When I was applying for an MBA, there was one piece of advice that I received over and over: whatever you do, go to a school in the top ten global rankings- preferably one in the top five. School reputation and networking, it was said, counted just as much as academics. Since I was looking at both America and Europe, this focused my attention on two universities: Harvard and the London Business School, both of which routinely took first place in their respective regional rankings.
I wasn’t particularly inclined to question this advice, as it perfectly matched my own ambitions join a top tier program. However, following a fairly rigorous review of top business schools, I had a realization: as a specialist in inclusive business and social enterprise, standard rankings just didn’t apply to me, or to anyone in my sector.
#1: Rankings are based on salaries that are not representative of social business:
First, business school rankings from sources like the Financial Times or Business Week have a fairly consistent set of criteria for what makes a “good” school. Foremost amongst these is exit salary- what students make in their first job after graduation. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of social enterprise and inclusive business can tell you that high salaries are not exactly the norm for the sector. This has a number of implications for would-be-MBAs.
- A high average exit salary could be treated as a negative indicator, as evidence that the school doesn’t have a particular focus in social business.
- Even universities with a social business can only go so far. They still need a healthy number of investment bankers to bolster their numbers.
#2: Rankings are based on publications that don’t matter:
A second criterion in MBA rankings that makes standard scoring irrelevant is that of publications. Both professor tenure and school ranking is influenced by the number of publications in academic journals. The problem is that not all publications are weighed equally. Rather, there is a short list of 50 journals that count towards the rankings. None of these focus on social business or routinely cover the topic.
#3: Networks matter most:
Social enterprise and inclusive business are relatively new fields. Most knowledge of best practice is not yet captured in academic works; rather, it is in the minds of practitioners. This makes the people you will study with just as important as the professors. This criterion, above any other, ended up influencing my choice of MBA programs.
So where should I go?
I didn’t apply to Harvard or to the London Business School. I applied only to two MBAs: the University of Oxford Said Business School and the MIT Sloane School of Business. Stanford I strongly considered- it has a great program- but rejected purely because I couldn’t see myself moving to California. Harvard does have some social business electives, but they represent a relatively small proportion of its large course offering, and social business specialists a small percentage of its huge 900 person class. London Business School didn’t even make my final list.
Ultimately, I accepted an offer from Oxford, partly, I admit, because they offered me a fellowship but principally because the network of social business specialists is totally unmatched. The vibrancy of the Oxford community was confirmed by every alumnus I spoke to as well as by my own experience attending the Oxford Skoll Forum on Social Enterprise and PowerShift Conference on Women in the World Economy. Oxford ranks a paltry 20 on Financial Times’s list of global MBAs, but I am fully convinced that it is the best possible decision I could have made.