The online MBA is still the new kid in town. You can see it in the data, because the numbers just aren’t as gaudy as you’ll find at full-time programs. Take acceptance rate, for instance. The lowest acceptance rate among the 35 schools in the 2019 Poets&Quants Online MBA Ranking was at the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management at 43%, up from 39% last year. The lowest acceptance rate in our most recent ranking of full-time programs? Stanford GSB’s notorious 5.7%.
Acceptance rate is a good indicator of where a program will fall in our ranking: for the most part, if it’s harder to get in, that means you want to get in. In our new ranking, UT-Dallas is No. 10, Florida Warrington is No. 7, and USC Marshall is N0. 1. Michigan-Dearborn and RIT-Saunders, meanwhile, are solid and well-established programs.
At the other end of the spectrum is the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, each with an acceptance rate this year of 92%. Those two programs are ranked 23rd and 29th, respectively. (See our complete ranking of online MBA programs here.)
All of which is not to say that other measures are irrelevant. Look at average GMAT scores, for example. The top schools there, led by CMU Tepper’s 651, all are at or near the top of the overall ranking (USC Marshall is third at 648). The one exception is the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner College of Business, No. 20 overall but No. 4 in average GMAT at 643.
(See the next page for acceptance rates, average GMAT and GRE scores, and average undergraduate GPAs at the 35 schools in P&Q‘s 2019 online MBA ranking.)
EXPLAINING THE GAP BETWEEN ONLINE & FT ACCEPTANCE RATES
Ash Soni, executive associate dean for academic programs at Indiana University Kelley School of Business, spoke to Poets&Quants earlier this year to explain the discrepancies between most schools’ online and full-time admissions data. Bottom line: Online programs are picking from a pool of self-selected professionals who already know they “fit” with the programs they’re applying to.
“Clearly the acceptance rates are higher in the online space, and I think that stems from the fact that online students know what they’re looking for,” Soni said. “They’ve been working for a little longer than the full-time MBA students, and working in the areas of their interest. A lot of them tend to be engineers and scientists who are moving into management-type positions. So they are looking for very specific things, and they tend to engage with us a lot earlier — so they come in and start talking to us about what they’re looking for, and whether our program can deliver what they’re looking for, and so there tends to be a lot more discussion up front with our people. So what happens is, as they talk to us about our program, there’s a lot more self-selection going on, and if the fit is there, they go ahead and apply. If the fit isn’t there, they may be talking to other schools that have a better fit for them. And that explains why the acceptance rates are much higher.”
Kelley’s online program is ranked No. 3 by P&Q (down a spot from last year) and No. 2 by U.S. News & World Report. Its full-time program is ranked 21st and 27th, respectively. As far as admissions data discrepancies between online and full-time MBA programs, the Bloomington school is unremarkable: a 41-point gap in acceptance rate (76% online, 35% FT), a 39-point gap in average GMAT scores (638 online, 677 FT), and very similar average GPA scores (3.43 versus 3.38). A similar case can be found at most of the 35 schools ranked by P&Q, and the reason is no mystery.
“The way the process works, they come in and they inquire and we talk to them,” Soni said of potential online MBA applicants. “Talking could be as short as 45 minutes or an hour, or it can linger on for several days — they may want to come back and talk to a faculty member or department of their interest. So it tends to be a little more prolonged, and these students tend to know what they’re looking for. And if the fit is there, they go ahead and apply. So the number of applications tend to be fewer that way, and the acceptances tend to be higher, because they’ve already gone through that self-selection process.”
‘EVERYBODY’S DOING IT TO SOME DEGREE’
If you doubt that the online MBA is the future of the degree, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business would like to have a word with you. Michigan Ross, whose full-time MBA is currently ranked No. 7 by U.S. News & World Report, announced in August that it would launch a part-time MBA online in fall 2019, making it the highest-ranked U.S. school to commit so much to online instruction. But others are sure to follow.
“Ross isn’t the only school innovating on the online frontier — everybody’s doing it to some degree,” Wally Hopp, Michigan’s associate dean for the part-time MBA and director of the new Part-time Online MBA, told P&Q in August. “The question is, what’s going to shake out to be the right way? What are the best practices? … We think that it would be criminal on our part to ignore the huge developments that have taken place in the online space.”
Surely other elite B-schools feel the same. Don’t be surprised to see the top-tier programs commit more to the digital delivery of graduate business education in the coming year.