The latest MBA rankings are out and are likely to be causing quite a stir. Ten percent of last year’s “Top 100” business schools dropped out of the FT’s prestigious Top 100 listing, which is quite a volatile shift even if you account for changes to the secret algorithm used to calculate the ranking.

As an alumnus and ambassador of Hult International Business School, I was surprised to see the school among those that had dropped out of the Top 100. The response from President Stephen Hodges, who wrote to students and alumni to provide an extensive explanation of the results, and why the change had occurred, was very frank, transparent, and appreciated. Communication—something students constructively advised was occasionally lacking during our program—is clearly improving.

Alumni friends took to social media to discuss the rankings, with one quipping, It’s based on 2011, 3 years ago. So I’m looking forward to the 2017 FT rankings, based on our year of contribution.” The comment was tongue in cheek, but it drew a surprise response regarding the three-year lag on data, particularly in an age where statistics are so readily available, and we now demand “current” information. A lot can change in one year, never mind three.

Penalizing Youth and Innovation?

Hult is a relatively new kid on the block and may rely more heavily upon rankings than well established institutions, such as Harvard, MIT, LBS, Stanford, and INSEAD. Indeed, utilizing some potentially outdated information from a December 2007 study “How Do Rankings Impact on Higher Education” by the OECD, almost 50% of schools surveyed “use their institutional rank for publicity purposes, in press releases, official presentations and their website.” So, it seems the changes cannot be taken lightly when both business schools and those reliant upon the ranking information can be so dependent on it.

Hult is one of the world’s most progressive business schools; it won the AMBA 2014 MBA Innovation Award (among other accolades), and has grown the Hult Prize—backed by former President Clinton—into the world’s largest and most prestigious student competition. This is why the recent shift in ranking doesn’t appear to accurately reflect where Hult is currently, and this not only does a disservice to the school, but to prospective students as well, who may opt for an alternative that doesn’t satisfy what they’re really looking for.

Ranking Criteria

I take issue with the manner in which some rankings are formulated—as a former prospective student trying to understand what’s behind them—because it’s difficult to fully trust the information when the scoring is not so transparent. For example, I don’t fully agree with the key performance indicator of measuring the average alumni salary three years after graduation. Boosting your salary may seem like an obvious metric when you spend a significant sum of money on an MBA, but I don’t feel it’s as big a priority as the rankings suggest.

The level of personal development and self-awareness one achieves through the MBA experience can be priceless, and it can also balance the desire for a significant uplift in salary so soon after graduation. Plus, many MBAs have been through the undergraduate experience and understand that you don’t just walk into a high-paying job just because you have a degree. You need to earn your stripes and demonstrate your worth. While this is slightly different for executives with significant industry experience, the underlying sentiment remains the same. Rankings that heavily weigh MBA alumni salary ignore many other beneficial aspects of completing an MBA. An algorithm accounting for personal growth, for example, would be a metric of great interest to an increasing number of prospective students—certainly those with whom I studied.

Create Your Own Metrics

What was important to me in choosing a business school may be very different from someone else, so understanding how scores are calculated and what criteria is used is very important. In fact, the decision I made to study at Hult London had very little to do with rankings. I first considered doing an MBA eight years ago when my then Managing Director and an external consultant suggested it would be a beneficial choice for my continued professional development. At the time, I couldn’t make the financial commitment, but my desire to receive an MBA never wavered.

So I took my time and visited a handful of the top UK business schools, spoke with students, alumni, and even attended alumni events. I was able to rule some schools out because I didn’t fit with the culture and the “type” of students they were attracting. Two very prominent UK schools were heavily biased in attracting financial, banking, “city boy types.” After I attended a couple of alumni events, I realized they weren’t the schools for me. They were too institutional, attracted too many people who all looked and spoke the same way, and lacked diversity and entrepreneurial spirit. I required something fresh, different, more diverse and entrepreneurial. I’m not aware of any rankings that spell this out. Where, in fact, is the ranking to encourage entrepreneurial spirit? Several of my alumni friends and I have moved from high-paid senior positions to focus on our own business, and—if anyone knows anything about start-ups—our salaries will not immediately be as lucrative as they once were.

When I was finally ready to apply to business schools I attended an Access MBA event in London and spoke directly to twelve schools. I hadn’t previously heard of Hult but I departed the event with it firmly in mind. I applied to only one school, as I had no intention of studying anywhere else. As a student, despite what the rankings say, you have to consider what is most important to you, otherwise you risk not seeing a return on your investment. You have to think about the school that will provide you with the type of network you want, the type of experience you seek, and the best opportunities to learn. At Hult, learning was not just about the classes, it was about having such a diverse, international cohort that we learned an incredible amount from one another. While rankings are a useful guide, and universities clearly put a lot of worth into them, it’s important for students to do more thorough research and consider what is truly most important to them.

Alan Newton is a Hult Global Ambassador, and a 2014 Executive MBA graduate of Hult International Business School in London. He has spent the last 15 years in senior operational, commercial, supply chain & procurement roles within leading EMEA event agencies. Since graduation he has followed his entrepreneurial spirit and established a consultancy network, NewtonSquared, and co-founded Eventopedia, both of which serve the global events community.

Picture courtesy of Janet Ramsden on Flickr.

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