Stanford GSB | Mr. Minority Champ
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Duke Fuqua | Ms. Health Care Executive
GMAT 690, GPA 3.3
NYU Stern | Mr. Low Gmat
GMAT 690, GPA 73.45 % (No GPA in undergrad)
Harvard | Mr. Nonprofit Social Entrepreneur
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Harvard | Mr. Improve Healthcare
GMAT 730, GPA 2.8
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Wake Up & Grind
GMAT 700, GPA 3.5
N U Singapore | Ms. Biomanager
GMAT 520, GPA 2.8
MIT Sloan | Mr. Low GPA Over Achiever
GMAT 700, GPA 2.5
Chicago Booth | Ms. Start-Up Entrepreneur
GRE 318 current; 324 intended, GPA 3.4
Stanford GSB | Mr. Indian Telecom ENG
GRE 340, GPA 3.56
Harvard | Mr. 1st Gen Brazilian LGBT
GMAT 720, GPA 3.2
USC Marshall | Mr. Ambitious
GRE 323, GPA 3.01
Stanford GSB | Ms. East Africa Specialist
GMAT 690, GPA 3.34
Harvard | Mr. Merchant Of Debt
GMAT 760, GPA 3.5 / 4.0 in Master 1 / 4.0 in Master 2
Tuck | Ms. Nigerian Footwear
GRE None, GPA 4.5
Stanford GSB | Mr. Low GPA To Stanford
GMAT 770, GPA 2.7
Berkeley Haas | Mr. 360 Consultant
GMAT 720, GPA 3.4
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Low GPA High GRE
GRE 325, GPA 3.2
Darden | Mr. Senior Energy Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 2.5
Chicago Booth | Mr. Finance Musician
GRE 330, GPA 3.6
NYU Stern | Mr. Hail Mary 740
GMAT 740, GPA 2.94
Harvard | Mr. London Artist
GMAT 730, GPA First Class Honours (4.0 equivalent)
Harvard | Mr. Professional Boy Scout
GMAT 660, GPA 3.83
SDA Bocconi | Mr. Pharma Manager
GMAT 650, GPA 3,2
Kellogg | Mr. Young PM
GMAT 710, GPA 9.64/10
Wharton | Mr. Indian VC
GRE 333, GPA 3.61
MIT Sloan | Mr. Tech Enthusiast
GRE 325, GPA 6.61/10

The Best Online MBA Programs Of 2021

Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University

CHANGES IN ADMISSIONS AND CAREER SUPPORT AT KELLEY

Ask any online MBA director or dean and they’ll tell you not all online MBA programs are created the same. It’s truer in the online space, which can have varying types of in-person and synchronous course requirements compared to the residential MBA, which largely have very similar structures and approaches. “I think it’s important to know that not all online MBAs are built the same,” Kelley’s Venkataraman says.

Kelley’s program, which was launched in 1999, for example, delivers more than half of the curriculum in a synchronous format, or live Internet classes and global immersions. It also requires a one-week residential component per academic year, called the Kelley Connect Week, on its campus in Bloomington, IN. The faculty create new case studies for online students annually, with protagonists who show up during the in-residence weeks for presentations students must make before them. Kelley Direct MBA students also gain access to the same career services offered to residential MBA students and have the same residential faculty teaching in the program.

Ramesh Venkataraman, who has been leading the online MBA efforts for about four years now calls the first-place finish in this year’s ranking a “vindication.”

‘A VINDICATION FOR SOME OF THE EFFORTS WE’VE PUT IN’

Ramesh Venkataraman. IU photo

“It’s a vindication for some of the efforts we’ve put in,” he says. Last year, for example, Kelley significantly revamped its program, doubling the number of elective classes for online students and redesigning the business basics into an integrated core curriculum similar to the way Kelley teaches its full-time MBA students. For the first time, online students have the option of majoring in one of seven disciplines after completing 12 credit hours in a subject, ranging from finance and marketing to entrepreneurship and innovation and business analytics. Those curriculum changes gave Kelley Direct greater differentiation in the market.

The school also engineered significant changes in the admissions process and career services offered to online MBA students. All applicants viewed as potential candidates are interviewed — some even before submitting all of their application materials.

“We ask the typical behavioral questions you’d expect in a company interview, our admissions staff asks those questions and then we also make sure they have the right motivation, they understand the rigor, and they can actually handle the workload,” Venkataraman explains.

The admissions staff then reports back to the rest of the team and a soft decision is made relatively early in the process. “It’s better to part ways earlier than to have mismanaged expectations and part ways later,” Venkataraman says.

CARNEGIE MELLON AND USC MAINTAIN STRONG FINISHES 

Second-place Tepper School of Business, which also happens to be the priciest degree again this year at $141,320, delivers about half of its program on a synchronous basis. It is one of the younger programs in terms of student age with an average of 6.4 years of work experience and an average age of 30 for those entering the program this past year. Similar to Kelley and other top programs, Tepper uses its residential MBA faculty and administrative services for the online program. What sets Tepper’s program apart from others is the mini-semester access weekends. At the beginning of each mini-semester, students come to campus to kick-off classes in person with their professors and classmates.

Along with the Tepper School of Business and UNC Kenan-Flagler’s program, USC Marshall’s online MBA has a price tag of more than $100K. Those three schools are the only three of the 47 ranked this year with a six-figure cost. Of course, all three are also in the top-five of this year’s ranking, so the cliche of you pay what you get for might be true. Either way, USC also has above half of its coursework in a synchronous format. Students are in the typical age-range for the online degree and average 33-years-old with a decade of work experience. Just 4% of the faculty teaching in the online program only teach in that program. Meaning, like others, USC is using a lot of their residential MBA faculty to teach the courses. Students are required to come to USC’s Los Angeles campus for about a week at the beginning of the program. They also have an opportunity to participate in a weeklong international experience. Students seem to like the experience as USC finished in the top-10 in both academic experience and career outcome categories.

THE NEWBIE PROGRAMS POPPING UP

This ranking’s growth and increased competitiveness are not surprising considering the top-flight universities entering the market. Schools like the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business recently launched a program that just enrolled its first class. The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management has also created a program in the past couple of years. As have Boston University and the University of California-Davis. As those programs graduate cohorts, we expect the ranking to grow in size and competitiveness.

Two examples of that taking place this year include the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. Both launched their programs within the past three years and both graduated their first cohorts within the past year. And both debuted in the top-10.

WASHINGTON FOSTER CREATES A PROGRAM BASED ON NETWORKING CULTURE

Jodey Farwell, the director of the Foster Hybrid MBA at the University of Washington. Washington Foster photo

While Washington Foster officially launched its program in 2017, Andrew Krueger, the director of alumni and media relations at Foster, says the school has long discussed the potential for an online degree option. “Foster was a little hesitant to get into the space because most of our alumni thrive off of the culture and the experience that happens on campus,” Krueger says. “And so we didn’t want to just move forward with the typical online experience.”

So in 2016, Washington Foster took a survey of people in six regional states including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, and Hawaii. They learned if they were going to launch an online MBA program, it needed to be highly accessible but also have strong networking potential. “They wanted that collaboration, that sense of team,” Krueger says of the results. They also realized part of the program needed to have residential components. “We went back and thought things out and realized that without some on-campus experience, we weren’t going to deliver what Foster is really known for,” Krueger explains.

Since then the program has grown from 45 students to 156 this past year. Part of the success in growing the program has stemmed from the culture Foster has tried to build. “The culture has to be that level of engagement where professors know the students’ names — they know the companies they work at. The students know each other. The students know the staff,” says Jodey Farwell, who is the program director for Foster’s Hybrid MBA. That’s the kind of culture the Foster Hybrid program has established.”

Students are immediately placed into teams of five or six that they work with the entire length of the program. The hybrid model manifests through three or four-day campus immersions at the beginning of each quarter. All students finish the program within two years.

Washington placed sixth in the academic experience category and seventh in the career outcomes category. The strong alumni survey scores are what led Washington to its ninth-place finish this year. Farwell much of that success likely comes down to the diversity of the teams and cohort in the program. “The more we can diversify, the better we’ll be,” she says. “Because we can get new ideas, new perspectives, we’re going to have to debate, think harder, critically analyze problems, and we don’t get to do that without a certain level of diversity.”

Toby McChesney of Santa Clara’s Leavey School of Business. Courtesy photo

SANTA CLARA INVESTS EARLY IN CAREER SUPPORT FOR ONLINE MBA STUDENTS

Even younger is the online program at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, which launched in January 2018. The program graduated its first class this past January. From the get-go, a career-focus has been a major piece of the program.

“I went to the provost directly with the dean and said, ‘if we’re going to do this, we have to have career support,'” says Toby McChesney, the school’s senior assistant dean for graduate programs. “I know a lot of the online programs don’t. So we have a full career services office and our only job is to serve our online MBA and MS marketing students.”

It’s paid off early as Santa Clara’s alumni ranked the school third in the career outcomes category and eighth in academic experience. The program is 95% online with two residential programs — one for orientation and one at the end for a class called Challenges in Management. Based in Silicon Valley, McChesney says many of their students come from the San Francisco Bay Area, but the school has now expanded to include students from 11 states.

“Yes, we’re a Jesuit school, but more importantly, we’re next to Silicon Valley,” McChesney says. “All of our courses have at least a thread with Silicon Valley. It could be a case study with Apple or bringing in a speaker, etcetera. We are really poised to push innovation through our curriculum.”

The program has a bit of a blend with the school’s evening MBA program. Students can take classes in both programs and both programs give one-on-one access to the career services director. McChesney says those residential programs were crucial to the creation and execution of the program and that he’s fine with “losing” a few students to other programs if they’re not willing to commit to some residential time. And like all schools on this ranking, McChesney says the online MBA degree is very much part of the Santa Clara family of degrees.

“I think a lot of schools treat their online MBA programs kind of like a step-child or over there,” McChesney says. “And we don’t view them that way. They are our students. We treat them just the same as any student.”

CONTINUING THE PROGRESS AND LEGITIMIZE THE ONLINE MBA DEGREE

To be sure, many of the schools on this list have been offering top-shelf online MBA programs for years. But that approach has also led to the increased legitimacy of the online MBA space. And if it hasn’t, schools like the ones on this list are making changes to make sure it does happen. Venkataraman believes the Coronavirus pandemic will only accelerate that process. “If the pandemic continues, it will crystalize the good online MBA programs,” he says.

For Amani Jambhekar, the experience in the Kelley Direct Online MBA program led to much more than cutting her teeth in hospital leadership. She has been able to launch some meaningful social entrepreneurship projects. Jambhekar helped create the Real Heroes Need Masks program, which has helped deliver tens of thousands of personal protective equipment to hospital workers. It also helped lead to a rare leadership position in her first year as an attending breast surgical oncologist.

“These types of social entrepreneurship projects are something I wouldn’t even know how to undertake if it wasn’t for what I learned at Kelley,” Jambhekar says. “My surgical training taught me how to operate but my MBA training taught me how to think.”

(PLEASE SEE THE NEXT PAGE FOR THE ENTIRE 2021 RANKING AND SEE THIS PAGE FOR ALL ADMISSIONS DATA FOR THE TOP 47 SCHOOLS)