US business schools opt to sit out of some MBA rankings this year
US business schools cite disruptions caused by COVID-19 as their chief reason. Source: Philippe Lopez/AFP

A Kaplan survey of US business schools has found that fewer are planning to participate in business school rankings this year amid the impact of COVID-19. Of the programmes surveyed, 10% don’t plan to participate in any of the business school rankings, long a mainstay of the MBA admissions process; 62% say they plan to participate in only some of the rankings; and 28% say they plan to participate in all the rankings.

Kaplan vice president of admissions Brian Carlidge said the majority of business schools have made their admissions process more flexible, including offering GMAT or GRE waivers, so many schools are lacking in test score data this year. “Another major data point that goes into the rankings is job placement rate, and with the economy struggling as it is, it’s likely that it wasn’t as easy for Class of 2020 graduates to find employment as it was for Class of 2019 graduates,” said Carlidge. “While many business schools are still reporting this data point for transparency, it’s also likely that others are reluctant to publicise it. Absent reliable GMAT or GRE test scores and other complete pandemic-impacted data points, most business schools are opting out of full participation in this year’s rankings.”

Less ‘potent’ MBA rankings for US business schools in 2021?

Many top business schools, including Chicago Booth, Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, and UPenn Wharton, have stated their non-participation in at least one global rankings list and after the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) called for a pause in all MBA rankings because of a lack of complete data, said the global educational services company.

Carlidge said he understood the predicament US business schools are in. “Where a school places in the rankings is an important recruitment tool for prospective students, and publicising a high ranking can help boost alumni giving. But at the same time, with so much tumult, it’s hard to get a clear picture of where each business school lands,” he said. “With so many top MBA programmes not participating this year, it may make the rankings released in 2021 feel much less potent and relevant for aspiring business school students than in years past. We plan to ask this question again later this year to see whether this is a temporary situation or if the pandemic has instigated a longer-term trend.”

It’s not all doom and gloom for US business schools — most top MBA programmes are reporting year-over-year growth in starting salaries, another key rankings data point.

What does the future hold for MBA rankings?

An admissions officer at one school told Kaplan that they still plan to participate in some of the rankings. “We still believe that rankings give students some information to compare different schools. It is hoped that rankings organisations will take into consideration the issues schools have faced during the pandemic and adjust their metrics,” they said. One admissions officer whose school says it won’t participate in any of the rankings stated, “The challenges associated with test centres closing and admissions processes changing to accommodate this made for a less quantitative decision making model. It does not easily translate to the criteria forced by the ranking methodology.” Another admissions officer observed, “Everyone is in the same boat, although some are in more serious financial straits than others. I see no reason not to report.”