Writers love clicks. In a world driven by rankings and records, clicks supply immediate gratification. They reflect which stories broke out beyond core readers to resonate with a wider audience. In some cases, these stories hit the right topic at the right time. Other times, their popularity is a testament to a unique perspective or flawless execution.
Of course, clicks have their critics. The purists will claim they are ego boosters for writers and cover to appease advertisers. Pageviews are coveted by sellouts and shills they say, an excuse to chase low-hanging fruit at the expense of producing challenging and time-consuming content. That’s not how John Byrne views the situation. Before launching Poets&Quants in 2010, Byrne served as the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company and Businessweek.com. Now in his 45th year as a journalist, Byrne believes audience metrics enhance the reader experience.
Poets&Quants’ Founder John A. Byrne
“Some people decry stories that get a lot of clicks as click bait,” Byrne says. “I see them as stories that touch a lot of people and have a lot of impact. It’s all about serving the audience instead of serving yourself.”
Since its founding, Poets&Quants has focused on its readers. That’s why its stories generally target three motifs: choosing the right school, maximizing the MBA experience, and landing a high-paying job with the right employer after graduation. To do this, Poets&Quants produces content like breaking news, rankings, statistical analysis, student profiles, in-depth interviews, and reader engagement. Our goal, as always, is to act as guides that enable students to capitalize on an investment that often demands two years and six figures before yielding any return.
This August, Poets&Quants is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In doing so, we decided to look back, to examine the stories that piqued readers’ imagination – often enough for them to refer back to them over the years. From movies to MOOCs and rankings to reviews, here are the 10 stories that generated the most clicks from 2010-2020.
1) 10 Movies Every Business Student Must Watch: It is fitting that our most-read story wasn’t written by a P&Q staffer (aside from the opening four paragraphs). Instead, it is the work of Aditya Singhal, an entrepreneur and tutor who was a fan of the site. The premise of the story is strikingly simple: Singhal ranked his top 10 favorite business-themed movies. In the process, he created eye-catching graphics featuring a photo and quote from each film. Below each, he’d author a paragraph outlining the film’s main business lesson. It is sleek, succinct, and stirring, minimalist in structure and expressionist in delivery.
Written in 2014, the story didn’t race out of the gate in terms of views. Rather, it stirred a lively debate among readers on notable omissions (Glengarry Glen Ross, Boiler Room, and The Social Network among them). Thanks to SEO, the story stayed “above the fold” to borrow a print term. As a result, it often generates a few thousand views a month (a feat that hasn’t been replicated by P&Q’s staff in subsequent attempts). Come 2021, the story is expected to break the million pageview mark.
So take a look. Wall Street is a given. Citizen Kane is a classic. And Tucker is…wait, does anyone even remember Tucker?
2) Pricing for a Top MBA Degree: Sticker shock. That’s the response from most candidates to the cost of a top-tier MBA education. There is tuition (Think $60K-$70K) and room and board ($20K-$30K). That’s just for one year. Don’t forget to factor in school fees, moving expenses, insurance, and travel excursions (Lots of networking opportunities on those three-day trips to Vail). Despite financial aid and fellowships, there is a good chance that you’ll be anchored down with debt.
Worried yet? Did I mention you’re losing out on 12-18 months of salary? Yikes!
In 2011, John Byrne took a shot at clarifying the costs for readers. He combined tuition and costs over two years, while also supplying average loan amounts and percentage of students landing aid. It was a crude and conservative estimate, of course. However, it also provided readers with a starting point to conduct their own research and calculate their budgets. That may be one reason why it has corralled over 725K views.
Since our inaugural effort, the ‘cost story’ has been a staple on P&Q’s editorial calendar, with our calculations growing more sophisticated in recent years. What’s more, P&Q continues to supplement these numbers as more data becomes available. In other words, readers know exactly what they are getting into long before they tender their resignation and herd back to campus (or online these days).
Studying at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School – Ethan Baron photo
3) Average GMAT Scores For The Top 50 Business Schools: A GPA gauges grit, the ability to consistently gut it out year-after-year. The GMAT? Well, that measures something altogether different.
Intelligence? Not really – that’s why you have IQ tests. No, the GMAT tests what makes students successful in business school. Here, candidates must apply their critical thinking and problem-abilities, the kind expected for them to understand cases and formulate arguments in class. Let’s just say the quant section will make test-takers wish they hadn’t coasted through Algebra…especially with Corporate Finance on tap in the core! In the end, GMAT scores enable adcoms to compare applicants side-by-side. It is one piece of the puzzle, but an important one. After all, GMATs are weighted heavily in rankings…and that means scholarship support for the top performers!
In 2016, P&Q’s annual GMAT story generated over 650K views. By the same token, the 2014 incarnation hit 450K views, ranking it among P&Q’s 10 most popular as well. While the GRE is increasingly picking up market share, the GMAT remains the undisputed gateway to business school. That’s why this story remains among our most popular – even in 2020. It is a place where readers can better discern their odds at various programs. More than that, they can view how GMAT scores have changed by school over the past five years, one indicator of whether a program is surging or stalling.
4) The Presentation Only Elite MBA Applicants See: Want to close a sale? It’s Psychology 101: Appeal to exclusivity. Tell your target that they are part of a select few. With your solution, you can give them that little extra advantage – one that makes them an insider…an elite.
In 2011, P&Q caught a break. In conjunction with Inside MBA Admissions, P&Q published PowerPoint slides previously reserved to high potentials. This was the information given at seminars hosted by the likes of McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Boston Consulting Group, and Morgan Stanley. And now that same information was available to Poets&Quants readers, free of charge.
Alas, it was a little more complicated than that. After all, P&Q did include a link to a free seminar conducted by the firm’s founder. Still, the story leveled the playing field, to an extent, giving candidates a taste for how the other half lives. In reality, the presentation covers the usual ground, such as academic requirements and leadership expectations (not to mention framing career goals and extracurricular activities). It also gave some exclusive insights into the process at programs like Wharton and Chicago Booth.
Best of all, the insights still hold up nine years later. They may no longer be exclusive, but they remain fundamental to getting accepted into your top choice.
5) The MOOC Revolution: How To Earn An Elite MBA For Free: Remember 2013? Back then, MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – were going to revolutionize education. Just imagine: you could access graduate-level coursework anytime with just an internet connection. Better yet, you could learn alongside anyone anywhere in the world.
On top of that, MBA royalty like Wharton and Michigan Ross were jumping on the bandwagon. Rock star business professors like Yale SOM’s Robert Shiller quickly followed suit. Translation: prospective students could list a certificate of completion from a top-tier business school on their resumes. The selections were so diverse that you could theoretically complete MBA coursework using just MOOCs for under $1,000.
Yes, MOOCs were supposed to upend the status quo and democratize education. Seven years later, they have been folded into school offerings – an online ad that enables prospective students to experience MBA-caliber lectures and concepts. Instead of MOOCs, you’ll find upstarts like Harvard Business School’s HBX delivering academic rigor and professional credentials for minimal cost.
In 2013, “The MOOC Revolution” broke new ground, featuring 19 of the most popular business-themed MOOCs. In one spot, readers could access information on (and register for) MOOCS covering Business Strategy (Darden), Corporate Finance (Wharton), Statistics (Princeton), Entrepreneurship (Northwestern), and Sustainability (Columbia). These days, MOOCs have become one path for MBAs to expose themselves to new fields or freshen up their quant skills. They may have become part of the system, but they increased access to it in the process. That’s an enviable legacy to leave.
6) Your Chances Of Getting Into An Elite Business School: Sandy Kreisberg is an acquired taste. A former writing teacher at Harvard and communications head at MIT Sloan, Kreisberg is an admissions consultant who has placed hundreds of students in M7 schools. Along with his encyclopedic knowledge of admissions processes, expectations, and preferences, he brings something indispensable to the table…
Salty. Nitpicky. Dismissive. That’s how some readers have described Kreisberg in P&Q’s exclusive ‘Handicapping’ series (which technically snagged a second spot in P&Q’s all-time Top 10). In reality, Kreisberg doesn’t accept excuses or suffer fools. This blunt style has knocked readers off-balance in video interviews, but the guy has seen it all. And he understands how to simplify matters with his trademark irreverent wit. He knows what works and what sells – and his counsel is certain to make candidates better.
What can you expect when Sandy looks over your credentials? Here are a few of Sandy’s best observations from the ‘Elite Business School’ story:
“Schools have a hard time reading the careers of people who work for unknown companies. It’s very important in your application to stress how selective they are, how important they are, and what they do.”
“Business schools are like doctors. They don’t like complex stories. What doctors want is for you to go in, give your symptoms, then diagnose you and say here is a pill that can fix this.”
“The people who read admission folders are not veterans as a rule. They don’t have an understanding of what people do in the Armed Services. They have a very hard time determining whether you have a Gold, Silver or Bronze military career. They do understand that a military pilot is an elite thing. They understand that being a Navy Seal is an elite thing…If you are in the military, it’s very important that you give them a flavor of your career in terms they can understand. Unfortunately, what happens with military applicants is that your GPA and GMAT wind up counting a lot because those are easy elements for admissions people to understand.”
7) 2016 Poets&Quants’ MBA Ranking: A rankings story cracks the Poets&Quants Top 10? What’s next – gambling in Casablanca?
Readers love rankings. Deluged by data and messaging, rankings take applicants to a starting point, a place to filter contenders from pretenders. More than that, rankings provide comfort, a reinforcement that their instincts and decision-making were sound. Problem is, rankings weigh variables differently, making them reflective of certain sources’ priorities. Forbes, for example, strictly measures post-graduation pay for MBAs. In contrast, U.S. News & World Report hones in on inputs and survey responses from administrators and recruiters. The Economist, however, places greater emphasis on student feedback. Problem is, they incorporate so many criteria that their rankings fluctuate wildly.
That’s why P&Q combines the major rankings into one annual ranking, which is traditionally released in late November or early December. Each ranking is given a specific weight, with U.S. News earning the biggest share at 35%. As a result, according to John Byrne, the P&Q ranking fills gaps and reduces variations between rankings to boost their credibility as a whole.
“Combining the five most influential rankings doesn’t eliminate the flaws in each system, but it does significantly diminish them,” Byrne writes in the 2016 story. “When an anomaly pops on one list due to either faulty survey technique or biased methodology, bringing all the data together tends to suppress it. So the composite index tones down the noise in each of these five surveys to get more directly at the real signal that is being sent.”
As a rule, the annual ranking generates the highest number of clicks for P&Q each year. Better yet, the story draws new readers in the following year. How strong is the story’s pull? Both the 2016 and 2013 variations of the story rank among P&Q’s Top 10 all-time. And the 2011 and 2014 editions don’t trail far behind them, either. That’s a virtuous circle if there ever was one.
Harvard Business School MBAs earn the most over a 20-year career
8) The Most Lucrative Seven-Figure MBA Degrees: It isn’t hard to find MBA pay…for new grads. After all, business schools publish it in their employment reports. Of course, P&Q collects and publishes it too. We even splice it up by industry and region. Mind you, that’s all first-year pay and bonus – the short-term picture. What kind of earnings can MBA expect over, say, 20 years? Well, no one had ever calculated that…until Poets&Quants came around in 2014.
That summer, P&Q formed a partnership with PayScale, which houses salary data for over 1.5 million professionals. Taking a deep dive into their profiles and data, PayScale was able to crunch earnings from MBA graduates. The big winner? Harvard Business School, of course. Their grads pulled down $3,233,000 over a 20-year timeframe. The big surprise? Boston University punched well above its rank, with grads raking in $2,329,000 in their first 20 years after graduation. That was good for 19th-best on the list.
Best of all, these numbers are conservative estimates, writes John Byrne. “They do not include stock-based compensation of any kind, the cash value of retirement benefits, or other non-cash benefits, such as health care. The estimates are for base salary, cash bonuses, and profit sharing in today’s dollars over a 20-year period from 1994 to 2014. They are not a projection of future earnings.”
Maybe the biggest takeaway from the data: The MBA is a sure-fire investment – particularly top-tier programs. For example, MBA graduates from the ‘Big Three’ – Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton – collected $3,011, 000 in earnings over 20 years according to PayScale. A Bachelor’s degree? Cut it in a half (and then some) to $1,301,000.
9) Social Entrepreneurship: The Best Schools & Programs: ‘You can make money or you can do good. You can’t do both.’
Yeah, professionals dream of fusing work with purpose. These days, it is increasingly possible for ambitious MBAs to do more than invent another dating app or custom brew. The code has been cracked, thanks to examples like TOMS to Grameen Bank. As a result, MBAs are increasingly applying business tools to address social issues, serve the communities, and fill gaps. Not only are they generating activity, but they are producing value, providing the underserved with education and career paths – not to mention identity and meaning.
Yes, the ‘Doing well by doing good’ spirit has become a cultural touchstone in business schools. In 2010, it was treated as a fad in some corners. That’s one reason why John Byrne delved into the programming of the top MBA programs. The result: He published a groundbreaking look at social entrepreneurship offerings at eight MBA programs, including Harvard Business School, Wharton, Stanford GSB, and Michigan Ross. At the same time, the story outlined the differentiating features of each social enterprise program, including electives, centers, clubs, certificates, competitions, and fellowships.
The story was ahead of its time – and sweeping in scope. Long story short: it has served as a reference to MBAs for the rest of the decade – to the tune of over 400,000 views. It was tell-tale proof, in the words of John Byrne, that the MBA could become a “springboard into the social sector.”
10) The Best One-Year MBA Programs: Faster and cheaper. That’s the appeal of the one-year MBA program. Lower tuition, expenses, and debt. Quicker ROI. Reduced opportunity cost. Yes, one-year MBAs return to the job sooner, but that momentum comes at a cost. There are fewer opportunities to network, explore different fields, or assume leadership roles. Internships are non-starters, of course. Then, there is the bit about how intense squeezing two years of learning into a year can be – a sentiment that can be summed up by Ginger Rogers’ famous quote about dancing with Fred Astaire.
“I did everything he did, but backwards and in high heels.”
In this environment, John Byrne tackled the one-year topic in 2012. Here, Byrne again profiled the top eight programs, including Northwestern Kellogg, Cornell Johnson, Emory Goizueta, USC Marshall, and Notre Dame Mendoza. To help readers compare costs between 1-year and 2-year offerings, he broke down tuition, room and board, supplies, and fees for each. In addition, Byrne crunched lost income and loan interest for both so readers received the true cost of an MBA.
Since then, the story has attracted over 375K views. It has also inspired regular updates, with the latest published last September. In the end, the story resonated because it catered to a smaller segment that was sometimes ignored – and developed critical mass from there.
Here are 15 more stories that fell just outside P&Q’s most-read stories from 2010-2020: