snarky Yale college advice, 1975 edition

This has absolutely nothing to do with the GMAT, MBA admissions, or GMAT tutoring. Just warning you. I was wandering around NYC with some visiting friends this weekend, and we decided that it would be fun to take them to Strand Bookstore, which is one of my favorite places in New York. Eighteen miles of books (supposedly), many of which are piled on sidewalk carts for $1 each. If you're from somewhere else and you come to NYC, the store is worth a visit.

My bizarre little $1 treasure for today was tattered paperback copy of The Insiders' Guide to the Colleges, written by The Yale Daily News in 1975, long before college rankings became such a huge national obsession. I was curious to see how top schools were perceived more than three decades ago.

I'm not sure that I learned all that much, but I had a good laugh. The writers are snobby and snarky, and definitely have some Ivy League bias.

I reflexively opened to their commentary on Stanford, my alma mater: "There is a certain trendiness in the air which often stifles any serious attempt to approach an academic problem. The school's California provincialism can be extremely irritating.

"One manifestation of the student body's provincialism is their penchant for calling the school 'the Harvard and Yale of the West,' or even for terming Harvard and Yale 'the Stanfords of the East.' The analogies simply aren't true.

"...There are also a huge number of students who only care about getting good grades... and another, almost equally large percentage who aren't really interested in doing anything.... If you want the best education (and the most heterogeneous student body) available anywhere in the country, look to the Ivies."

Lest they be accused of east-coast bias, the goofballs who wrote this book crapped all over plenty of other schools. In their commentary on Tufts, they said this: "Everybody knows, of course, that it is the goal of most high school students in the Northeast to go to college in Boston. That way you can get a lot of hippie, loose-moraled girls if you are a guy, or a lot of radical committed free guys if you are a girl... and you can get a good deal of dope to tide you over the bad times."

Fordham: "Fordham University is a Roman Catholic institution, and therein lies its problem." (!!)

Davidson: "The fact is, many of the students have never been north of the Mason-Dixon line, and occasionally those in the administration and faculty act as if they haven't either--and what's more, they don't care."

Harvard: "The college atmosphere sometimes seems to ruin those personalities that weren't warped to begin with."

Columbia: "...Columbia is unbeatable. But the decision whether to take that beating should be made very carefully."

Hilarious, right? Of course, the Yale dorks who wrote the book included a glowing four-page review of Yale itself. Not exactly an unbiased piece of writing, but highly entertaining. I'd love to see somebody write a similar book about MBA programs now--can you imagine the lawsuits?

why MBA rankings are (partially) BS

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.