Wharts and All: Blogging the Full-Time MBA Program at the Wharton School

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Why Wharton Will Always Be #2

I've come to the unfortunate realization that Wharton will always be number two to Harvard Business School's number one. This may be disconcerting to those of you who care deeply about the whole rankings thing, but get used to it. The situation is sure to continue in the very long term.

Why? Because of Alphabetization Bias (my coinage). Alphabetization bias means that all else equal, two equally-ranked entities will tend to be referred to in alphabetical order. Examples of this bias in action are plentiful. Whenever Yale ties Harvard in the undergraduate rankings, Harvard is listed first because one of the two schools must be listed first and because nobody can really argue with alphabetical order. Similarly, whenever Harvard ties Wharton for first place, Harvard is listed first in printed rankings because simple alphabetical order dictates that it must be so.

The result is a subliminal reinforcement of the Harvard name above the names of Yale, Stanford, Wharton and other schools unfortunate enough to have a letter low in the alphabet. In conversations referring to just-released rankings people will tend to repeat the list as it is printed (or displayed on a website). Thus, no matter who ties with Harvard, Harvard's name will tend to be said first. Do not underestimate the stickiness of such repetition! We can't say "Ebert and Siskel," "Clyde and Bonnie" or even "Johnson & Johnson" without sounding stilted. It just doesn't sound right on the ears, and therefore the alphabetical phrases "Harvard/Wharton" and "Harvard/Yale" become common parlance. They become phrases that cannot be rearranged.

There are some people who acknowledge the inherent unfairness of this and are doing something about it. Me for one. The Financial Times for another. IN the FT's latest rankings, Harvard and Wharton Wharton and Harvard are tied for first place. The Financial Times invested time and money so that the online version of the Global MBA rankings 2005 displays either Harvard or Wharton first, randomly. They've also done this for the three schools ranked at #13. This is certainly an admirable attempt to maintain balance in the high-stakes school rankings game, but alas, I doubt that they printed several different versions of their paper in order to maintain that balance throughout.

Let's summarize the reasons Wharton will always be #2: alphabetical orderings of equally-ranked entities tend to calcify upon repetition into phrases and common idiom. When publications go to print, it is cost prohibitive to produce several different versions of the same paper in order to list one school or another. And there are years of printed material now in which the iron hand of alphabetization has further cemented Harvard's mindspace lead over Wharton.

There are of course reasons why the two schools are very different and why Harvard's yield (the ultimate measure of the applicant pool's desire to attend an institution) and subsequent selectivity are higher than Wharton's. Those are topics for another post (or series of posts). I simply wanted to introduce and discuss the concept of Alphabetization Bias.

One final takeaway in the form of a recommendation to officers of the as-yet unnamed Yale School of Management: offer alumni with last names beginning with the first three letters of the alphabet a lower hurdle (say 80 million?) to have the school named in their honor. It will pay off in the long run, because you will be tied with many schools on your way to the top five. If you count a rich "Mr. Aamen" among your alumni, court him hard.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post. For the most part I agree, but there is a counter-example to consider. "HYP" has become a common term for Harvard-Yale-Princeton in undergrad admissions. Should it be "HPY", Harvard-Princeton-Yale, or does the ease of speaking the acronym make a difference?
A b-school thought along those lines: Perhaps if you consider INSEAD among Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton as top b-schools, you can get an acronym like "WISH" (as in you WISH you could get into all four of these schools), which would put Wharton first.


1/26/2005 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger bskewl said...

HYP is something of a counter-example, but I think that was done because "HYP" is such a great acronym for these three schools. Plus, Harvard and Yale were around as a rivalry (and therefore as a phrase) since the early 1700s. The first intercollegiate sporting event of any kind was the Yale-Harvard crew race on the Charles River in 1852. The College of New Jersey was not known as "Princeton University" until 1896, 42 years after that important race. Thus Princeton's initial was tacked on long after Harvard-Yale had become synonymous with higher education. (I admit, I used the internets to look some of that up.)

I like your suggestion of "WISH" as well, though it'll be some time before Americans (as a whole) become wordly enough to have any idea what the "I" might refer to. I'll slip it into a few posts now and then and we'll see if it catches on.

1/26/2005 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger Happy Ending said...

Thanks for visiting- stop by any time - Congrats on the admit to Wharton. Are you sure you want to study business when you could chill on an island and write humor articles?

I added another character into the field guide mix today. Check it out below ! You know, I think I will address the whole ranking issue in a forthcoming post as well. I want to explore The world's WORST business schools. For example, The National Petrochemical Company MBA at the Graduate School of Management and Economics, Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran. Though I haven't checked it out I am sure the school is 98% men, the 2% of women students are fobidden to work by their husbands/brothers/fathers, the nuclear bomb shelter doubles as a meeting break out room etc. Has to be some interesting programs out there

Carerrus Middlemangementus
Disgruntled Alumni Interviewer

Habitat: Typically found in office buildings in major metropolitan areas, if a touchy feely school, then outside the professional environment at locations such as Starbucks and other calm, quiet cafes suitable for conversation

Distinguishing Features: very similar to the more successful sub phyla Bisnis Manus, i.e. expensive suit purchased on sale at Sears, boring tie, glasses, and comb over hair style or hair plugs, species conveniently slips off wedding ring if interviewee is an attractive female, frequents strip clubs with “clients” in search of Whorus Putthelapdanceonmyexpenseaccountia, Carerrus Middlemangementus is also skilled in the areas of double speak and deception

Danger if Provoked: moderate to extreme, depending on position of power and pent up anger

Mortal Weakness: young MBA applicants more successful than he/she is, cleavage, GORE-TEX®

Comments: The Disgruntled Alumni Interviewer offers its time pro bono to help in the recruiting process, to contribute back in a way, and also to keep in contact with its alma mater. Depending on the size of its ego, this species sometimes reads an applicant’s file and CV before the interview. Carerrus Middlemangementus always has seemingly endless amounts of time to ask inane questions that challenge an applicant’s intellect, views, and communications skills – not to mention patience. Interactions with the Disgruntled Alumni Interviewer typically end with a brief question and answer period where he complains about his wife. When asked what qualities are most essential for aspiring MBA candidates, one Disgruntled Alumni Interviewer I spoke with indicated that most successful applicants have a bright academic background, but most importantly she must be “willing to date older, balding, divorced, slightly overweight men.” Carerrus Middlemangementus is looking for honest, bright young professionals who know their weaknesses as well as their strengths, who can demonstrate their ability to succeed in difficult challenges but who also can recognize their failures and learn from them. With its skill in deception and years of perfecting lame pick up lines whilst slipping $20s in the garter belts of young college aged Whorus Putthelapdanceonmyexpenseaccountia, Carerrus Middlemangementus also views the interview experience as a potential to score some “young hotties that may be a potential future business leader in the wings.”

1/26/2005 10:26:00 PM  
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