Top 3 Mistakes MBA applicants make while looking at business school rankings

Unless it is an Ivy League school, I will not go for an MBA as all the other programs in the world are not worth my time and money. Top 10 and I am done. I am not going anywhere beyond Haas or Tuck/INSEAD. You really do not know how to follow MBA rankings, and get misled again and again and again.

Today, I will help you understand the most common mistakes you make while assessing the business school rankings. A lot of applicants have no idea how to assess rankings. Why does the applicant community take it so seriously that you start hair, splitting rank 14 Vs Rank 17? Why do we do this? Maybe because we have been ranked our entire life, and we have this inherent sense of competition.

Think about it.



You should know how to explore business school rankings and not follow the numbers blindly. In fact, following the numbers blindly, you tend to ignore a lot of intrinsic factors that can add a lot of value to your career. I think you all make a lot of mistakes in understanding the interpretations of the print media, and the interpretations make you run blindly.

Are Ivy League schools amazing? Yeah, they are the top 10 programs and great places to be at? Definitely explore them. I am not a pessimist in life and I am not suggesting that you should not go to Ivy League Programs. They are amazing programs, and I have sent tonnes of my applicants to them.

I am going to share the mistakes that you make while analyzing the rankings. Once you understand these mistakes, they will become a part of your common sense. I am not suggesting that rankings are largely irrelevant. No, I am going to show you your blind spots and will educate you on how to go about assessing them.

If you have any more questions or are facing any challenges in school shortlisting, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

Now, let us get started and save you a lot of effort and ensure that you do not make the common mistakes people make while looking at business school rankings.

  1. Looking at the Global Rankings vs. The Local Mafia, the Local Gods:
  2. When you are applying to 4 different countries, and you approach me to ask for suggestions and you have this global ranking list with you, think about it this way:

    If you have two admits; one is the Rank 1 school in Canada, and the other one is a ranked 7 School in another country. Let us assume that this school in the second country, which was ranked 7, is significantly higher in global rankings that the Canadian school, i.e. it is doing better on the Financial Times Global Rankings list. What would you do? A lot of applicants would choose the higher ranked school in the second country.

    NO! You have got to pick the Local Mafia and see if the school in the second country, which is ranked 7, is in a country that has friendlier immigration laws. Will they give you Visa and let you earn in the currency you are spending money in? If a school ranked 45th globally is ranked 1 in your target country, what is the matter with you? Just go. They are the Local Mafia or the Local emperor of your target country. Human Resources in top consulting firms, banking firms, other general management companies will not pull out the international rankings and fly to various countries across the globe for their hiring needs. Where will they go? To the Local King. The King in that Country.

  3. Thinking that higher ranks would mean more money. It is so not true:
  4. If you are about to spend a lot of money on an international MBA, what is the most important thing that you have in mind? Would you spend 150,000 Euros, and come back and earn in Mumbai? You know, you will work right next to a person from IIM A or ISB and they will have earned the same MBA at 25% of the cost you paid. Unless you have a rich dad, who said, “Hey take all my money, and even if you have to come back to Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, I do not care. But you have to burn 2 crores internationally”.

    I think most of you want to earn in the same currency as the one you spent money in. At least for some years of your post-MBA life, isn’t it? You want the MBA to give you an amazing ROI and a great career.

    Then we look at the other aspects such as learning experiences, connections etc. Because if learnings and experiences are there but the school does not have a great ROI, then you would ideally not make that choice. I know you are rational enough. Where you go wrong is, you do not even know that some higher-ranked programs make you make less money than the lower-ranked programs. The amount of ROI you can get, you think is linearly connected with the Ranks at a global scale?

  5. Looking at absolute ranks and ignoring the cluster:
  6. Now, when I define a cluster, I am referring to the bunch of programs that have had similar behavioral patterns for the past 5 to 7 years, which is a time horizon long enough to showcase the credibility of a program.

    Now, if there is a cluster of A category programs, and we know that Duke, Tuck, Darden, or Haas has been in this cluster for some time some of you will ignore the cluster and look at the recent most rankings. You will then suggest, “I am not interested in this school as it has dipped in rankings in the past one year or it is not in top 10 or top 15, as some of you are generous *haha*, on a blah blah ranking this year”.

    Listen, that school had been strong in a lot of variables that matter to you, and if you look at the list of employers, or the amount of money you will earn from them, it is still the same but hey, they had one bad year of a data point, and you make a big deal out of it. McKinsey or Google or Facebook is still hiring from that school, and based on your personality, there are chances that they might accept you and help you get to the next stage of your life. But you are, at times, stuck with an integer called Rankings.

    I am not again suggesting that Rankings are completely meaningless. A rank 10 school is different from a rank 44 program. But I am suggesting that you at times tend to get significantly biased even in programs that otherwise behave in a very similar fashion. That may be a great program. Do not punish it because it had a bad year. Their Infrastructure, staff, career development center, jobs, are still the same, there is only a change in some interpretations, and maybe the equation that your ranking publication used to distribute schools across the curve. But find out the variables in that curve, it may not be ROI but maybe the amount of money the school spends in R&D.

    So, be it Global Rankings Vs. Local Mafia higher ranks do not necessarily mean more money.

    Do not look at Absolute Numbers, look at the behavior of your school in your target cluster.

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