How Good Are The LOWER-RANKED B-SCHOOLS?

B-school rankings have their own parameters to judge schools. A candidate’s yardstick may be very different. So, whether a school is rung 2 or 3 is a very subjective viewpoint. There are many excellent schools that might not figure in the top rankings. But they are well respected in their region. They have several thousand (if not tens of thousands of) graduates who have gone on to work for reputed corporate brands or started their own ventures.

How Good Are The LOWER-RANKED B-SCHOOLS?

For my basic graduation degree, I went to a local (‘ un-hyped’) engineering college that doesn’t feature in any domestic or global rankings. But it gave me a good education and I did pretty well for myself career-wise.

Extending that logic, I’d say – Don’t shortlist or discard B-schools purely on the basis of rankings.

Many aspirants ask: ‘Should I apply to Harvard? Isn’t it the best school in the world?’

While selecting B-schools, variations of this question pop up in the minds of MBA applicants.

 Other queries falling in a similar category are:

• Which is the best two-year (or one-year) MBA programme?

• Are US universities better than those in the UK or Europe?

• Should I choose international business schools over Indian MBA colleges?

All these questions are natural and justified, considering how much you would be investing in the programme. Ask Indian applicants and most would say IIM Ahmedabad (IIM-A) is the best Indian MBA programme in the two-year format. Or that -school rankings have their own parameters to judge schools. A candidate’s yardstick may be very different. So, whether a school is rung 2 or 3 is a very subjective viewpoint. There are many excellent schools that might not figure in the top rankings. But they are well respected in their region. They have several thousand (if not tens of thousands of) graduates who have gone on to work for reputed corporate brands or started their own ventures.

For my basic graduation degree, I went to a local (‘ un-hyped’) engineering college that doesn’t feature in any domestic or global rankings. But it gave me a good education and I did pretty well for myself career-wise.

Extending that logic, I’d say – Don’t shortlist or discard B-schools purely on the basis of rankings.

Many aspirants ask: ‘Should I apply to Harvard? Isn’t it the best school in the world?’

While selecting B-schools, variations of this question pop up in the minds of MBA applicants.

Other queries falling in a similar category are:

• Which is the best two-year (or one-year) MBA programme?

• Are US universities better than those in the UK or Europe?

• Should I choose international business schools over Indian MBA colleges?

All these questions are natural and justified, considering how much you would be investing in the programme. Ask Indian applicants and most would say IIM Ahmedabad (IIM-A) is the best Indian MBA programme in the two-year format. Or that ISB is the best GMAT-based Indian MBA programme. Or that Harvard is the best two-year MBA course in the world.

But if you really look beyond the popular opinion, for many of these questions, there are no absolute answers really. There’s one basic quality that applies to B-schools – uniqueness. All MBA programmes are not created equal. So there is no ‘best’ that applies to everyone.

Contrast this with the GMAT, where the objective for all test takers is exactly the same: score a balanced and high GMAT score. The GMAT syllabus is fixed. The duration of the test is fixed. How you study for the GMAT or XAT might vary – self-study using GMAT books, online GMAT course, classroom- based GMAT coaching or one-on-one tutoring for specific GMAT topics (for example, verbal). But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s exactly one goal for everyone. Crack the test and come out victorious.

For Adcoms too, it’s a like-to-like comparison to find out which GMAT score is better. A 780 score is better than a 700 score. No debate there.

However, consider the bigger picture now for the MBA degree.

Almost everything about it is variable. Apart from the three-letter acronym that you’ll get on your résumé, everything that goes into getting it varies. The duration of the MBA programme, the syllabus, the teaching methodology (mix of classroom-based lectures, group assignments, presentations, case studies).

Most importantly, the takeaways from the MBA experience are different for every single person.

Not everyone wants to be an investment banker (or a management consultant).

Not everyone wants to work in the US (or India or Europe).

Not everyone wants to spend two years in a classroom (or maybe even a single day).

Not everyone is there for the academic knowledge (which you could get from books anyway).

Not everyone wants to earn a lot of money and buy a home in the Bahamas.

Well, on second thoughts, ignore that last point for now.

In such a situation, where almost all parameters that you could compare vary so dramatically, can you really compare two schools and say one is better than the other? MBA rankings try to do exactly that, and I think many of them raise more eyebrows than provide solutions (global truths) that would make everyone happy.

I use Harvard only as an example to illustrate the point. I greatly respect the brand, but I just can’t afford it. Whether they’d take me is a different story, but apart from MBA financing issues, there was no way I could’ve met my post-MBA goal (voluntary retirement from corporate life before I turned forty) if I had gone to Harvard.

So let’s ignore the general public vote and rephrase the original question. Which is the best business school in the world… for you?

And to arrive at the answer, you’ll have to ask yourself a whole lot of questions about where you are in your career right now, why you are unhappy, where you want to go from here, and which MBA can get you there in the most painless possible manner.

You can identify many of the gaps and issues and come up with the answers on your own. The key is to start early, have access to the right data/ information, and design a customized application strategy plan (covering B-schools, positioning your profile, planning out the post-MBA career, etc.) that works for you.

I work with several candidates each year who want to know: ‘If I don’t get into the Top-10 ranked B-schools, should I even bother?’

And in many cases, the answer is ‘Yes, you should.’ You should look at a mix of schools which may not be top-ranked, but which offer excellent resources to help you break into the industry and role that you desire.

For instance, if you are interested in Supply Chain Management (SCM), you’ll find many of the top schools offering a specialization in this field – MIT Sloan, Wharton, Kellogg. But lower-ranked schools like Fisher (Ohio State University), Smeal (Penn State University) and Broad (Michigan State University) are good at SCM too.

Of course, the brands aren’t comparable. But the silver lining is that the cost of attending these programmes is significantly lower. Many of the folks we’ve helped to get into these schools have got a generous amount of MBA scholarships. In the five-to-ten-year horizon, the RoI calculations can look very different for students of these schools.