For the love of rankings

I love rankings. There, I said it. I’m positive I’ve just fallen off the Christmas card list of a dozen admissions consultants but I’m unrepentant. Rankings are the sliced bread, robot vacuum cleaner and swirly straw of MBA resources all rolled into one.

There will always be stories about unusual results and unevenness across years – horror stories that deans tell their exec officers huddled around the campfire during their team building camping trips. Sure, there have been some furphies where the Utter Business School has achieved a bigger climb than a juiced up Lance Armstrong. But that overlooks one overwhelming simple fact – rankings are a Santa’s toyshop of brilliant resources that ultimately makes your job of sifting through the gazillions of MBA programmes to develop your shortlist all that much easier.

Here’s the usual proviso: As you’d do with financial advice, they work best when considered with caution and after doing your own homework.

But wasn’t this meant to be a light-hearted take on rankings?! The truth is, rankings can be both your kryptonite and whipped cream all at once. So how do you avoid their worst parts and get the best out of them? Below I’ve suggested four ways to get the most out of rankings to help you decide your business school shortlist.

Focus on your goals
I’ve spoken to a couple of friends about ‘rankings greed’. It’s the phenomenon you experience when after you’ve identified your priorities and developed a shortlist of goal schools, you become tempted by schools further up the rankings simply because of their position or their growth. Next thing you know, you’ve applied to the Lazarus School of Business and you’re scratching your head why. Always keep your goals in the centre of your mind when choosing your MBA.

Compare multiple rankings
But it sounds like work! It is, but you’ll thank me for it. There’s a stack of rankings out there and each have their strengths and weaknesses. By comparing results across rankings you’ll get a strong idea of the consistency of a school’s results. (There are also rankings aggregators available online, but if you’re super keen like I was you could create your own rankings aggregator to dig even deeper into the data – then again, you might not all be research/numbers nerds).

Ask alumni
This is probably the best piece of advice I can provide. Once you’ve developed your shortlist, approach each school’s alumni to ask any outstanding questions or unknowns you might have. Not sure about the facilities? Have a question mark about employability at the end of the course? Unsure of last call times and happy hour costs? Every alum I have spoken to has been extremely generous with their time and happy to answer questions (as am I – see note at the bottom of this entry**).

The story is in the detail
Sure, a bullet-proof list of impenetrable, never-to-be-challenged rankings is great, but the tables themselves contain a stack of additional data you can trawl through to your heart’s content. Dig deeper and you’ll find all sorts of handy additional info, like international diversity, gender split and average salary. Hell, if you’re feeling really adventurous take a look at the Spanish language CNN Expansion rankings and nod sagely at the high percentage of Ubicación exalumnos some schools apparently have.

**I’m available and happy to speak to any readers considering applying to the HKU MBA programme. Feel free to contact me at noel.hanssens (at) hku.hk.

The Financial Times Global MBA rankings 2013 will be published on Monday January 28.