How Can I Use Online MBA Rankings?

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Since the Online MBA is a business degree, enrolling in an Online MBA program is an investment in a person’s potential business career. Therefore, it makes sense that such programs are often subject to the same level of quantitative analysis as other investments or business development programs. When they enroll, people want to know they’re getting their money’s worth. Thus, Online MBA rankings are the simplest and quickest ways to differentiate various Online MBA programs from each other.

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But there’s the rub. Just as not all Online MBA programs are created equal, neither are all Online MBA rankings. Each ranking prioritizes different qualities, but each one also ranks a separate subsection of the postgraduate business degree market. After all, the AACSB estimates there are over a thousand MBA programs in the U.S. alone, and very few websites have the capacity to rank all of them. Thus, there are Online MBA rankings based on an intended career path, geography, tuition cost, et cetera. Therefore it’s incumbent on you as a potential incoming student to identify your priorities and find rankings that reflect them as much as possible.

Here are a few tips as you navigate all the rankings out there:

Specify an Online MBA if that’s what you want.

It’s important to remember that not all institutions have the same history of online learning. Some of them might have recently pivoted to online instruction as a consequence of the worldwide pandemic. Some of them might have shifted to online instruction to attract more students to their program. Many have hybrid programs that combine online education with in-person intensives. Either way, if an online learning experience is what you’re after, you don’t want to settle for just any program that uses the word “online” in its marketing. There’s a difference between taking what a program does in person and putting it online versus incorporating best practices in online learning from the beginning.

Find rankings that apply directly to your experience or identity.

On the flip side, there might also be an Online MBA program with a strong online component and might be good for you, but that isn’t ranked among Online MBA programs. And while there might not be specific Online MBA programs designed for your demographic identity, there might be a ranking or a listing for it. So, for example, there are listicles for top MBA programs for African-Americanstop MBAs for womentop MBAs for international students, or for those from rural areas, top MBAs for agriculture. Think hard about where you’ve come from and where you’re trying to go, and look for rankings that reflect elements of your journey.

Investigate who’s doing the ranking and why.

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Most reputable websites will have an “about” section that explains what organization is behind the site, what its purpose is, and where it’s based. If it’s any kind of journalistic publication, it will also list any editorial staff or principal contributors. This is true not only for business rankings but for websites in general. If you come across a site that doesn’t have this feature, it might exist simply as clickbait designed to attract web traffic to one or several other websites.

But assuming it’s there, the about section can also help you with further evaluation of the rankings you encounter. If you do some additional searching around the names of the host organizations or principal authors, you might gain some insight into what potential factors might be swaying or biasing their analysis. Because if there are political, religious, or philosophical biases involved, those might show up in the rankings. That doesn’t mean that the rankings aren’t any good – they might do an excellent job at crunching the numbers and casting a wide net, for example – it just means that you might learn more about why certain schools or programs might be favored over others. This is important data to guide you in your search process.

Look at which criteria are under consideration, and prioritize the ones you want.

A lot of general business school rankings will tell you at the outset which areas were considered when calculating the ranking. These could be admission rates, tuition costs, travel components, graduation rates, or stats related to career improvement such as average salary increases for graduates or how many graduates end up at Fortune 500 companies.

Therefore, it’s worth it to take some time to think about why you want an Online MBA in the first place. Hopefully, that time of contemplation will guide you toward what your priorities are. Maybe you’re pursuing a master’s in business because you need to earn more money to better support your family. Maybe the Online MBA is an opportunity for you to explore the world or to use business as a way of broadening your cultural profile. Maybe you want to become an entrepreneur, and an Online MBA is what you’ll need to launch your business idea effectively. Whatever your priorities are, find business school rankings that reflect those priorities. Those rankings will help you find the programs that suit you best.

And finally…

Take Online MBA rankings with a grain of salt.

Even among reputable sites that follow best practices regarding financial disclosures of funding and associations with parent organizations, none of them employ the top experts in the most relevant topic of your MBA search. Why not, you ask? Because that topic is you. None of them are experts on what it means to live your life. Only you have the fullest dataset possible on that particular topic.

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Action Plans

You have decided to take the plunge and pursue an online MBA. Now what?

There are simply hundreds of programs out there, and it is not possible, nor is it efficient, for you to look through every single one. Enter, Online MBA rankings. Rankings are made to be a simple and quick way to evaluate Online MBA programs. 

But don’t just pick one ranking! Pick anywhere between three to 10 rankings to look at. 

  • Notice who is doing the ranking.
  • Notice what factors the ranking lists as important in the methodology section.

Do these rankings speak to you and your goals?

  • Notice what programs are ranked.
  • See if you can find any patterns.

And finally, acknowledge that the rankings can give you a lot of information about business schools and Online MBA programs, but they can’t tell you which one will be perfect for you. A data-driven approach has its place, but intuition and emotion are also powerful factors that guide us in our decision-making, sometimes even more so than the data. When trying to find the right online MBA program for you, you want not only a program that checks the right boxes, but one that feels right as well.