The Real March Madness: US News & World Report Business School Rankings Revealed

A March-Madness approach to business school selection using the US News & World Report rankings

It’s MARCH MADNESS, the rankings have been announced and once again it’s the usual cast of characters versus the underdogs. Who will be the big surprise this year and who will disappoint?

No we are not talking about NCCA basketball, we are talking about that other bit of madness that happens in March… the US News & World Report annual rankings of the best business schools. Unlike basketball, there are no real surprises, the big 5 always seem to contain the same 7 schools rotating in and out with a few surprises along the way.

While it is a great parlor game to see how your own top ten list compares, how relevant is it to the average candidate? There is value there but also it should be viewed as just one more data point, among the many, that should be considered. More important for most candidates are issues like how the curriculums differ, who recruits on campus and how easy is it to get your chosen job in the field you want, whether not you can you get a scholarship, where the school located, and everything else.

And in my mind the way to play this out is by creating your own NCAA-style bracket with each of your potential schools pitted one against the other to see which one you want to go to and in which order.

Here’s an example, a recent client was only looking at top-ten schools, he wanted to be entrepreneur but only after working for a few years so he wanted a big brand name. And he didn’t care where he went.

Based on these things, here’s how his game played out:

#1 Harvard versus #2 Stanford = Stanford wins, the king of all entrepreneurship programs.

#1 Harvard versus #3 Booth = Harvard wins, brand name with an entrepreneurial buzz.

#3 Booth versus #4 Wharton = Wharton wins, sure it’s an MBA factory but their e-program is terrific.

#3 Booth versus #5 MIT = MIT wins, the beast from the east when it comes to entrepreneurship (of course, I am an alum)

#3 Booth versus #7 Haas (jumping around a bit but no system is perfect) = Haas wins for Silicon Valley vibe.

#3 Booth versus #6 Kellogg = two consistently powerful mid-western schools, but Booth is pushing entrepreneurship hard.

Booth finally breaks through with a combination of brand name and great strides in entrepreneurship.

#6 Kellogg versus #8 Tuck = Kellogg wins by doing everything very well, big brand name, and picking up some entrepreneurial spirit just by being near Chicago.

#8 Tuck versus #9 Yale versus #10 Columbia (yup, system broke down again) = Columbia beats them both, Columbia is breathing the Silicon Alley air, to the point that it’s becoming start-up central.

#8 Tuck versus #9 Yale = it’s Yale by a nose, Yale is just too close to the two entrepreneurial hubs, Boston and NYC

#8 Tuck versus #12 Duke = Sorry but Tuck loses again. Hanover, NH just can’t compare to Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

So the top-ten-wanting, entrepreneur-cum-consultant client has a top ten list that looks more like this:

  1. Stanford
  2. Harvard
  3. Wharton
  4. MIT
  5. Haas
  6. Booth
  7. Kellogg
  8. Columbia
  9. Yale
  10. Duke
  11. Tuck

The big loser in this list, compared to US News & World Report is Tuck, with Haas and Columbia breaking through.

Let’s play the game again, this time with a woman, who based on her GPA and GMAT, is looking for a ten-to-twenty rated program with a focus on health care. She is fleeing from the West Coast (if you can imagine) and wants a smaller program in a smaller to mid-size city that is a nice place to spend two years.

So let the games begin:

#11 Virginia versus #12 Duke = A first round defeat for UVA, it’s out of the tournament. No health care, too small a city.

#12 Duke versus #13 Ross = Duke dominates, the place for health care in a great, small place – Research Triangle Park.

#13 Ross versus #14 Cornell versus #15 UCLA = they all lose! She doesn’t want to be at any of those schools.

#16 UNC versus #17 Texas = Chapel Hill versus Austin, it’s a pick ‘em, but UNC wins because it’s a great place for health care.

#17 Texas versus #18 Carnegie Mellon = Carnegie Mellow is awesome in health care, and Pittsburgh is one of the greatest small cities in the US (it’s true).

#17 Texas versus #19 Emory versus #20 NYU = blah to NYC, yes to Emory, so close to the CDC

#17 Texas = you just can’t forget the longhorns, great town, solid health care and an alumni network second to none.

You get the picture, and just to round things out, a couple of Cinderella teams coming from smaller cities with great health care are #21 Washington University in St. Louis and #22 Vanderbilt.

So her final list is:

  1. Duke
  2. UNC
  3. Carnegie Mellon
  4. Emory
  5. Texas
  6. Washington University in St. Louis
  7. Vanderbilt

Throw in a reach school which she fell in love with, Kellogg, and an up-and-comer with great ties to health care in a great city, Boston University, and she has a nine school list that meets her goals.

Obviously, this little tournament I proposed is somewhat facetious but its purpose should be clear: take the US News & World Report list but then see how each school meet your goals with regard to size, curriculum, location and whatever else is important to you. After all, the only top ten list that is important is the one that is important to you.

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