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XanthusARES

School Rankings (again)

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A while ago I wrote a post on here about school rankings and how when you are deciding where to apply you should come up with your own ranking list. I would cross reference that here, but I'm writing my dissertation and it feels like more wasted time to do that. It's on here, look it up.

The main point of that post was that any ranking system is going to be flawed and that we, as senior members on this forum, use non specific terminology to reference program rankings intentionally. There is a structure to our understanding, though, and I'm going to flush that out a bit with this post. When you are looking at what schools to apply to I'm guessing that a majority of you will go to the UTD program ranking site and do a quick search for your area. For marketing I did that right now with JCR (our top CB journal) as the search. When I did this I found that Cornell is ranked all the way down at #47. So using some simple logic I can conclude that Cornell is a worse program than say the University of Cincinnati which is ranked at #18. (Quick side note: Cincinnati is a great school with some phenomenal faculty. I'm not attempting to make a value judgement against them.) So I apply across the board including some T50 programs such as Cornell and UCLA. Feeling confident that I'll get in somewhere. But the end of the application season comes and goes and I didn't get accepted anywhere. What happened? I followed the advice on here and applied widely to a range of schools across rankings. Why didn't I get in somewhere?

The short answer is that the UTD rankings, like the cake, is a lie. You can use the rankings from UTD to get a good idea of general trend, but they're really bad at estimating any specific data point. How people who have been in academics for a while interpret rankings is based on who is there and, for PhD programs, where their students have been placed. If a program consistently places students in other top programs that program is a top program (i.e. Stanford, HBS, MIT, Wharton etc...). The actual rankings don't matter, as opposed to MBA programs where the difference between number 15 and number 16 is a huge deal.

It's more about buckets. T10 programs are the top programs and there are probably about 15 schools in there. T25 schools include about 30 programs and again there is little difference between a theoretically ranked number 25 and a theoretically ranked number 11. They're both about the same, will give you comparable training, and place you in a similar program afterwards. I'm going to reference my previous work here on what I specifically mean by the buckets.

1. T10 programs are programs no one questions as top 10. If there is a doubt in your mind about whether a school is top 10, it's not.

2. T25 has some more leeway. These are big name schools. Everyone knows them and they place consistently well (meaning place their students in a top 50 program). They are all publishing well in top journals and have 1 or 2 star profs that everyone in the academy knows the name of.

3. T50 is a little fuzzier. 1 or 2 research active faculty publishing in A to B journals. AACSB accredited. Less likely that your Aunt Sally has heard of them. These PhD programs place their students, generally, in teaching schools.

So when we mention Twhatever what we are really saying is what bucket we think your application fits into. If you have specific school questions, please come and ask us. We all have a general idea about our area and, based on who we know and what "famous" means in our field, can to a certain degree "rank" any school for you. There has been and will continue to be disagreements about specifics (i.e. is Wharton or Stanford really number 1), but there is not a lot of disagreements about buckets.

A few final thoughts. We are not judging you for not knowing this. When we all started we did the exact same things that you are doing. We go to ranking sites and see things like Yale is outside of the top 25. We get excited because we think that means that we have a really good shot at Yale. The rankings, however, don't take into account things such as brand name. Don't feel bad when we tell you that you're aiming too high when you spent months carefully crafting your list of schools based on UTD rankings. Trust us when we tell you that these schools are mislabeled and are really T10 programs. Our advice is meant to keep you from not getting into a program because you shot too high. We have the collective scars of aiming too high and getting rejected all over this board. We're not trying to be mean, but we are trying to be realistic.


I completely understand that we are all academics and we want a quantifiable ranking that is consistent and true. It would make our system so much easier and the application process more straightforward. If you have X,Y and Z stats you apply to programs 5-18 and you'll get in to at least 3 of them. That would be great for everyone. (This is especially true as I look to the job market next summer) The unfortunate fact is that this doesn't exist and UTD rankings, more often than not, does a poor job at estimating rankings. It sets us up for failure. That's not fair to you guys trying to decide where to apply. For my part, I will no longer be suggesting that you start your school selection from UTD. Instead start at AACSB to find all programs in your area that are accredited. This will give you a meaningful reasonable length list from which to start looking at each school individually.

Anyway this was longer than I wanted it to be. Please feel free to ask any questions about rankings or school choices that you want and we will attempt to answer them, with one huge caveat. We will not answer the question, "What schools should I apply to?" It's up to you to do the research to find schools with good research interests. We can help you decide if those schools are good choices and fit for your package.

Good luck!
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