In a somewhat surprising move, The Economist recently declared that it was discontinuing its annual rankings of MBA, Executive MBA, and Master’s In Management programs. At first glance, this move could end up being a blip on the radar screen. After all, multiple other publications provide rankings of these programs. But upon deeper review, this decision could be the start of a sea change in the ways prospective students weigh factors beyond rankings when deciding which business schools to apply to.
Granted, rankings from The Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Fortune, and US News & World Report have always been one of just many data points that prospective students consider in order to make sense of the abundance of information available about graduate business programs. But perhaps more than ever, applicants can expect more out of their MBA experience than can be captured by rankings derived from methodologies that are increasingly under scrutiny. This is a good thing for both students and schools alike.
As rankings become less important, there’s also an opportunity for schools to get out from under the burden of these rankings and find innovative ways to attract applicants, as well as think carefully about how faculty and administrators can measure the impact of their program on alumni. Business schools can also shift resources to focusing on making the most of existing students’ experiences, as happy and successful alumni will talk about their experiences, becoming valuable ambassadors for that program.
In speaking with a former associate dean at Chicago Booth, we learned that it’s crucial for a prospective student to assess a program’s “fit” before applying. Doing so might entail a physical or virtual visit; sitting in on classes; and having conversations with alumni, current students, faculty – essentially anyone who is part of that community and can provide deep insights on a program. This individual also emphasizes that prospective students should be realistic about their career goals and capabilities. Not everyone needs to go to a top b-school to be successful.
There are many strong MBA and related programs out there that were barely even a blip on The Economist’s radar screen. These programs may now find themselves in the position to attract new applicants as qualitative factors increasingly impact decision-making processes. Likewise, prospective students may find themselves less reliant on rankings and more focused on tapping into their own networks to explore business school opportunities they hadn’t previously considered. We consider this a win on both sides.