If you’re any kind of numbers geek, this article from a Columbia University professor that analyzes the data that make up the U.S. News college rankings — and how Columbia ranks so highly — is well worth a read. (Warning: #longread. Also, PDF here in case that link ever goes dead.)
The professor is debunking the claims made by the data reported by Columbia that would have been factored into that ranking. You don’t need to read the piece (it’s not even about MBA rankings) but it’s a good time as any to talk about how useless rankings really are, at least, if you care about quality.
Rankings are most highly associated with the price tag you’re going to pay for your education, and that’s about it. Everyone talks about “the network” as being so important with the MBA, and sure, if you’re going into VC or something, you are going to care about the network you build.
But that’s just it: It’s the network that you build. A school having a vast network means diddly squat unless you do something with it, and even then, when you do all that cold-calling or cold-emailing or whatever form it takes these days, there’s no guarantee you’re getting callbacks from high percentages of folks just because you happened to go to the same school. Sure, yes, absolutely, the brand name can open doors and it undisputedly bestows privilege.
But a certain school being #1 on a certain list and another school being #15 honestly means PRETTY MUCH NOTHING in terms of the actual education you can get there or what opportunities will become available to you by the fact of attending.
We know we know we know, you want to go to “the best” school — but why?
Because of the cachet? Because of its elite aura?
Yes, there is prestige with it, but please do not fool yourself. That prestige is associated with MONEY far more than it is with educational quality.
We’re not saying that the educational quality of these top-ranked schools is missing. It’s just that that’s not what you are going to be going there for. You’re going there so you can say you got an MBA from that school. It’s a ticket into a club. You will then go to school for two years and get spit out the other side with a diploma to frame and hang on the wall, and forevermore you’ll be able to say “I have an MBA from School X.”
But the actual experiences you have at School X and the actual knowledge you soak up into your brain based on the professors that teach at School X will not be substantively different or all that much “better” than a lower-ranked school that also offers grad-level business education.
The game is totally rigged. As that article mentions, the rankings systems reward the schools for having low admit rates, and then what do we get at these top-ranked schools? Low admit rates, systematically reinforced.
How do the schools keep their rates low?
By marketing themselves to applicants as if everyone has a chance to get in, constantly reassuring this ‘holistic review’ thing, that it’s not about GMAT or GRE, yada yada yada, which gets everyone to apply, and means everyone gets their hopes up, and then the school still is going to turn away mass numbers of you. And the admissions people KNOW THIS when they are running their info session or even when they’re looking you in the eye and answering your question at a campus tour and you ask if you have a chance getting in with your 650 GMAT score. They don’t even bat an eyelash, they just answer with a straight face as they encourage you to apply.
Rankings are helpful as an initial sorting tool, so you get a sense of which schools are peers to each other on certain dimensions, but the numerical ordering or schools being “tied” for a placement… This is ridiculous. The rankings really aren’t designed to help you.
We’re not suggesting to not use the rankings at all. Just use them judiciously. Understand how they’re constructed. They are the penultimate game-the-system game that the schools are playing expertly. Rankings allow schools to justify exorbitant prices for tuition. Rankings invite corruption, such as paying for someone to take your SAT for you, or bribing a coach to let you student who doesn’t play that sport get admitted.
There are many broken systems in our world, but wow, college rankings are an impressive one.
Use rankings as a starting point, but recognize what they really are, and don’t be bamboozled.