The latest US News MBA rankings have just been released. As usual, there are surprises. If you’re planning to apply to business school soon, or deciding between offers, you’re likely puzzling over the implications of these fluctuating lists. Hopefully, you’re also thinking critically about whether the MBA rankings really matter at all.

Although it might sound sacrilegious, I don’t think that any of the MBA rankings, including US News, are universally relevant. This is not to say that you shouldn’t consider which business school represents the best ROI, for you. However, in my professional opinion, based on more than 20 years of experience on both sides of the admissions process, the rankings are rarely the best way to figure out where to apply, or where to matriculate.

Business school is an enormous investment, and there is also a significant opportunity cost associated with stepping out of the workforce for two years, if you attend full time. It’s entirely possible that the most highly ranked, most selective school is the best choice. Full disclosure, most of my clients happily target and attend M7 schools. I am always thrilled to help them achieve their goals. However, especially for an investment like business school, which is a highly personal degree, I strongly suggest looking beyond the MBA rankings.

For one thing, it’s important not to assume that the rankings are a proxy for prestige, academic quality, employment outcomes, quality of life or strength of the network. Furthermore, these factors are at least somewhat subjective – and your assessment of many of these categories will be entirely dependent on your individual circumstances.

Ideally, while creating your school list, you will have already considered the criteria that matters most to you. Did you attend a relatively unknown undergraduate institution, and are you hoping to elevate your “brand” by going to a well-known business school? How do you learn best? (The case method, for instance, is engaging and stimulating for some students, and a stress inducing nightmare for others.) Personally, are you looking for a very intense experience that will push you to grow as a leader and a person, or do you want to go to class and go home? Are you coming with a partner and/or a family, and will they have a community to join? Professionally, are you making a huge career switch? If so, which school is best positioned to help you do so? Do you want to wind up in a certain part of the country or the world, and is there a strong alumni network in that area? Were you offered a merit scholarship at one program? If so, how much does it matter to you?

Most people want to go to the “best” school that they can get into. However, what constitutes the “best” school is a highly personal decision. The MBA rankings can help you evaluate your options, but they are just one part of the equation.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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