WHAT ARE THE TOP MBA PROGRAMS?
If you've read my postings on the Businessweek or Vault.com forums, you'll undoubtedly know that I try to avoid the rankings talk. Rankings debates usually disintegrate into pissing matches, with the resulting discussion exaggerating the differences that no one else but applicants and students would actually care about.
What I've posted below isn't something I care too much about, but it seems like enough people are curious about my opinion as an admissions consultant. This is the first and last place I will post anything about rankings.
Here’s how the tiers more or less break down:
Top Three: HBS, Stanford, Wharton (some say Wharton is just a rung below HBS and Stanford but above Kellogg, MIT, Chicago, Columbia or Tuck, which I won’t dispute – opinions vary).
Elite Eight: Top 3 plus Kellogg, MIT, Chicago, Columbia and Tuck. Some say Tuck is just a rung below; again opinions vary.
Sweet Sixteen: Elite 8, plus Michigan, Duke, Darden, NYU, Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, Yale (some will say that Cornell and Yale are just a rung below, but again opinions vary).
Rest of the Best: These are the top regional schools including (in no particular order) UT-Austin, Georgetown, USC, UNC, Emory, Babson, Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, Maryland, Carnegie Mellon.
Big Two International: It’s basically INSEAD and London Business School (LBS), and then everyone else. The caliber of the student body and reputation of both these schools are comparable to the US Elite Eight.
There is no material difference in reputation between schools within the same tier. In other words, don't ask whether Columbia has a better reputation than Chicago or Kellogg, because other than the alums and students, no one cares!
To use a car analogy (you’ll notice I like to use analogies), the US Elite Eight and the Big Two International are like the reputable European cars (i.e. the French cars like Renault and Peugeot are thus excluded). The bottom of the Sweet Sixteen are like Japanese cars – they don’t quite have the cachet of the Euro cars, but they are usually just as good. The Rest of the Best are like American cars – they don’t have the cachet or quality of either the Euro or Japanese cars, but they’re still pretty decent. Once you go beyond the Rest of the Best, the schools become pretty spotty, much like a Russian or Chinese car.
HOW WOULD YOU DIFFERENTIATE THE ELITE EIGHT SCHOOLS?
I assume you’ll do your own research, and since there’s so much info out there on the websites, discussion forums, etc. which take a pretty dry approach in comparing schools, I’ve decided to stick with the car analogy – when you strip away all the discussion about GMAT averages, salary stats, career placement profiles, student satisfaction surveys, rankings, etc. you’ll find that these analogies are pretty apt (if I must say!). The reality is, these schools are far more similar than they are different, so here’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek comparison of the schools’ reputations:
HBS is like the British luxury car of varying quality - Bentley, Aston Martin, MG, Rolls-Royce. They are Establishment, tophats and all. Some drivers are able to break the "unapproachable" mold and will take their cars for a bit of a joyride, but some are trapped in the pomp and circumstance of their cars.
Stanford is like the Italian sports car - Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Maseratis. They are bold, distinctive, and anti-authoritarian. They aren't the most reliable cars, but they sure look good, and they are the ultimate joyride car, risks be damned.
Wharton are like the German sports cars - Porsche and AMG-Benz. They combine the quality/reliability of German engineering that the British and Italian sports cars don't have, with the cachet that rivals only the British and Italian luxury cars. However, they don't quite have the same cachet of the British and Italian luxury cars, even though many drivers would still kill for a Porsche 911 turbo or AMG.
Chicago GSB is like a Volvo - the quality, performance and reliability is probably as good as any luxury automaker, but it doesn't do as good of a job at marketing itself. It has a reputation for being a bit staid, boxy, boring. But it's like a tank - impenetrable to any kind of criticism because its owners will try really hard to explain why its car is as good as any German car out there.
Kellogg is like a Volkswagen - they aren't the most reliable cars, but they are sure fun cars to drive. They also have a very young, hip and aspirational image - but one that is within reach of many people. They are very good at promoting and managing its reputation as a “cool and hip” car to drive.
Sloan is like an Audi - more people have them than you'd expect, and for a German car, they are a bit younger and hipper. Particularly it's S-series. They are mentioned alongside the other great auto manufacturers, but still fly under the radar in most discussions.
Columbia is like a BMW - an amazing machine that combines performance, quality and cachet, but it also attracts a disproportionate number of aggro drivers who believe they own the road, and act accordingly (blasting their music for everyone to see, cutting people off in traffic, honking their horns, etc.).
Tuck is like a Saab. It's quirky, relatively small in number, but has a fiercely loyal following of aficionados. Not many people know the car, but those that do rave about it.