Stanford GSB | Mr. Singing Banking Lawyer
GMAT 720, GPA 110-point scale. Got 110/110 with honors
MIT Sloan | Mr. Low GPA Over Achiever
GMAT 700, GPA 2.5
N U Singapore | Ms. Biomanager
GMAT 520, GPA 2.8
MIT Sloan | Mr. Refinery Engineer
GMAT 700- will retake, GPA 3.87
Yale | Mr. Army Infantry Officer
GMAT 730, GPA 2.83
Berkeley Haas | Ms. 10 Years Experience
GMAT To be taken, GPA 3.1
Yale | Ms. Social Impact AKS
GRE 315, GPA 7.56
Harvard | Mr. Political Consultant
GRE 337, GPA 3.85
Kellogg | Mr. Chief Product Officer
GMAT 740, GPA 77.53% (First Class with Distinction, Dean's List Candidate)
Said Business School | Mr. Across The Pond
GMAT 680, GPA 2.8
Wharton | Mr. Army & Consulting
GMAT 760, GPA 4.0
Berkeley Haas | Mr. 360 Consultant
GMAT 720, GPA 3.4
Stanford GSB | Mr. Corp Finance
GMAT 740, GPA 3.75
Harvard | Mr. Improve Healthcare
GMAT 730, GPA 2.8
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Wake Up & Grind
GMAT 700, GPA 3.5
Darden | Mr. Fintech Nerd
GMAT 740, GPA 7.7/10
Stanford GSB | Mr. Minority Champ
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Darden | Mr. Senior Energy Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 2.5
Harvard | Mr. Merchant Of Debt
GMAT 760, GPA 3.5 / 4.0 in Master 1 / 4.0 in Master 2
Stanford GSB | Mr. Indian Telecom ENG
GRE 340, GPA 3.56
Stanford GSB | Ms. East Africa Specialist
GMAT 690, GPA 3.34
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Hanging By A Thread
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Nonprofit Social Entrepreneur
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Chicago Booth | Ms. Start-Up Entrepreneur
GRE 318 current; 324 intended, GPA 3.4
Duke Fuqua | Ms. Health Care Executive
GMAT 690, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Mr. Professional Boy Scout
GMAT 660, GPA 3.83
IU Kelley | Mr. Construction Manager
GRE 680, GPA 3.02

The Best Online MBA Programs Of 2021

Kelley School of Business Kelley Business School at Indiana University/Photo by Josh Anderson

When Amani Jambhekar was finishing her general surgery residency at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital in Brooklyn, she noticed a couple of problems. “I didn’t really have any female mentors at all,” Jambhekar says, noting the field of surgery is similar to engineering or finance in one key way— it is dominated by men.

This led to Jambhekar’s second, more specific, problem: Women residents had to share a bathroom with male residents and attending surgeons. “Which was really gross and inappropriate,” she says. It was also not practical. “If you were a female resident in my program and you were on call, you had to go hunt around for a restroom to use,” Jambhekar says.

That was something of a final straw for Jambhekar, who decided she wanted to effect change by earning an MBA. After much research, she decided the best way to do that was through Kelley Direct, the online MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “In my field, in surgery, there are not very many women and I really wanted to get an MBA to eventually be in a leadership position,” Jambhekar explains. “And not just be in a leadership position, but be a good leader and advocate for more women in surgery and do it by speaking the language of the decision-makers.”

A RECORD 47 ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS INCLUDED IN THIS YEAR’S RANKING

Transformation, self-improvement, upward mobility: It’s what Indiana Kelley’s online MBA program, which placed first in this year’s Poets&Quants Best Online MBA Programs of 2021, was created to do. And so much more, says Ramesh Venkataraman, associate dean for Information and Instructional Technologies and the Chair of the Kelley Direct MBA.

“There’s still a thought that the online MBA is not an integral part of a school,” Venkataraman says. “In many places, the online MBA is a way to make money, which is not the case here. For us, it’s another offering.”

Kelley captured this year’s first-place ranking by switching spots with last year’s winner, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, which slipped to second this year. The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business remained in third place for the second straight year, solidifying those three schools as the top-three for two years in a row. This year’s ranking — our fourth annual — was the biggest and most competitive with 47 schools participating, up from 35 the past two years and 25 the inaugural year.

THIS YEAR’S TOP TEN INCLUDES NEWCOMERS AND SURPRISES

Kelley has been knocking at the first-place door in each of the three previous annual rankings, finishing second twice and third once behind Carnegie Mellon and USC Marshall. It is also the most affordably priced of the winners at $74,520, some $37,000 less than the online MBA at USC, and about $67,000 under the hybrid online MBA at Carnegie Mellon.

Following third-place USC Marshall is George Washington University’s Online MBA, which surged 20 spots from 24th last year to fourth this year. George Washington’s meteoric surge was buoyed by a second-place finish in our admissions methodological category. The University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program gained two spots, moving from seventh last year to fifth. Villanova’s School of Business also catapulted 21 spots from 28th last year to seventh this year, thanks to a second-place finish in the academic experience portion of the methodology. Newcomers University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business debuted in the rankings at ninth and 10th, respectively.

  1. Indiana University (Kelley), $74,520
  2. Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper), $141,320
  3. University of Southern California (Marshall), $111,663
  4. George Washington University, $100,883
  5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler), $125,589
  6. Lehigh University, $41,595
  7. Villanova University, $66,000
  8. Auburn University (Harbert), $35,375
  9. University of Washington (Foster), $78,000
  10. Santa Clara University (Leavey), $83,510

THE ONLINE MBA MARKET IS FAST-MOVING AND DYNAMIC

In a fast-moving, dynamic market, with newly entered prominent players, it’s often difficult to assess programs that have yet to graduate a single class or prefer not to cooperate with a third-party analysis of their online experience. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, which only entered the online MBA market in 2019, and Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, which welcomed its first cohort this fall, are among the schools that fall in the former bucket. The University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, with what has been the fastest-growing MBA on the planet in recent years, are in the latter category. Gies has decided against putting its $22,000 iMBA program in rankings (see Online MBA Rankings? No Thank You, Says Gies).

Poets&Quants’ ranked programs, however, are among the most time-tested and highly admired online MBA options in the world. Many of them have been ranked by Poets&Quants for all four years and have delivered highly consistent levels of student satisfaction and overall quality. In a global market, with more than 350 online MBA options, the 47 schools on the list are the best of the bunch, roughly the top 15% of all the virtual MBA programs in the world.

Studying for a graduate degree online has become an increasingly popular way to earn an MBA due to both the flexibility it offers students and the more reasonable price tags on virtual options. As an online MBA student, you don’t have to quit your job and you can take the courses from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. The vast majority of online options are significantly less expensive than their residential counterparts. But programs vary greatly and the more expensive online alternatives often feature live weekly Internet classes, in-residence experiences, global immersions, a larger portfolio of elective courses, and one-on-one career coaching.

HOW WE CRUNCH THE NUMBERS FOR THE RANKING

From the very beginning, Poets&Quants has assessed the quality of programs on three equally weighted categories — admissions standards, academic experience, and career outcomes–based on surveys of recent alumni and program administrators. The admissions standards use average undergraduate GPAs, average years of work experience, acceptance rates, and average GMAT scores taking into consideration percentages of those that reported GMAT scores and percentages of those that had the scores waived because they had at least 10 years of work experience.

The academic experience and career outcomes sections are based on an alumni survey of 2020 graduates. The survey, which has 46 questions was conducted between May and October of this year. For the alumni survey to count, schools had to meet the minimum 10% response rate. All but four schools met that threshold.

The nature of this ranking means schools can fluctuate in how they place from year to year. Two-thirds of the methodology comes directly from alumni responses, which means one graduating class can place its school higher or lower. Villanova and George Washington, for example, were both able to surge 20 positions or more thanks to improved placements in the academic experience category, where Villanova placed second and George Washington placed 12th. Meanwhile, schools like the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the University of North Dakota dropped around 20 places. Michigan-Dearborn placed 41st this year in the academic experience category and North Dakota placed 38th in career outcomes.

Other schools, however, have remained more consistent, thanks to stable alumni scores over the years. As mentioned, USC, Indiana, and Carnegie Mellon have all remained in the top-three the past two years and the top-four the past three years. Likewise, Auburn, Lehigh, and UNC have all staked claims in the top-10 the past three years. (Click here for a detailed look at this year’s methodology.)

KELLEY WON THE ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE CATEGORY

Lehigh University topped the admissions category. Propelling Lehigh to the win in the category was its GMAT average score of 629. Just 34% of the incoming class reported a GMAT score, but 78% had their GMAT scores waived because of having 10 years of work experience or more. Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Foisie School had the highest average undergraduate GPA at 3.54. Students at George Washington University, Jack Welch Management Institute, and Rochester Institute of Technology all had an average of 15 years of work experience when they entered the online MBA programs last year. And Jack Welch had the toughest acceptance rate at just under 25%. George Washington finished second in the admissions category and Indiana Kelley finished third.

Kelley led the academic experience category without outright winning any specific data section. Some 80% of the weight in the academic experience area is given to the average score of 15 questions scaled one-to-10. The University of Texas-Dallas had the highest average score from alumni with 9.63. Indiana Kelley followed with 9.446. Questions asked alumni above their experiences with consulting projects, school clubs, international experiences, career services, professors, and fellow classmates. The other 20% in the category was awarded based on the average percentage of students reporting they had an international experience, consulting project, and opportunity to participate in a student club. Villanova’s School of Business topped the category with 63.33% reporting they had at least one of the above experiences. Indiana Kelley again placed second at 60%. Overall, Villanova finished second in the academic experience category with the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School finishing in third.

Lastly, The College of William & Mary’s Mason School topped the career outcomes category. Also based on the alumni survey, schools were awarded points based on the percentage of students reporting a promotion or raise as a direct result of the program, the percentage of students saying they reached their primary or secondary career goal, and an average of scaled one-to-10 questions asking about the career services and mentors offered by the school. The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business followed William & Mary in second and Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business rounded out the top three.

The 2021 Poets&Quants Online MBA Rankings Package

THE BEST ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS OF 2021

HOW ONLINE MBA STUDENTS RATE THEIR EXPERIENCE

HOW ONLINE MBAS RATE THE IMPACT OF THE DEGREE ON THEIR CAREERS

ACCEPTANCE RATES FOR THE TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS

AVERAGE GMAT, GRE & GPAS FOR THE 2021 TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS 

AVERAGE WORK EXPERIENCE OF STUDENTS AT THE TOP 2021 ONLINE MBA OPTIONS

MOST & LEAST EXPENSIVE TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS OF 2021

VIDEO: DEANS’ PANEL — A CONVERSATION WITH LEADERS OF THE TOP ONLINE MBA OPTIONS

PODCAST: MBA ALTERNATIVES: A BUSINESS CASUAL CONVERSATION ON THE PROS AND CONS OF MBA ALTERNATIVES FROM ONLINE MBAS TO PART-TIME MBAS AND EXECUTIVE MBA PROGRAMS 

VIDEO: OUR BACKSTAGE WEBINAR SERIES ON THE TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS

THE METHODOLOGY BEHIND P&Q’S 2021 ONLINE MBA RANKING