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The Most Selective Online MBA Programs

The Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas-Dallas is the most selective school in the nation, according to U.S. News. It also has the second-lowest acceptance rate of any school in the top 100 of that magazine’s ranking of the best online MBA programs. Courtesy photo

In Texas, they say, everything is bigger. At the University of Texas-Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management, the online MBA program is only average-sized — with about 325 students in the latest cohort — but the course offerings are huge, with more than 200 electives to choose from. Students have that range of options not because all those electives are available online, but because the university considers online “just another platform” and allows students in its “Professional” MBA program to take as many classes as they like through one of five flexible formats, including classes on campus shoulder-to-shoulder with the full-time cohort.

“Unlike a lot of schools, we don’t really consider our online program to be all that separate,” says Lisa Shatz, assistant dean and director of MBA programs at UT-Dallas Jindal. “I know a lot of the schools have their online students and they have their evening students and full-time students, where our students can all take advantage of the online component, so we have students who are in the full-time or the evening cohort and they can take evening courses. It’s limited for full-time, but most of our MBA students take some online.”

It works. According to the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of online MBA programs, UT-Dallas Jindal is No. 7 in the country. But while students are flocking to the UT-Dallas Jindal online program, some of the best are being turned away: In a separate measure of selectivity, the school ranks No. 1, with among the highest average GPAs (3.60) and lowest acceptance rates (39%) of the top 100 schools.

“I think what we’re doing right is in our whole program,” Shatz tells Poets&Quants, “and there happens to be a demand for the online component of that.”

WHAT SETS UT-DALLAS APART

Lisa Shatz. director of MBA programs at UT-Dallas Jindal

UT-Dallas Jindal, which offered its first online MBA class in 1999, moved up two spots from No. 9 in the 2016 U.S. News ranking. Like all the top programs, it uses multimedia lectures, video clips, online submission of assignments, online exams, and interactivity tools such as discussion forums, email, groups, and web conferencing. Most exams are online; a few professors require proctored exams that can be done at convenient testing locations. The program is 53 credits, 30 of them core; there are 15 concentrations, from Accounting and Business Analytics to Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Leadership in Organizations.

So far, so normal. What sets UT-Dallas Jindal apart in the online space, Shatz says, is that it truly considers online to be part of the whole — meaning the school lends the full force of its highly regarded and very selective full-time MBA to the world of cyber-instruction. (How highly regarded? Among U.S. public university programs, the school was ranked No. 12 by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2016 and No. 16 by U.S. News in 2017. How selective? It boasts an average GPA of 3.50, average General Management Admissions Test score of 670, and an acceptance rate of just 19.5%.)

“A lot of students will come in thinking of themselves as online, but then they get in and they start looking at these 200-plus electives and they think, ‘I think I really would like to be on campus, and maybe I’ll take advantage of some of these,’” Shatz says. “So the vast majority of our students are neither fully on campus nor fully online, they’re just MBA students who are taking advantage of the different formats that we have.”

BREAKING DOWN THE SELECTIVITY STATS

In terms of selectivity, the U.S. News online MBA ranking includes a few different metrics provided by the schools themselves that offer insight into how hard it is to get in: average GPA, average GMAT, and acceptance rate being the most commonly consulted. The magazine, meanwhile, also provides its own selectivity score, a measure of how many highly qualified applicants are turned away.

Poets&Quants crunched the numbers in the U.S. News ranking and found some interesting facts when it comes to how those school-reported metrics jibe with their selectivity score. While Temple University’s Fox School of Business is ranked No. 1 overall, its average GMAT score is just 582, way down the list among the top 100; its average GPA is a respectable 3.40, but its acceptance rate is a very low 45% — only a few schools have lower. This helps translate to a selectivity rank of No. 3.

UT-Dallas Jindal has the most selective online MBA program, according to U.S. News, with a 616 GMAT, 3.60 GPA, and 39% acceptance rate — the latter of which ties with the rate at No. 21 University of Mississippi (No. 10 in selectivity). Arkansas State University-Jonesboro earned a No. 10 rank from U.S. News, but when it comes to selectivity, the school landed in a four-way tie for No. 5. Its 3.70 average GPA is tops among the top 100 schools.

But if acceptance rate is a key, if not the key, measure of selectivity, it’s Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ranked No. 55 overall, that stands out. Robert Morris has the lowest acceptance rate of any of the top 100 schools: 34%. Strange, then, that it would only be ranked No. 30 in selectivity.

And the least selective school? Missouri University of Science & Technology cracked the top 100 of U.S. News‘ 2017 online MBA rankings, landing in a tie for 91st, but in terms of selectivity, the school was ranked 170th — last among the top 100 schools.

‘WHAT DO MILLENIALS WANT?’

UT-Dallas was founded in the 1960s as a Ph.D. institute for Texas Instruments. Over the years it added master’s programs and undergraduate degrees; the Jindal School was founded in 1975. But all through the years, the university has always maintained a heavy bent toward analytical thinking, Lisa Shatz says, cultivating a reputation for nanoscience and engineering and software technology. “We have a big arts and technology school, too, and we have great acceptance rates into medical schools. A lot of people call us the nerd school.”

That explains the high GMAT scores: online students at the Jindal School average 616, in the top third among the best 100 programs as ranked by U.S. News. And it explains the high average GPA: 3.60, second only to Arkansas State University-Jonesboro’s 3.70 among the 100 top programs — and even higher than UT-Dallas’s full-time cohort’s Class of 2016 average of 3.50.

Yet, “we don’t look at them so much as separate programs,” Shatz says. “We do look at all of our candidates from the same place. What I will say as far as our high GMAT and GPA: the University of Texas at Dallas is an interesting place. We are a very, very analytical school. We are all about analytical thinking. We have lots of engineers and software developers, so we are a draw for the people who are highly analytical and intelligent. But you wouldn’t want to send your kid here to play football. Because we don’t have a team!”

Shatz says the Jindal School’s connection between online and on-campus — where there are only 50 seats, making for a highly competitive environment — speaks to its target audience: millennials. “What do millennials want? They want as many options and as many conveniences as possible,” she says. “And so this really gives them the ability to pick and choose as they go though what makes sense for them.

“It still comes back to the fact that online is just a form of delivery, and even if you can do it well, it’s still not going to help you unless you have great faculty and you have a great program. And so I still think our strength is in our faculty and our program, and our research — and the fact that we give faculty the ability to deliver really well online.”

Behind the scenes at the USC Marshall online MBA studio. Marshall’s program was named the second-most selective by U.S. News, and the No. 12 program overall

(See the following pages for tables on the most selective programs in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of online MBA programs, as well as tables showing average GMAT, average GPA, and acceptance rate for each school in the top 100.)