Editorial: Open Season

The season is open. No, I’m not talking about baseball. Or the inter-MBA basketball season. And though I am from a part of the country where the first day of hunting season is often a paid company holiday, I’m not talking about that either (which is in the fall, for those who are not members of the Midwest Club). I’m talking about rankings season – business school rankings, that is.

These days, it seems everyone is getting into the rankings game, whether based on admissions stats or recruiter surveys, post-MBA salary data or student feedback. The bottom line: rankings sell. As such, newspapers and magazines are eager to develop new criteria for ranking schools and to sell the analysis to the throngs of eager prospective students (and oftentimes their even more eager parents).

In business school rankings, US News and World Report opened the season last week, placing HBS at #1. ‘Great!’ we all say. But is it such a great thing? Do the rankings really matter?

The HBS administration would say no, that the best school for any student is as unique as the student him- or herself, based on each individual’s skills, preferences, learning style, and goals. This concern, as well as others related to privacy and commercial interests, prompted the recent HBS decision to discontinue providing students’ contact information to the media.

I personally believe that this is the right decision, though I would have preferred HBS to take the University of Chicago’s approach which involved actually asking the students (perhaps a LEAD refresher on ways to achieve buy-in is in order).

That said, I also have to admit that it is nice to see HBS at the top of these lists. However superficial the rankings may be, they do provide a quick validation of our decision to enroll, or perhaps an even more personal validation of our professional worth. It feels good to be #1. The obvious follow up question is who do the rankings hurt? And which effect outweighs the other?

Undeniably, there are those among us who probably wish they had paid more attention to the class size, academic focus, or level of student involvement before deciding to attend HBS. While we can’t lay the entire blame on the ranking systems, I think it’s fair to say that these and other superficial measures to play a role in shaping perceptions and ultimately, enrollment decisions.

In less than two weeks, another 400 admitted students will descend upon HBS. Over 200 of us will volunteer to guide them around campus, to introduce them to the school, and presumably, help them to make an informed decision about where to spend the next two years of their lives.

Rather than selling HBS, we owe it to the admits to listen to their interests and goals and to provide a frank assessment of HBS as it relates – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

One last thought to keep in mind this rankings season: We are the only people who can assess the value of our MBAs, and this value will be unique to all of us. If you believe that HBS falls short, then get involved, contribute to making change happen, and do everything in your power to make your experience and the school number one.

Anne Ristau
Editor In Chief