How We Rank Online MBA Programs

Want to learn more about our MBA ranking system? This methodology page explains how we assess academic quality, affordability, availability, and reputation.

Our methodology assists students in choosing the best MBA program for them. We consider four main data points in our rankings: academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability.

Combining this data allows us to assess an MBA program’s value. Using quantifiable metrics helps ensure our rankings are consistent and fair.

Schools can't compensate us to appear in our rankings, boost their rank, or adjust our methodology. While we do feature advertisement partners on our site, these relationships do not influence our rankings or school selection.

Metrics are only as strong as their sources. This is why we use the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) as our primary sources of data for ranking schools. The NCES is a federal agency responsible for collecting, analyzing, and publishing educational data.

To determine which program is right for you, go to our rankings. Learn more about our methodology, data, and subfactors on this page.

About the Data We Use

The NCES relies on IPEDS for its data. Both the NCES and IPEDS are quality sources of data managed by the federal government. IPEDS gathers data annually from 6,400 colleges, universities, and technical institutions.

As the IPEDS surveys are completed annually, so are most of our rankings. Our team manually checks all data before including it in our lists and excludes schools without sufficient data.

We use IPEDS data as it becomes available to ensure our lists are current. Certain data points may be updated more or less frequently than once a year. In these cases, we update our ranking lists when new data is available.

Our 2023 ranking lists use the most current data available at publication.We never recycle old data or simply rebrand them with the current year.

As of November 2022, IPEDS has released provisional data for the 2021-2022 school year. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available, instead of the most finalized, at the time of publication. Both types of data sets undergo all NCES quality control procedures.

Our Ranking Methodology for MBA Programs

School rankings are only as valuable as the methodology behind them. That's why we chose weighted factors that measure qualitative and quantitative metrics.

Depending on the focus of a ranking list, the weight for each metric varies. For example, our ranking methodology for affordable MBA programs gives more consideration to tuition and the cost of attendance than our general MBA rankings.

The following pie charts offer a visual representation of our weighted ranking system:

Subfactors to our MBA Ranking System

Our rankings focus on the following data reported by IPEDs: academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability. We also consider subfactors for each of the metrics. We chose these metrics as schools consistently report this data, which is essential in assessing a program's value.

Our goal is to distill reputable data into simplified rankings that help students choose the best program for them. We weigh each of these factors based on the focus of our rankings lists. This way, students can pick the rankings that match their requirements.

We weigh various factors together rather than choosing individual data points. By using multiple data points, we can ensure no singular data point is an outlier, causing a program to be ranked higher than it should be. Instead, we have a holistic view of the program with an emphasis on what certain students find desirable in a program.

Subfactors for Academics

  • Retention Rate: The retention rate refers to the percentage of full-time, first-time, degree-seekers from the previous year who enrolled again in the current fall semester. In 2021, the retention rate among 4,937 postsecondary institutions was 75.6%, according to the NCES. This rate has been around 71-76% since 2007, indicating it is relatively stable. Schools with a significantly different retention rate indicate students are continuing their studies at the school or dropping out at a different pace than the average school. Historically, part-time students have a lower retention rate of 45%.
  • Graduation Rate: The graduation rate refers to the number of students that graduate within 150% of the normal expected time for a degree, which is six years for a bachelor's degree. It is not the percentage of students that graduate in total. Graduation rates differ for two and four year degrees. The most recent NCES data for four year degrees is 65% in 2015. If a particular university has graduation rates above this, that means a higher percentage of students graduate from that university within the expected timeframe than other U.S. schools overall.
  • Robust Faculty: We include two data points in this metric: the student-to-faculty ratio and the proportion of full-time to part-time faculty. The most recent data from 2020 indicates an average of 4.9 full-time equivalent students to full-time equivalent staff. The faculty data shows a total of 836,597 full-time faculty to 652,818 part-time faculty, which is a ratio of 1.28:1. A smaller student-to-faculty ratio indicates smaller class sizes. A larger full-time to part-time faculty ratio represents an increase in the number of full-time faculty to part-time faculty.

Subfactors for Affordability

  • Price for Students With Grants or Scholarships: For this metric, we reference the NCES' average net price of college for students receiving aid. The NCES calculates this figure by taking the total price of attendance minus scholarship awards from federal, state, or local governments and institutional sources. The latest data is from 2019-2020, indicating an average net price of $18,630 among all institutions and income levels. This is further broken down into public and private schools, with public schools being cheaper on average. The lower the number, the less students will need to pay for their education.
  • Students Getting Financial Aid: We use two data points to determine how students receive financial aid: the percentage of full-time undergraduates awarded financial aid and the average amount of grants and scholarship aid awarded. In total, 72% of students received financial aid, according to NCES' latest data from 2015-2016. The average amount of grant and scholarship aid among all income levels and institutions was $14,080 from 2019-20. Grant and scholarship aid was highest for private non-profit schools and lowest for private for-profit schools.
  • Students Getting Federal Aid: Federal aid refers to students receiving federal loans. We look at both the percentage of undergraduate students awarded federal loans and the average amount awarded. The latest NCES data showed that 58% of bachelor’s degree students received federal loans in 2017-18. In the same year, students received an average of $26,190 in loans. Both the percentage of students who received the loans and the amount varied by sex, race, dependency status, and institution.
  • Post-Graduation Student Debt: Both the average loan default rate and median debt for students six years after entry contribute to post-graduation student debt. In 2018, the three-year default rate was 6%. The three-year default rate is the percentage of borrowers who entered repayment and defaulted by the end of their second year. Graduate students had anaverage debt of $82,810 in 2015-2016.

Subfactors for Reputation

  • Percent of Applicants Admitted: This metric refers to a school's admissions rate. Admissions rate is the percentage of total applications accepted by universities. NCES' data shows that 43% of schools accept 50% or more applicants while 7% of schools accept 49.9% or less applicants in 2020-21. Using this information, you can see how selective a university is compared to other schools. The most prestigious schools likely have a lower acceptance rate — 0.5% of schools accepted less than 10% of applicants.
  • Admissions Yield: This factor measures the percentage of admitted undergraduate students who actually enroll in the fall. The most recent IPEDS data for admissions yield is from fall 2021 and shows an average admissions yield of 22%. Schools with a higher admission yield than this might have a more prestigious reputation.
  • Return on Investment: We look at the median earnings of working graduates aged 25-34 to determine a school's return on investment. Master-degree holders earned a median annual salary of $69,720 in 2021, compared to $59,650 for those with a bachelor's degree.

Subfactors for Program Availability and Online Flexibility

  • Percent of Online Students Enrolled: Online programs allow students to study from any location. Graduate students taking fully online courses accounted for 52% of all students in 2020. About 27% of online students were in the same state as their school, and 21% of students were in a different state than their school. Students taking at least one distance education course accounted for 52% of all post baccalaureate students. We only consider this subfactor when ranking online MBA programs.
  • Percent of Relevant Degree Level Offered: Not all schools offer the same degree options and levels. Students may prefer to attend schools with a higher percentage of degrees at a certain level. Degree categories include associate, bachelor's, master's, doctorate, and certificates. We use the most recent IPEDs data to determine the percentage of relevant degrees offered at each school.

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