Tepper, Kelley Top 2018 Online MBA Ranking

Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University


Even at these highly ranked schools, the acceptance rates can approach 100%. At both Georgia Southern, ranked 18th, and Drexel University, which placed 22nd, the online offerings accepted 92% of all the candidates who applied for admission. The school with the lowest acceptance rate of any online program? The University of Texas-Dallas’ Jindal School, where only 34% of the applicants are admitted.

Only eight of the 25 programs boast average GMAT scores above 600, and not a single program even approaches 700 (see table on admission standards). All of the incoming students at 16 of the programs have work experience. The online option most likely to accept a candidate straight out of undergraduate school? Louisiana State, where slightly more than one in four enrolled students had no work experience whatsoever. The highest average grade-point averages for these programs was 3.4, achieved by seven schools. The lowest GPA was reported by Georgia Southern, where the average was just 2.8.

Unlike full-time programs, where the average age of MBA students tends to be in the late 20s, online programs can have students as young as 22 and as old as the mid-to-late 50s. At North Carolina State’s Poole College of Management, the amount of work experience students bring to class ranges from just one year to more than 33 years. At the University of Florida’s Hough School, the range is one and a half years to more than 28 years.


In general, responding alumni were pretty pleased with the programs they attended. But on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing the most enthusiastic endorsement of a program, Carnegie Mellon scored a perfect 10 from alums who would recommend the experience to others without qualification. The online programs at Ohio University (9.79), the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (9.75), Indiana Kelley (9.73), and Lehigh University (9.7) were the most highly recommended.

The greatest differences in graduate satisfaction often occurred over career advising and the value of the alumni network. On a scale of 1 to 10, graduates of Carnegie Mellon’s online program gave career advising the top grade of 8.6, followed by Indiana University’s Kelley Direct with a 7.76 score. Grads of Wisconsin’s MBA Consortium program gave their school the lowest grades on career advising of 5.3, following by Ohio University (5.6) and Southern Illinois (5.9).

And when it came to perceptions of the value of the alumni network and career opportunities that came from it, Lehigh’s online offering scored an impressive 8.9 on the 10-point scale, followed by Carnegie Mellon (8.75), Florida (8.0), UMass at Amherst (7.63), and Indiana Kelley (7.54). The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga came in with the lowest level of graduate satisfaction in this category, a 5.0, while Wisconsin didn’t do much better, with a 5.35.


"Bob" Dammon is the new dean at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business.

Tepper Dean Robert Dammon

Despite Carnegie Mellon’s unqualified endorsement from alums, when Dean Robert Dammon first contemplated an online option in 2013, he was less than all-in. “I was not certain it would work,” he says. Dammon was skeptical that the school could translate its prestigious on-campus MBA program into an equally prestigious online format. What has made it work for Carnegie Mellon, Dammon now says, is the school’s insistence on making it the equal of the full-time, on-campus MBA.

“What’s different about it is the degree to which the students have access to tenure-track faculty,” Dammon says. “That is important because the quality of the education isn’t sacrificed one bit. The curriculum is the same and the admission standards are the same. They take the same exams and have the same assignments that our full-time students take. Students are working together face to face and with faculty. And because everything is the same, we allow students to transfer into the full-time program. If you are good enough to get into the online program, you need to be good enough to get into the full-time program.”

The school limits each section to roughly 30 students, the number of faces that can fit on a computer screen. “It’s taught in a way that doesn’t allow it to scale very well,” Dammon says. “If it was purely online, it would be scalable.” The latest enrolled class numbers 57 students, chosen from an applicant pool of just 147 candidates. The program has a 54% acceptance rate, with an average GMAT score of 658 and an average GRE score of 318, with 155 verbal and 163 quant scores. To get into the program, you must submit a GMAT or GRE score and pass an admission interview. There are no exceptions.


This is not a no-frills or MBA-lite program. Online students at Tepper have full access to the school’s career services, on-campus recruiting, student clubs, and leadership coaching. The school’s live classes occur two evenings a week for 70-minute clips. Offline, students are expected to put in between three and five hours per class, working at their own pace, watching lectures recorded by professors, doing readings, completing assignments, and engaging in group work to augment and reinforce the classroom learning.

The field has changed immensely since Carnegie entered the market five years ago. “There are a lot of competitors now,” Dammon says. “They all have slightly different models, and it’s important for students to understand the differences and whether they will get direct access to faculty and classmates and a personalized degree experience. For some that may not be important. But we have a very high satisfaction level, higher than even our full-time program.”

In fact, online programs substantially differ from each other. At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Louisiana State University’s Ourso School, and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga the entire required MBA program is delivered on an asynchronous basis, meaning there are no required live or in-person sessions. Students never have to step foot on campus or meet each other in person, with the possible exception of optional international residencies. Ourso, for example, offers 10-day residencies for online students in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Michigan-Dearborn has an optional two-week study-abroad opportunity in Shanghai, China. At Ourso and many other programs, there are no student clubs and no career development opportunities. In fact, the school says it doesn’t even track the career outcomes of its online graduates.

In a few cases, a single business school may have several different options. The University of Florida offers three different ways to go: first, a 16-month accelerated hybrid program for students who have an undergraduate degree in business and have graduated within the last seven years. While the majority of the coursework is completed online, the school also hosts weekend residencies every four months and a mandatory on-campus orientation on the university’s Gainesville campus. Then there is a fully online version, with a bank of lectures, that lasts 24 months and doesn’t require a single visit to campus. And finally, Florida offers a 27-month version recommended for students who have been out of school for more than seven years. The quarterly class weekends in this cohort-based program are comprised of a Saturday and Sunday. There also are one-week elective classes on campus in Gainesville, and a week-long global immersion experience.