Deciding to pursue an MBA is a huge life decision.
The first step for many prospective students is coming up with a list of schools that fit with personal and professional goals – something often easier said than done. You must first gain a deeper understanding of the schools that appeal to you and then filter those down to the select few to which you’ll ultimately apply.
Consulting MBA rankings is a helpful starting point to orient your search for the right program. Just make sure to focus on what’s important to you – such as location, class size, specializations, cost and community culture – and not solely on the school’s prestige or brand.
Here are four ways to use MBA rankings to come up with your personal short list of target schools.
[Consider three factors to determine target MBA programs.]
1. Look for overall quality: Humans seem to naturally want the “best” of anything, and MBA rankings tap into that innate desire. Higher-ranking business schools can provide peace of mind as far as the quality of the education, career opportunities and networking potential are concerned. Fair or not, employers often judge potential hires by the perceived quality and value of your education.
“Admittedly, the aggregate difference between schools in the top five or 10 can be slight,” wrote Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard in a 2015 article, Do B-school rankings really matter? “However, being ranked #1 versus #10 can significantly impact the perspective of the marketplace. It’s up to each school and each prospective applicant to discern the signal from the noise and act accordingly.”
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2. Examine return on investment: While reviewing rankings and accompanying data, prospective students can dig into specific school information as they create their short list.
For example, review cost-related data, such as tuition, required fees, average indebtedness of students and percent of graduates with debt. Then, take a look at factors related to career and salary, like percentage of graduates employed at graduation and three months after graduation; average base salary; and average signing bonus.
Return on investment is usually strongest and quickest at top-ranked schools, whose graduates typically earn the highest salaries.
[See which MBA programs lead to the best jobs, salaries.]
3. Determine strength of specializations: Rankings help enormously when you’re trying to determine which business schools are particularly strong in a field that’s important to you. While all MBA programs in the top 10 will prepare you well no matter which industry you land in, some are stronger than others in certain specializations.
In fact, schools farther removed from the top of the ranking may provide an excellent education in some areas.
For example, the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, which is tied for No. 65 in the overall U.S. News rankings, again took the No. 1 spot in international business. Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business, which is ranked at a tie at No. 83 overall, continues its reign as the best program for entrepreneurship.