This is part one of a two-part Q&A with Stephen Taylor, Assistant Vice President of Recruiting at Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Established in 1946, Thunderbird School of Global Management was one of the earliest graduate institutions with a focus on international business. The school’s Distance Learning MBA blends 75% Web-based learning with 25% on-site business seminars to provide a hybrid learning experience in Glendale, Ariz.
It’s tough to stay at the top, but Thunderbird School of Global Management has been a top-ranked international business school for years. Stephen Taylor, Assistant Vice President of Recruiting, explains how he advises students about MBA admissions and rankings.
Q: How do you tell students to approach rankings?
Taylor: “Carefully! We always suggest that students approach the rankings carefully because there’s a highly complex calculus used to determine the ranking for each ranking service/publication. And while most of the factors used in creating the rankings are similar, it’s exceedingly rare that the criteria are exactly the same from publication to publication. Because the MBA is such a vocational degree, prospective students use the rankings in a very direct way, not only to determine the overall standing of a school in the broader context of the MBA world, but also to figure out how employment statistics, curricular foci, alumni networks, and other information give texture to the full cycle of the ‘before, during, and after’ stages of their engagement with a school.
“So the reason we recommend that students approach these rankings quite carefully is three-part:
- Each publication has a very different method for ranking institutions
- Students place a lot of weight on the rankings in making their decision
- The wide variety of specialty ranking groups that give more insight into each particular school.
The rankings are a good way to get a feel for a school overall, but they don’t give the whole picture.”
Q: Being a school with such an international appeal, how are rankings weighted internationally? Are there rankings Thunderbird is especially proud of?
Taylor: “Each publication does things a bit differently (for example, there are some specialty rankings that focus on regional schools in China, India, etc.), but schools are ranked globally on the overall and specialty rankings. So London Business School, Thunderbird, Stanford, CEIBS and all of the rest of the b-schools around the world are compared and ranked on these scales. On a regional note, while most students place a high value on the overall ranking of a school, there are some geographies where rankings play a much greater role in the decision-making process. Prospective students from China and India, which constitute such a large percentage of the MBA applicant pool in the U.S., have consistently expressed an emphasis on finding a school that is “the best” based on rankings.
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“Any observer of the industry is aware of the significant changes in the ways business schools operate from all of the recent changes in deans/presidents to schools trying to determine if they should continue to be formally affiliated with their broader university. But whatever one might think is the biggest change in the industry over the last five years, the highly competitive landscape and the desire to attract highly-qualified candidates from a diverse set of countries has focused every school’s attention on the rankings.
“At Thunderbird, we’ve been very fortunate to be recognized for our excellence in global business education by being ranked the #1 program in International Business for over 15 years in a row. It’s an important piece of recognition for us, but there’s broad institutional understanding that it’s just part of the picture painted by the rankings. There are several other specialty rankings (internationalism of alumni, executive MBA outcomes, alumni potential to network, distance learning MBA programs, etc.) where Thunderbird is ranked either #1 or is in the top 5 that give some additional information on what the school’s primary focus is, which is our mission to educate global leaders who create sustainable prosperity worldwide.”
What should students take away from rankings? What is critical information, especially for an online or hybrid student?
Taylor: “Many students will find their list of potential schools from rankings. Others will find their list of schools from friends, family, or colleagues who are alums. Others might find their list by attending an MBA fair or from a basic search engine query, but in whatever way a student determines their list of potential schools, you can guarantee that they’ll look at the rankings and use them to make their decision in some way. The critical takeaway for a prospective student getting ready to make what is fundamentally a transformative and definitive life decision is that the rankings are only one part of the picture. To really figure out if a school is the right school, there needs to be touch points with graduates, current students, admissions staff, and the detailed specialty rankings to be get a clear picture. The role of fit can’t be understated; a great statistical applicant profile and a great statistical school ranking do not always make for a great match. Students really need to drill down to make sure they have a feel for what their fit is going to be with their perfect school.”
–Alanna Stage, @AlannaTweets