How important are rankings when you are choosing which online MBA program to pursue?
As I noted in my 3-part series of articles, “So, You Want an Online MBA Degree. Now What?”, you should consider a host of factors that include a program’s academic focus, its learning model, duration, accreditation, total cost, and career services support.
So where do rankings come in? Compared to published lists of full-time MBA programs, similar exposure for online programs remains limited. Other than Poets&Quants’ annual, data-based assessment of the top 35 online programs, there is very little, objective information available to help candidates efficiently and confidently compare and prioritize online programs based on rank. The Financial Times ranks a mere ten programs. U.S. News & World Report relies exclusively on school-supplied data, failing to survey the students or graduates of the programs. And there is a group of rankings from lesser-known click-bait websites that have no validity at all, even if Google naively serves them up on a search.
Still, there are several aspects of published rankings that matter when considering which online MBA is best for you. Depending on which aspects of an online program are evaluated, rank serves as a convenient metric for a program’s perceived quality and appeal.
Consider the rank of a school’s full-time MBA:
Despite obvious differences between full-time vs. online MBA programs offered by the same business school, the “brand” featured on diplomas, resumes and LinkedIn profiles of all their graduates is identical. Therefore, the status of the brand impacts all graduates. Since full-time programs – and published rankings of these programs – are more established, it stands to reason that online MBA candidates should consider the rankings of full-time MBA programs ranking when selecting a business school. When comparing online MBA programs that equally address a candidate’s other selection criteria, considering the rank of a school’s full-time program can help break any ties and result in a match that adds life-long value for students and alumni.
Among the top-35 online MBA programs ranked by Poets & Quants, only 5 are from business schools that also have top-35 ranked full-time programs:
- Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper): #1 OMBA; #17 FTMBA
- Indiana University (Kelly): #2 OMBA; #23 FTMBA
- University of Southern California (Marshall): #3 OMBA; #19 FTMBA
- University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler): #5 OMBA; #20 FTMBA
- University of Wisconsin (Consortium): #15 OMBA; #35 FTMBA
Furthermore, only 11 more of P&Q’s ranked online MBA programs are from business schools with top-100 ranked full-time MBA programs:
- University of Massachusetts Amherst (Isenberg): #6 OMBA; #85 FTMBA
- Auburn University (Harbert): #8 OMBA; #78 FTMBA
- Rochester Institute of Technology (Saunders): #10 OMBA; #97 FTMBA
- Baylor University (Hankamer): #12 OMBA; #69 FTMBA
- University of Texas-Dallas (Jindal): #13 OMBA; #44 FTMBA
- University of Maryland (Smith): #17 OMBA; #43 FTMBA
- Syracuse University (Whitman): #21 OMBA; #84 FTMBA
- North Carolina State University (Jenkins): #22 OMBA; #67 FTMBA
- George Washington University: #25 OMBA; #53 FTMBA
- Northeastern University (D’Amore McKim): #34 OMBA; #67 FTMBA
Consider the rank of a school’s part-time MBA:
A second, ranking-related consideration when targeting online MBA programs is the relative status of a business school’s part-time MBA program. One can make the case for a school’s part-time MBA program being similar to the online program in terms of flexible structure (e.g., evening and weekend classes) and typical student profile (e.g., older, fully employed, lower average GPA and test score, etc.). So, online MBA applicants interested in how published rankings enhance a school’s brand should also consider the ranking of its part-time program:
Only 9 of P&Q’s top-35 online MBA programs are offered by business schools that also have top-50 ranked part-time MBA programs per US News:
- Carnegie Mellon (Tepper): #9 PTMBA
- Indiana University (Kelley): #9 PTMBA
- University of Southern California (Marshall): #14 PTMA
- University of Massachusetts Amherst (Isenberg): #17 PTMBA
- University of Texas-Dallas (Jindal): #17 PTMBA
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: #22 PTMBA
- University of Maryland (Smith): #30 PTMBA
- Lehigh University: #35 PTMBA
- Villanova University: #35 PTMBA
Consider global ranking of online MBA programs:
A third, albeit less universal, aspect of ranking is especially relevant to online MBA candidates who currently, or may in the future, work internationally. Considering how highly ranked a business school’s online program worldwide provides insight on how valuable this credential could be when a graduate is engaging with non-US colleagues, customers, allies and suppliers. In its 2019 ranking of the world’s best online MBA programs, FT.com features only 4 of Poets & Quants’ top-35 online programs:
- University of Massachusetts Amherst (Isenberg): #3
- Indiana University (Kelley): #4
- University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler): #5
- Northeastern University (D’Amore-McKim): #8
Interestingly, FT.com’s global ranking of online MBA programs is topped by two non-US institutions: #1 Warwick Business School (FTMBA #11) and #2 IE Business School (FTMBA #9). So, candidates with a Europe-centric career path can add a highly recognized and respected European MBA brand to their profile regardless of where they currently live.
Use “super ranking” to help target online programs:
In fairness, some business schools with top-ranked online MBA programs do not offer full-time and part-time MBA programs. However, schools with non-online programs that have earned published ranking provide their online MBA students and grads with a more recognized and reputable overall brand.
Furthermore, we emphasize that ranking is just one criterion for targeting a particular school or program. However, by using the above information to determine a “super ranking” – (i.e., a combination of online, full-time and part-time rankings) applicants can get a sense of a brand’s overall status and standing in the marketplace. Along with other essential considerations, this data can help MBA candidates make a more informed decision about which schools and online programs are best for their specific background, goals, and expectations.
Julie Strong is a Master Consultant at The MBA Exchange. Former senior director of MBA admissions at the MIT Sloan School of Management for 12 years, Julie subsequently served as director of the MIT Sloan Latin America office. She has evaluated thousands of MBA applications and conducted in-person interviews worldwide. More recently Julie was founding Director of Admissions for the Asia School of Business, a collaboration between MIT Sloan and the Central Bank of Malaysia. She has served on boards of the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC); Education Testing Service (ETS); and Forté Foundation. Julie created and led the career development office for the school of management of a major management consulting firm. She earned a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.