What Does Top 10 MBA Mean?

Top 10 Business Schools

How many times have you heard someone say that they’re looking to get an MBA from a top 10 program? In fact, I’m sure at least half of you who read this are guilty of the thought (and the thought of getting into a “top 10” MBA program is probably what drives you to get an elite GMAT score), but what exactly does “top 10 MBA program” mean?

Sure, there are some schools that leap into your mind immediately when you think of “top 10 MBA programs”… business schools like Harvard, Wharton, Booth and Stanford… but how about the other schools that would round out the top 10? I’m sure that for each person that you ask, they’ll have a different set of 10. Whatever top 10 a person comes up is usually based off the rankings list of Businessweek or U.S. News and World Report but the fact is the rankings from Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Businessweek, and US News and World Report will all be different meaning that there’s no real consensus on  “top 10”, which also means that you may want to broaden your willingness to apply to other business schools based off of other criteria other than a “top 10” list.

Don’t believe me?  If you look at the listings from 2012, you’ll notic that Columbia is listed as #12 in Businessweek but according to Forbes is listed as #5. Dartmouth ranges anywhere from #2 (Economist) to #14 (Businessweek). We sometimes forget that the ranking systems is somewhat arbitrary which is why each business school and its MBA program is ranked differently, according to the group that’s giving out the rankings, meaning that rankings in general should be taken with a grain of salt. (Only Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and Booth are among consensus among all these various publications for being top 10).

While having an idea of rankings is great, sometimes applicants take them a bit too seriously, even though as we just showed, there is some huge inconsistencies depending on which ranking system you choose to look at (all 5 of these systems are well respected and none is considered better than the other). So, if these publications can’t agree on the “top” schools, does it make sense for you, as an applicant, to be rigid with your definition of a “top” school?

If you’re really serious about maximizing your career prospects, I would encourage you to discard your obsession with the rankings, and take a good, hard look at a variety of MBA programs. Be open-minded with your research and don’t just base your decision on rankings… instead visit the various campuses, speak with people who have your dream job post-MBA to find out how important rankings really are… though if you’re still obsessed with prestige. check Poets and Quants, which does a composite from the five ranking programs.