All shook up – the ups and downs of the BusinessWeek MBA rankings 2014

November 20, 2014 | by Matt Symonds

As you have probably heard, the recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek MBA Ranking for 2014 features Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the #1 spot, the school’s highest rank in its history. This news has sent shockwaves through the industry, and hopefully set an example for other MBA programs to dream big. Fuqua was established in 1969 and is one of the youngest business schools, and it has been praised for being tuned into the needs of both students and recruiters.

Another big winner this year, Yale SOM, moved all the way up to #6 from #21 in 2012, also its highest rank in the program’s history. This climb is evidence that the school’s dean, Ted Snyder, is on track to deliver the goal of achieving a regular top 10 ranking for Yale. Similar to Fuqua, Yale SOM is one of the younger MBA programs, founded in founded in 1976.

Can we assume that BusinessWeek’s 2014 MBA ranking implies that ‘younger’ top-ranked b-schools are more in touch with students’ and recruiters’ expectations? At Fortuna Admissions, we are working with an increasing number of individuals applying to Duke and Yale alongside the traditional ‘top 7′, and particularly enjoy the opportunity for thoughtfulness and self-awareness that Duke prompts with its essay, ’25 Random Things About Yourself.’

In 2014, however, we’re seeing a few big shake-ups, notably for Harvard, which fell six spots to #8, its lowest ranking ever in BusinessWeek. This rank is also the school’s lowest 2014 position across the five major media rankings. A lot of this can be attributed to BusinessWeek’s student survey, which cites ‘the perception that the school caters to elites while neglecting women and minorities.’ This is perhaps a wake-up call for Harvard, which until now had always been in BusinessWeek’s top five.

But how do this year’s volatile results compare to the first quarter-century of BusinessWeek rankings? Prior to 2014, the #1 spot had only been held by the following three schools: Kellogg (five times), Wharton (four times), and Chicago (four times). And while 18 MBA programs have been in the top 10 rank since 1988, only three of them ranked in the top five each year since the start of the BusinessWeek ranking through 2012 – Harvard, Wharton and Kellogg.

One constituent impacted by MBA rankings reports is school alumni, who see the correlation between a high rank and the brand value of their degree. Ranking results can also affect internal departments at schools. The admissions offices of programs that moved up significantly this year, including UCLA Anderson, UNC Kenan-Flagler and Emory Goizueta, as well as Yale and Duke, can anticipate a rise in applications to their programs in the next couple of years (at least until the new rankings report for 2016 are released).

Not everyone is as pleased by the 2014 ranking report, as other programs saw significant declines. Sure to be disappointed are Cornell and Darden, which both slipped out of the top 10. Beyond what they can learn from the opinions of their students and recruiters, they can always focus on their success in rankings by Forbes and The Economist. Which brings up the point of the limitations and flaws in any MBA school rankings. Every ranking utilizes its own methodology, which is unique to each publication, and assigns weights to different data to arrive at their results. It’s important that applicants understand what is being measured in each report and see who provided the data.

So how should you interpret this news? Our advice is to not make your school decisions based on rankings alone. For example, while BusinessWeek places UC Berkeley Haas at #19 and NYU Stern at #22 spot in 2014, these schools still rank in the top ten in recent rankings by The Economist and US News. Realize that each ranking is based on different factors and understand that a lower rank in one report is not a sign that the program quality is declining. Remember also that publications like to shake up the rankings occasionally to make a good story and attract a wider audience to their ranking.

Applicants should take the time to research each school and focus on the aspects that are most important to you and your plans for your future. If rankings are something you care about, spend time understanding the methodology of each report so you can draw your own conclusions. We also suggest you speak to current students, alumni, and school administration to hear their opinions and incorporate rankings as just one of several other factors in your decision-making process.

The following blog is an adapted version of an article written by Matt Symonds, Co-founder of Fortuna Admissions. The original article was recently featured on LinkedIn, and his assessment of all five major MBA rankings appears on Forbes.

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