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How To Use Rankings To Choose Your Business School


How to use rankings

Unlike choosing a university or college for an undergraduate degree, deciding which business school to attend as a postgraduate is a more complicated affair. Whilst your typical teenage student is more concerned about the 'student experience' rather than the quality of the teaching, for someone considering an MBA or similar, even the decision over whether to proceed with the qualification can be influenced by the range of institutions available. For the lifestyle of your average postgraduate student considering a business degree, it is not always as simple as selection on just course or location.

There are, however, a number of different rankings for UK and European business schools, to help you find your way through this growing educational market. Due to the complexity of the courses offered, both in terms of structure and content, these rankings are often based on a range of things, most notably the increase in salary between postgraduates starting the course and that achieved several years after graduation. Some also include figures on gender balance amongst students and the diversity of students and staff, amongst other measures. Whilst prospective students may find these comprehensive rankings useful, do they actually provide the information needed to help you decide where to study? A fair balance of male and female students may be a nice ideal, but will it actually influence your learning experience? Or give you a better idea whether that is the institution for you?

Official rankings

A number of these rankings are compiled by newspapers and magazines that have a large readership in the business community however there are also a few official rankings. Unlike undergraduate degrees, there are no official league tables for postgraduate courses. There are however irregular Research Assessment Exercises surveys carried out on UK institutions by the collective funding councils, which look at the quality of research carried out across a number of subject fields. This may or may not be relevant, dependent upon which qualification you are looking to take, however may be able to give you an idea of the 'bigger picture' at that university.

Business School Personal Experience Personal experience

Perhaps one of the best indicators of a higher education institution is the opinion of those who have studied there themselves. These reviews are then used to provide an unofficial ranking, based on simple scores given by past and present students. Whilst these can be highly subjective, they do tend to focus on the minutiae that is often relevant to students looking to study highly specialised areas, but missed by the mass market surveys. Of course, the rankings are likely to be completely different to those that look at every institution, but the value of these comes in the content itself, rather than the rating specifically, through reading the individual comments made by contributors. Whilst trawling through a number of these personal reviews can be time consuming, finding the sort of comments that either reassure you on specific points of concern, or confirm your worst fears on the downsides of a particular institution, should make it worth doing. Talking to acquaintances - or friends of friends - who have also studied at the business schools you're interested in, may also prove useful. It’s also worth taking a look at the National Students Survey for a good indicator of student satisfaction.

Check survey parameters

Choosing to study at a business school is not a cheap decision, and you really need to be certain of your selection before you pay your fees. Looking at the various official and unofficial rankings may prove helpful, but they can also be unhelpful. You should make sure you read the parameters of the survey. Some rely upon at minimum return rate of respondents to qualify for ranking and also a minimum number of students enrolling every year. This naturally precludes smaller institutions, which may be more suited to highly specialised courses or very specific personal requirements. The very specific criteria on which educational establishments are judged in these rankings may also not accurately reflect the reality of the prospects of the graduates. Average salary after 2 or 3 years is a very blunt measure, and does not allow for an indication of likely career progression, or take into account the other experience or qualifications of a graduate that may also have influenced their salary. It is also worth noting that rankings do not reflect the relationships that develop between educational establishments and certain industries and companies that mean graduates are likely to get a job or placement there quicker. This is not always about salary, but more the desirability of working for certain companies or in particular sectors.

Perhaps the most useful tip for using business school rankings is to read as many as you can and as widely as you can, in conjunction of course with their own prospectuses and open days. The competition to be the best, and to get into the best, is fierce, however the best on paper and in someone else's opinion may not be the best for you. Gather together all the information you can, study it and ask questions. Read reviews as widely as you can, and check the methodology behind the various official and unofficial rankings. Getting into your chosen institution may be the target, but ensuring that you chose the right place and right course in the first place will ensure you have the right target in your sights to begin with.


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