what are the rankings good for? Well, we still believe there is merit in examining the trends over time. The trends can provide crucial indications about the relative performance and trajectory of each business school, highlighting emerging leaders, declining performance in some area, and overall changes in competitiveness.

We also find it helpful to place MBA programs in groups. For instance, instead of looking at an individual program’s rankings, look to see if it has generally remained in the top 10 over the last 5 years. Yale SOM is an example of a program that has seen consistent improvement over time. After years in the top 15-20, it first broke into the top 10 in 2009 and hasn’t dipped below #13 since then. That is a strong indicator of the program’s relative strength and improvement.

Fit is More Important than Rankings

But we couldn’t wrap up an article about the rankings without a nod to the even more important factor of fit. While MBA rankings provide valuable insights into the overall reputation and quality of a business school, school fit transcends any rankings. School fit includes multiple factors, including program curriculum, teaching methodology, campus culture, geographic location, industry connections, and career services.

A perfect fit not only maximizes your chances of achieving your goals for the MBA but it also gives you a far better chance at getting accepted in the first place. We’ll be the first to say that a top-ranked institution isn’t always the best fit for every applicant. By prioritizing school fit over rankings, applicants can ensure they have a more fulfilling and enriching educational experience that caters to their unique goals and aspirations.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the true value of an MBA transcends the confines of a numerical ranking. It lies in the transformative experiences, lifelong connections, and invaluable opportunities that await those who put in the work and are fortunate to be accepted.

So, with the latest rankings, remember to look beyond the numbers and prioritize what truly matters: finding the perfect fit for your MBA goals and dreams.

If you’d like help with that, or with any aspect of the MBA application process, you’ve come to the right place. Simply request an initial consultation with our team to get started.

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