When I was a teenager, I used to hate talking about college admissions with my father. He was absolutely convinced that there was, somehow, a big difference between the #12-ranked university and the #14-ranked school, based solely on US News & World Report's annual list. On multiple occasions, I've told him that he's completely full of crap. Now, I'm going to tell you why he's full of crap.
First of all, keep in mind that MBA and undergraduate rankings are based on completely arbitrary formulas concocted by random journalists. (Click here for some commentary on the formulas themselves.) I'm not saying that the basic components are necessarily flawed (who would disagree with the notion that salary increases, reputation, and student selectivity are good indicators of the quality of an MBA program?), but there's some randomness in the way that any particular list might choose to quantify and weight these measures. They should always be taken with a grain of salt.
And then there's my favorite indicator of the stupidity of MBA rankings: the contradictions among the various lists. Here are a few of my favorites:
Dartmouth (Tuck): #1 MBA program according to Forbes, #3 in The Economist, but #12 in Business Week
Southern Methodist: #18 in Business Week (WTF??), #47 in US News and World Reports, and unranked in The Economist or Financial Times
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper): #15 in US News & World Reports and #24 in the Financial Times, but #5 (and higher than Harvard!) according to a Wall Street Journal survey of recruiters
Berkeley (Haas): #4 in The Economist, #7 in US News, #10 in Business Week, #16 in the Financial Times
Yale: #9 in Financial Times, #10 in US News, #15 in The Economist, #24 in Business Week
Northwestern (Kellogg): #3 in US News and Business Week, but #10 among US schools in the Financial Times... and only #21 globally
Would anybody out there really believe that Kellogg isn't even among the top 20 MBA programs globally? Would any of you put Tepper above Harvard on any list? Would any of you dream of putting Southern Methodist above Yale, as Business Week did?
All I'm saying is that these MBA rankings should be taken with a big, fat grain of salt. If you're thinking that you want to go to a "top 10 b-school" or a "top 20 MBA program," make sure that you don't rely on just one of these silly, arbitrary lists.