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The Best Online MBA Programs Of 2021 - Poets&Quants

The Best Online MBA Programs Of 2021 - Poets&Quants

The Best Online MBA Programs Of 2021 - Poets&Quants

Posted: 09 Nov 2020 12:00 AM PST

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

The online MBA market is fast-moving and dynamic. A record 47 Online MBA programs are included in this year's ranking.


  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


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.


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.


Indiana University's Kelley Direct online MBA finished first in this year's ranking, swapping places with Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School, which finished second after winning last year's ranking. The University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business placed third for the second-straight year.

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.

2020 Rank Rank School Final Weighted Score
2 1 Indiana University (Kelley) 100.00
1 2 Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) 97.41
3 3 University of Southern California (Marshall) 96.03
25 4 George Washington University 93.59
5 5 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) 91.79
4 6 Lehigh University 89.26
28 7 Villanova University 89.05
8 8 Auburn University (Harbert) 88.89
NR 9 University of Washington (Foster) 88.79
NR 10 Santa Clara University (Leavey) 88.68
22 11 North Carolina State University (Jenkins) 87.26
16 12 Washington State University 86.58
17 13 University of Maryland (Smith) 86.04
NR 14 Drexel University (LeBow) 85.72
NR 15 University of Utah (Eccles) 85.46
12 16 Baylor Univerity (Hankamer) 84.11
NR 17 University of Florida 84.05
13 18 University of Texas-Dallas (Jindal) 83.64
NR 19 The College of William & Mary (Mason) 83.47
23 20 Jack Welch Management Institute 81.95
6 21 University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Isenberg) 81.41
11 22 University of Arizona (Eller) 80.32
NR 23 University of Denver (Daniels) 79.57
9 24 University of Nebraska-Lincoln 78.81
20 25 University of South Florida (Muma) 78.80
30 26 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 78.52
NR 27 Arizona State University (W. P. Carey) 78.52
NR 28 American University (Kogod) 76.98
7 29 Worcester Polytechnic Institute 76.14
18 30 SUNY Oswego 75.13
14 31 University of North Dakota (Nistler) 74.70
15 32 University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium 74.46
31 33 University of Massachusetts-Lowell 73.85
NR 34 University of Delaware (Lerner) 73.61
24 35 Hofstra University 73.52
29 36 Ohio University 73.42
32 37 Louisiana State University 71.56
33 38 Florida International University 68.15
NR 39 Imperial College Business School 66.96
NR 40 Creighton University (Heider) 65.58
34 41 Northeastern University (D'Amore-McKim) 64.21
19 42 University of Michigan-Dearborn 60.89
26 43 University of Cincinnati (Lindner) 53.55
NR 44 *Oklahoma State University (Spears) 25.38
35 45 *Kennesaw State University 24.52
10 46 *Rochester Institute of Technology (Saunders) 19.18
NR 47 *Rogers State University 13.29

Editorial note: Imperial College Business School submitted incomplete admissions survey data that would've greatly impacted its ranking. Poets&Quants goes through extensive fact-checking after the data has been reporting, confirming all key data with schools before calculating and finalizing the ranking. Imperial College confirmed its original data during that fact-checking process. Days before the publication of this ranking, Imperial College provided the missing data and requested it be considered for the ranking. Unfortunately, we were unable to make that change within the methodology of the ranking because of the timing and our staff felt it would impact the 46 other schools in the ranking that successfully reported accurate data and confirmed the fact check.


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. (Click here for a detailed look at this year's methodology.)

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.

Story Continues with Rankings of Individual Categories, Our Analysis and Key Admissions Data


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