Princeton Review’s 2019 Online MBA Ranking. Can You Trust It?

What are the world’s top online MBA programs?

As is often the case with rankings of anything, it depends on who you ask. The latest 2019 ranking from the Princeton Review, the old test prep brand that has seen brighter days in the past, puts Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business at the top, followed by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Not far behind these two major online players in the MBA space are the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, the University of Florida, and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. Rounding out the top ten on the list are No. 6 IE University in Spain, the only non-U.S. entry, No. 7 Arizona State, No. 8 Rochester Institute of Technology, No. 9 North Carolina State, and No. 10 Babson College.


As lists of the best online programs go, that’s a pretty solid lineup. All of those schools are commonly at the very top of online MBA rankings, including Poets&Quants’ lists of the best online MBA options. The similarities don’t end there. In fact, many of the other schools that make this year’s Princeton Review list are perennials on other credible though flawed online rankings from U.S. News & World Report to the Financial Times.

But in general Princeton Review rankings don’t have a very good reputation. The company, which has lost formidable market share since it first pioneered the test prep space with Kaplan, ranks these programs as a clickbait scheme to lure prospective students onto its website. Of course, other organizations do the same, including some that produce entirely fake rankings (see The Biggest MBA Rankings Scam On The Planet) with cribbed cut-and-paste descriptions of the programs from the school’s websites.

But the biggest issue with the Princeton Review rankings go to the lack of transparency. Unlike more legitimate rankings from U.S. News, the FT, and Poets&Quants, users have no idea what the rankings actually measure. While they incorporate student opinions collected from an online MBA student survey and institutional data reported by B-school administrators, the Princeton Review does not disclose what weight it uses in mushing together the answers to any one of the 59 questions it asks students and schools. So it’s impossible to understand exactly what the ranking measures and in what quantity. You don’t know if the percent of graduates making class gifts is more or less important than the accessibility of the faculty or whether a student got a promotion while attending the program or a raise after graduating.


PR also fails to disclose response rates for these surveys or the actual number of students and schools that filled out the surveys. Anyone taking a basic 101 course in statistics or journalism, for that matter, will tell you that is a no-no which should raise doubts about the credibility of the ranking. In some cases, Princeton Review’s business school rankings result in bizarre results. This is especially true in its annual list of the best MBA programs (see The New FAKE MBA Ranking From The Princeton Review). This is especially true of the organization’s ranking of the best business schools for entrepreneurship, a ranking so poorly devised and executed that Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg and other major schools refuse to cooperate with it (see Just Another Rather Silly MBA Ranking).

That said, we’re rather impressed with this list of the best online MBA options. The year-over-year ups and downs are limited, showing that the new ranking has remarkable consistency. Some 15 of the Review’s top 25 programs are also on the latest Poets&Quants‘ online MBA ranking which tracks 35 schools. In fact, five of the top ten on the P&Q list are also in the top ten of Princeton Review‘s ranking. In 2019, three schools fell off the Princeton Review list: Temple University, which has been hard hit by a major rankings scandal in which the school submitted falsified data to get a higher ranking from U.S. News, Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Another consideration for users of the ranking is that the online MBA marketplace is changing fast. A ranking that is based on a student or graduate survey will naturally fail to include some of the newest online MBA programs at such schools as the University of Michigan, the highest-ranked business school to launch an online format, Rice University, Southern Methodist University, or the University of California at Davis, the first UC school to enter the online MBA business. Nor will the ranking include schools, including the University of Illinois’ iMBA program at the Gies College of Business, which decline to cooperate.


Among the 25 programs on the 2019 Princeton Review list, only five deliver their programs solely online. Most of the options have some kind of in-person opportunities that range from 37% in class at Carnegie Mellon to just 2% at Auburn University.

The acceptance rates for these online programs bear little resemblance to the acceptance rates of full-time MBA programs. Four of the top 25 programs accept 90% or more of their applicants. Some 22 programs take in 50% or more of their candidates. The lowest acceptance rates were reported by the University of Florida (46%), the University of Texas at Dallas (46%), and UNC at Chapel Hill (49%).

And when it comes to the actual number of current online students in the program, three schools have more than 1,000 students enrolled: the Jack Welch Management Institute, named after the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., with 1,822 students; the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, with 1,096 students, and Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, with 1,043 students. The smallest? Just 29 students at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

If you’re considering an online MBA, we invite you to connect with our partner schools – this takes 1 minute.

If you’re considering an online MBA, we invite you to connect with our partner schools – this takes 1 minute.

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