US News is publishing its much-watched, much-maligned annual ranking of graduate programs by April 23. I have developed several posts on rankings, what they are, what they aren’t, and how to use them. I will post them over the next several days.
Ahh, those rankings. Hated by some. Relied on with religious zeal by others. Should you praise them? Should you damn them? Should you use them?
Yes to the last question…with a few caveats. To use them intelligently you need to understand what they are, and what they aren’t.
What are the published rankings?
They are surveys, collections of data, and convenient ways to compare schools on specific criteria – usually fairly superficial metrics. They measure different qualities: reputation, student stats upon acceptance, ROI, recruiter satisfaction, bar passage rates (for law school), and more. Consequently schools can be ranked with wildly differing results depending on the criteria used.
For example, Harvard Business School is ranked #1 by US News in March 2008, #2 by BusinessWeek in Oct 2008, #3 by The Financial Times in January 2009, and #50 out of 50 in BusinessWeek’s inaugural ROI rankings, also published in late 2008. The criteria count.
Realize that each ranking will give a different result because each one measures different factors. It is incumbent upon you, the intelligent consumer and ultimate investor in your graduate education, to understand the differences and the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.