“A degree is like a tattoo, it follows you for life,” says Aalto University Executive Education’s (Aalto EE) Academic Director Dr. Mikko Laukkanen.
“A degree from a poor school is not a good investment. It may not be much help in advancing your career – and once you make a poor choice, it is hard to make amends. It is unlikely you will have the chance to start over again and obtain a new degree from a better school.”
If you are going to invest time and money into your education, Laukkanen suggests you do it wisely by finding a school that provides you with the best return on your investment. Accreditations are the first thing to look at when assessing a school’s quality of education.
Schools with the triple crown of accreditation will guarantee you with high quality education across the board.”
“AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS are the most important accreditations in our field. Good schools will have at least one of these, the best have all three,” Laukkanen explains.
“Accreditations show that a school consistently provides top quality education and research. They ensure the institution has processes and quality control to maintain a certain level of education.”
The leading accreditations focus on measuring somewhat different aspects. A student seeking for utmost overall quality in their degree should look for schools with more than one accreditation.
“Schools naturally vary in their focus. Achieving one reputable accreditation is a good sign – but it does not guarantee that the school is exemplary in every way. It shows you that the particular school is high quality in the focus area of that accreditation,” Laukkanen says.
“Schools with two accreditations will have a wider scope of areas in which they excel and schools such as Aalto EE with the triple crown of accreditation will guarantee you with high quality education across the board,” Laukkanen says. He emphasizes that the absence of accreditations is almost always a clear warning sign.
“A few elite institutions may have no real need for an external stamp of approval. But more often than not, you will see even the most prestigious schools in the world diligently showcase their accreditations.”
Ranking the best
After accreditation, Laukkanen brings up rankings. If you are considering obtaining an MBA, EMBA or DBA, or taking part in executive education programs, you will be much better equipped to assess the level of education available by seeing what alumni have to say.
“Almost every business media compares schools. Most of them base their assessments on alumni evaluations within a certain time frame after graduation. If you are only going to look at one ranking, Financial Times is a safe bet. It is reliable, it is established, and the market believes FT measures something relevant.”
Rankings help potential students assess the quality of different schools and employers evaluate their possible recruits’ degrees. They also drive trends and help schools identify development areas.
“We developed our alumni work as a direct result of FT rankings and received great feedback for doing so. FT also emphasizes cooperation, which is surely making many schools consider boosting work with other reputable institutions. We have had marvelous cooperation experiences and it may be a stronger focus in the future,” Laukkanen ponders.
Financial Times is a safe bet. It is reliable, it is established, and the market believes FT measures something relevant.”
A good thing to remember when looking at FT rankings or lists provided by other reliable media is the fact that differences between the best schools can be marginal.
“The majority of the schools in the FT top 100 are quite close to each other. Slight differences can shuffle the ranking order quite much. Thus a school can show even double digit ascents or declines on the list from year to year, and still be extremely good. The key is to look for schools that consistently stay ranked in the top 100.”
Another factor influencing changes in rank is the fact that there are many more players in the game.
“A few years back the best Chinese schools showed up on FT’s top 100. The newcomers knocked many great schools lower on the list – it does not mean that their level of education or alumni satisfaction has decreased, just that there are more very good schools to consider.”
Laukkanen admits that Aalto EE has such a strong brand in Finland that the FT ranking is not especially relevant for many of its customers.
“In Finland our name speaks for itself, but for example international companies sending their employees to us can look at the FT ranking and other good comparisons and rest assured of how satisfied our alumni are,” Laukkanen says and adds that cultural differences have somewhat of an impact on how high a school can climb in international rankings:
“Finns are known for being honest to a fault. You will not see anyone here appraising their old school higher than they think it is in hopes of enhancing the value of their own degree,” Laukkanen asserts.
Making a wise investment
It pays off to take the time to look into accreditations and rankings provided by well-known media such as the Financial Times. Doing so ensures your MBA, EMBA or DBA is a wise investment that will help pave your career path in the direction you wish to go.
A degree from a school that boasts accreditations such as AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS – and states that it is ranked in the FT 100 – will shine on any resume. A degree from a school with none of these merits is something entirely different.
“We all make our own decisions in life, but as I pointed out earlier, in my mind getting a degree from a school with no accreditations is like walking into a shady tattoo parlor hoping to walk out with a brilliant work of art inked on your skin. The chances are rather slim of this happening,” Laukkanen concludes.
More information on Aalto EE's rankings and accreditations »
This interview was published originally in October 2016 and republished in May 2022.