What is the difference between rankings and reputation? These are important questions if you care about quality.
Investing a year or two in graduate studies should pay off by improving your professional profile and prospects and enable you to develop a rewarding career. Master’s programmes are the academic training that will take you to the next level of expertise by building specialised knowledge and skills. But how to handle the temptation to go after the big names? Are internationally-recognised brands always a stamp for quality when it comes to Master’s degree programmes?
Check out: One-year Vs. Two-Year Master's Programmes
Diversity calls for thorough research
There are almost 14,000 institutions offering degree programmes in business globally, according to AACSB (US) estimates. Master’s degree programmes taught in English have seen tremendous growth both in terms of their number and diversity over the past 20 years. This is a result of globalisation and an increase in international mobility. The integration processes in Europe alone have created a broad common education area comprising 50 countries - the European Higher Education Area.
In this context, the process of school and programme selection is really of crucial importance. The universities which are at the top of popular media rankings represent just a tiny part of the spectrum which you have at your disposal. But what is it that really matters if you have to choose between the big brands and the huge diversity of other options?
How to read rankings
Rankings are conducted by big media such as the Financial Times, The Economist, US News and World Report, Forbes, Times Higher Education. Before you look at the listing of schools, you should first read the methodology behind each ranking. This is the only way to understand whether the ranking will be of value to your school selection.
Look at the criteria that were used to pre-select the schools in the ranking and according to which they were assessed. Check what weight has been given to each criterion. This also makes a difference. If the criteria are not important to you, then the ranking is not relevant for your school selection. If only one criterion matters to you, then rearrange the list of schools following the score for each school using this criterion only.
Reputation differs from rankings. Reputation signifies how a university is perceived by professionals, employers or the general public. It takes much more extensive research to check the reputation of a school or a programme.
Rankings indicate what an institution or the media says the top programmes are according to certain criteria. There are top-ranked universities which are not known in some regions, countries or sectors. This may well be because of cultural and historical factors which have nothing to do with the quality of the programmes.
If you have decided where you want to develop your career, make sure to check which universities are reputable among employers in the sectors of your choice.
Rank the department, not the school
When you select Master’s programmes, you should look at reputation or rankings for the programme or departmental level. Global university rankings - such as The World University Rankings of Times Higher Education - are certainly not what you need when you select a programme for your Master’s degree. Rather, look for rankings of Master’s programmes in your particular field of study. Some are readily available, such as the Masters in Finance ranking of The Financial Times. For example, the Financial Times Masters in Finance Pre-experience 2014 ranking lists HEC Paris with its MSc in International Finance as number 1 for 2013 and 2014, but HEC does not even appear in the first 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
The quality of programmes - even in top universities - varies. In some universities, undergraduate education may be of superior quality to that of its graduate school. Or a top school that offers a great Master’s programme in Marketing may be lagging behind with its programmes in Finance, for example. If there are no popular rankings for your field of study, make sure to check the reputation of a programme in the professional community. Professional associations or certification bodies, as well as specialised magazines, are a good starting point for your research.