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Imagine a World with Better MBA Rankings

When it comes to MBA program rankings, the results can be confusing. Since each list uses different criteria, the rankings often vary widely from one list to another. For instance, Businessweek might swear by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, but Forbes might put Stanford University in the top spot. When rankings include colleges outside of the United States, those lists become even more confusing. Sometimes United States institutions make the grade, but on other lists, they are nowhere to be found.

It is enough to make one wonder: What is the point of MBA rankings, anyway?

Robert Weiler, the associate dean of the full-time MBA program at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, spoke to MBAPrograms.org about how the rankings can serve as a benchmark -- but that they should be taken with a grain of salt.

"There's too much focus on the rankings, I think, and not enough on really digging deep and understanding what a particular institution is all about."

Rankings are weighted on varying scales, depending upon the publication creating the list. In many cases, it's a matter of money -- salary and placement figures make up an average of 45 percent of the weight of the top five rankings, according to Poets and Quants. Alumni opinion and recruiter opinion make up an average of 15 and 12 percent, respectively. Other factors that matter, such as class profile, faculty and the dean's opinions, make up less than ten percent. Some lists, such as the one compiled by Forbes, focus only on salary and placement, ignoring all other factors.

The result: Several lists that can have wildly different rankings.

"There was a school a couple of years ago that increased its GMAT by 30 points in a year. That's not just due to normal fluctuation, that's due to a concerted effort to do something."  - Robert Weiler

Another article from Poets and Quants makes the case even more clearly: UCLA's Anderson School of Management is all over the map in terms of rankings, depending upon the list. The Economist puts it in 50th place and Financial Times ranks it at 33rd, but Businessweek and U.S. News and World Report keep it in the top 20, placing it 14th and 15th, respectively.

With all that conflicting information, how can any potential student tell which schools are the best?

Weiler points out that MBA program rankings tend to have the same schools in the top 20 on a consistent basis, but it does a disservice to the other good schools out there.

"If a school is ranked outside of the top 20, then the luster can be taken off of that program," Weiler said. "There's this kind of delineation, really, between the top 20 and the rest. You can't help but utilize rankings to some degree, as a way of beginning to filter things, but…within the rankings there is so much arbitrary information; there are so many ways to manipulate the rankings."

The necessity to get noticed has driven some schools to the extremes.

"There was a school a couple of years ago that increased its GMAT by 30 points in a year. That's not just due to normal fluctuation, that's due to a concerted effort to do something," Weiler said. "It turns out they admitted a lot more students from certain geographical areas who have a tendency to have higher GMATs. I would argue that, okay, so you gave yourself a bump in the GMAT that year, but you're probably going to suffer pretty significantly if you focus solely on that at the expense of other attributes."

The sheer number of schools that are up for evaluation usually means that someone winds up with a lower ranking that is not really deserved.

"I get this list of hundreds and hundreds of MBA programs," Weiler pointed out, explaining that as a dean, he is asked for his opinions for certain lists. "The vast majority of them we've never even heard of. And is that fair to those schools? Maybe they do great things but they're just a regional player. They're never going to crack the top 30 or 40, but they could offer great things for the right person.

"I truly believe that you can look at that top 20 and aside from the top couple -- which I don't think frankly are any better than anybody else, it's just reputation -- but the rest you can just sort of interchange, and I think you get an absolutely wonderful and appropriate education at any of those schools."

Weiler believes that rankings can be used as a tool, but that they are just the starting point for students doing their research into potential MBA programs.

"If I could do away with rankings, I would," Weiler said. "It's not what we should be doing as administrators of a business school. We should be focused on providing the best experience that we can for our students. And if we're doing that, then the rankings take care of themselves."

Interview with Robert Weiler, Dean of the full-time MBA program at UCLA Anderson School of Management, conducted by Jamar Ramos, MBAPrograms.org
"MBA Rankings Largely 'Follow the Money'," Poets and Quants, John A. Byrne, http://poetsandquants.com/2012/09/07/mba-rankings-largely-follow-the-money/
"Turning the Tables: Ranking the MBA rankings," Poets and Quants, John A. Byrne, http://poetsandquants.com/2010/06/28/turning-the-tables-ranking-the-mba-rankings/
"Which MBA?" 2013 Full Time MBA Ranking, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/whichmba/full-time-mba-ranking
"Rankings and Profiles, Full Time MBA Programs," Bloomberg Businessweek, http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rankings/