On our blog and in public presentations, we have tried to persuade candidates to eschew rankings, which fluctuate frequently (and sometimes wildly), and instead pay attention to fit, which is enduring. Now, as the admissions season is under way at HBS and on the precipice elsewhere, we recommend that you accelerate your evaluative process.
One way to get beyond rankings is to speak with students. Even if you don't have direct access to current students, it is generally easy to reach out to them in a targeted way, via club Web sites. You should not feel pushy, because most students take pride in their school and are open to speaking with candidates. They are a de facto part of the school's marketing arm. So, if you have an interest in a certain school for, hypothetically, its marketing program, you can reach out to the individual (or individuals) leading the marketing club to learn more about the program. Of course, you should be respectful of each individual's time and be well prepared for your conversation. Assuming that you are conscientious, you will have the opportunity to learn about the academic environment and then leave time to find out more about the atmosphere on campus. Networking now should enable you to narrow your search and more effectively focus your limited free time over the next few months.