By The Numbers: How Rare Is Your MBA Degree?

NYU MBA students outside Stern School of Business in New York City

The MBA has been the most popular graduate degree in America since 2010-2011 when it surpassed a master’s in education as the number one choice for graduate students. Slightly more than 250,000 students are enrolled in MBA programs around the world, according to the AACSB.

But how many of them are in the top programs?

Not all that many. The prestige business school with the largest number of MBA students is now the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, with a total enrollment of 1,874, below one percent (0.7%) of all the MBA students in the U.S. That’s exactly 100 more students than No. 2 Harvard Business School, with an enrollment of 1,742 MBA students. You would naturally divide those numbers to get to the size of a graduating class since their MBAs are earned over two years.

Less than 4% (3.8%) of the MBAs are getting their degrees at the so-called M7 business schools (Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, or Sloan). Just five prestige programs enroll more than 1,000 students (Wharton, Harvard, Columbia, Kellogg, and Booth).

Only 4.6% of the students studying for an MBA are going to a Top Ten business school (a list that would add Yale, Berkeley Haas, and Dartmouth Tuck), with the smallest enrollment in that group being Berkeley with only 638 MBA candidates. And a mere 8.6% are enrolled in the full-time MBA programs at the Top 25 business schools, with the smallest being the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business with an enrollment of 235 students.

Wharton’s MBA enrollment is larger than the combined enrollment of 15 of the top 50 MBA programs with the smallest student bodies.

The Ten Largest Prestige MBA Programs In The U.S.

School Total Enrollment P&Q Rank Lifetime Earnings For Graduates
Pennsylvania (Wharton) 1,874 3 $7,440,000
Harvard Business School 1,742 5 $8,500,000
Northwestern (Kellogg) 1,425 4 $7,860,000
Columbia Business School 1,426 7 $6,800,000
Chicago (Booth) 1,249 2 $6,740,000
MIT (Sloan) 934 6 $7,890,000
Stanford GSB 897 1 $8,330,000
Duke (Fuqua) 855 11 $7,330,000
Michigan (Ross) 747 12 $6,860,000
Virginia (Darden) 746 14 $8,200,000
Note: Enrollment numbers include incoming students in the fall of 2021.

Cohorts, Clusters & Sections Divide Up MBAs In Larger Schools

The larger schools, of course, divide up their incoming students into sections or clusters to provide a more intimate MBA experience for students. At Wharton, incoming students are first put into four clusters of about 216 students, then 12 cohorts of about 72 students, and finally 144 learning teams of five to six MBA candidates.

“If there were no system in place to create a community in smaller subsets, you could easily feel lost,” said Jess Segal, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the McNulty Leadership Program at Wharton. “The Cluster and Cohort system was designed with the hope that it takes a group of more than 860 and allows it to feel like a smaller community.”

Over at Harvard, it’s a somewhat similar system under which first-year MBA students are assigned to a specific “section”—10 groups, each composed of approximately 90 students. During the first year, students will take all of the ten classes in the Required Curriculum together. The upshot: Your section-mates will most likely become your closest friends at business school. That remains true even when the sections break down during the Elective Curriculum in the second year when students choose from more than 100 elective courses or cross-register with other Harvard schools, MIT’s School of Management, or the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts.

Small Vs. Large MBA Schools: What's The Difference?

In any case, the size of a program can make a meaningful difference in both the culture of a school as well as the student experience. Students at smaller schools, those with 350 or fewer students, tend to interact with most of their peers and professors at some point during the typical two-year MBA program. As a result, the smaller schools are generally considered more “knowable,” and their communities tend to be quite closely knit. Gaining a leadership position is easier in a smaller environment, because, the Finance Club may have only one president at both a small school and a large school, but competition for such a position would obviously be greater in the larger program.

On the other hand, a student at a school with nearly 1,000 or more students will not likely get to know each and every one of his/her classmates by the end of the program, and some people might prefer this. After all, some individuals might prefer to be at a larger school where they can better maintain their anonymity if they so choose. Advocates of larger classes tout the advantage of being able to interact with more people during one’s MBA experience—and to develop a broader and more robust network of peers.

The Ten Smallest Prestige MBA Programs In The U.S.

School Total Enrollment P&Q Rank Lifetime Earnings For Graduates
Georgia Tech (Scheller) 145 27 NA
Univ. of Washington (Foster) 235 21 $6,600,000
Indiana (Kelley) 246 22 $5,530,000
Emory (Goizueta) 301 26 NA
Notre Dame (Mendoza) 316 31 NA
Rice (Jones) 352 24 NA
Vanderbilt (Owen) 364 25 $6,030,000
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 371 16 $6,750,000
Southern California (Marshall) 439 18 $5,130,000
Texas-Austin (McCombs) 487 20 $6,350,000
Note: Enrollment numbers include incoming students in the fall of 2021

(See the following page for the 50 largest prestige MBA programs in the U.S.)