The Top 25 U.S. Online MBA Programs

Sometimes, that often-cited adage that you get what you pay for really rings true.

In Poets&Quants’ debut 2018 ranking of the best online MBA programs, the most expensive online offering in the world comes out on top, proving the clichéd point that if you don’t pay much for something, it’s unlikely to be the best. Carnegie Mellon’s 32-month-long, online-hybrid MBA experience costs a hefty $128,000, a 46% premium over No. 2 ranked Kelley Direct, the online MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and nearly 10 times the cost of the least expensive program on our top 25 list.

Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School program is also the toughest online offering to get into, the longest to complete for a degree, and the one requiring more in-person time than any other option, with a half-dozen immersive access weekends a year in Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh. But it can rightly boast the best admission standards, the best overall MBA experience, and the best career outcomes for its graduates, according to P&Q’s analysis of online MBA programs.


Poets&Quants’ debut ranking of the top 25 online MBA programs

Rounding out the top five in this inaugural ranking are the online programs at the University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business at No. 3, the University of Texas at Dallas’ Jindal School of Management at No. 4, and the University of North Dakota at No. 5.

Our debut ranking appears at a time when more schools than ever are entering the online MBA market and when many programs are experiencing significant growth in enrollment. As each year goes by, more reputable business schools with highly ranked residential MBAs are moving into the online space. In July of this year, Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business will welcome the first cohort in an online MBA program it is launching with 2U, a publicly traded online education provider. UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Management will be next. The school signed a contract with 2U in November and hopes to get its online option off the ground next year. Davis’ new program will be the first online MBA degree offered in the 10-campus University of California system. 2U already has built a portfolio of online MBAs with a range of business schools, including UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management.

Meantime, many established online programs are reporting strong increases in students. The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business boosted enrollment by 151% to 369 students from only 147 a year ago. Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC online option reported a 78% jump in enrollment to 1,862 students from 1,047 a year earlier. Temple University has increased its online MBA enrollment by 57% to 546 students from 351.


Ramesh Venkataraman, chair of KelleyDirect, the online MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business

“More people are doing online programs because they don’t want to stop their careers and quit their jobs,” says Ramesh Venkataraman, chair of Indiana University’s Kelley Direct MBA & MS programs. “They are doing perfectly fine and like their companies. So the quality of students in these programs is quite high. I got Deloitte to come and have a reception just for our online students because I wanted to expose them to corporate recruiters, and Deloitte was blown away. They told us, ‘That is not what I thought an online MBA student looked like.’ These programs are here to stay and they are actually going to be a very viable alternative to the full-time programs.”

Because the P&Q rankings place a heavy emphasis on admission standards, several schools whose online offerings rank highly elsewhere fared less well on this new list. They include the University of North Carolina’s MBA@UNC, which ranked 20th, and the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business program, which placed 21st on our ranking. Only 16% of the incoming students in Maryland’s online program submitted a GMAT or GRE score. At UNC’s Kenan-Flagler, only 15% of the incoming students provided standardized test scores. That compares with 100% at No. 1 Carnegie Mellon, 86% at both No. 2 Indiana Kelley and No. 3 Florida, and 100% at No. 4 Texas-Dallas.

The online offering at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, which was ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report, was disqualified for this ranking. The reason: U.S. News tossed Fox completely out of its ranking this year after the school admitted that it had provided inaccurate data on the percentage of students who submitted GMAT scores for admission. Instead of its originally reported 100% number, the school said that only 19.6% had actually got into the program with GMATs. The admission has cast considerable doubt on the school’s previous rankings, and the university has hired Jones Day, a prominent law firm, to investigate.


While there is no perfect approach to ranking business school programs, Poets&Quants firmly believes that there are three core dimensions to measure the quality of any educational undertaking: 1) the quality of the incoming students, 2) an assessment by graduates of the MBA experience, both academic and extracurricular activities, and 3) the career outcomes of a program’s graduates. (See How We Crunched The Numbers for the full explanation of the methodology.)

In our first ranking of online MBA programs, we placed equal weight on these three elements and gathered the data from both school and alumni surveys. The school survey asked for a wide variety of statistics, from admission standards to the opportunities for online students to take global immersion trips and dive into consulting projects with companies. The alumni survey, sent to MBA graduates who were two years removed from the program, sought their impressions on a wide range of topics, from whether the program fulfilled their expectations to whether they would recommend the program to others.

One thing is for sure: It’s a lot easier to get into a highly ranked MBA program than it is a school’s full-time, on-campus MBA program. Consider how UNC’s prestigious full-time residential program compares with its online offering. The acceptance rate for the on-campus MBA program is 37%, nearly 20 points lower than the 55% for its online option. The average 701 GMAT is 49 points higher, but the bigger difference is that 81% of the enrolled on-campus students have taken the test versus just 14% of the online students. Another 19% of the residential students took the GRE versus 1% for the latest online class. And the median GPA for the latest crop of on-campus students is 3.4 versus the 3.2 for UNC’s online program.