Wharton Tops Poets&Quants’ Best Undergraduate Business Programs Of 2017

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School topped this year’s Poets&Quants’ Best Undergraduate B-schools ranking. Courtesy photo

Two years, two different winners. In the second annual Poets&Quants ranking of undergraduate business schools, a new — though familiar — school has vaulted to the top. This year, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School knocked off last year’s winner, the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, which finished right behind it in second place. Among 82 of the best undergraduate business programs in the country, no other business school currently provides a better undergraduate experience than Wharton.

According to Lori Rosenkopf, the vice dean and director of Wharton’s undergraduate program, it all comes down to fundamentals. “I think our Dean Geoff Garrett says it best: ‘We do the right things for our students and the rankings will take care of themselves,’” Rosenkopf tells Poets&Quants. “We really focus on the fundamentals in educating our students and we’re really glad that this ranking is reflecting our success on that front.”

Indeed, the Poets&Quants approach to ranking undergraduate business programs is set up to identify those fundamentals. Just as we did last year, the ranking equally weighs admission standards, alumni satisfaction with the quality of the academic experience, and career outcomes. Last year Olin didn’t outright win any of the three categories, but placed highly in each of them. This year, Wharton landed in a much more dominant position. The Ivy League school in Philadelphia finished first in admission standards and employment outcomes and second in the alumni satisfaction survey to claim its first-place finish by nearly 10 full index points (out of a possible 100).


After Wharton and Olin, the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce, the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, rounded out the top five, respectively. Virginia catapulted five spots from eighth place last year for its third-place finish, buoyed by gaining the highest satisfaction marks of any business school in the alumni survey.

The ranking is based on hard data self-reported by schools, including average SAT scores and acceptance rates for this fall’s incoming class of students, total starting compensation and full-time employment percentages for the graduating Class of 2017, and answers by alumni of the Class of 2015 to 43 wide-ranging questions about their undergraduate experience, including the accessibility of faculty, the value of the alumni network, and an assessment of a school’s career services professionals. In addition, schools are rewarded for providing students with global and other signature experiences, largely consulting projects with companies, and schools’ success in helping their graduates land jobs at their targeted employers and industries.

In the alumni survey, which garnered responses from nearly 7,000 members, Wharton topped out in such categories the effectiveness the business degree was in helping a student climb to a new socioeconomic status, the strength of the alumni network, and how beneficial the degree was to graduates in helping them achieve a dream career. Wharton’s strength of not only getting graduates into high paying jobs but also in desired industries and companies, was evident throughout both school and alumni data (see 2017 Rankings Report Card: How Alumni Grade Their Schools).


According to the alumni survey, conducted from August to October of this year (2017), a perfect 100% of Wharton’s grads said their first jobs were in a “desired industry” (see B-Schools That Help You Get The Job You Really Want). Wharton also reported a 2017 average salary of $80,566—higher than ever before. Add in the average signing bonus of $12,703, reported by 79% of graduates and Wharton’s average starting total compensation exceeded $90,000—also a first (see What Business Majors Made This Year In Their First Jobs). Plus, 97.9% of the Class of 2017 seeking employment landed full-time positions within 90 days of graduation.

Wharton believes those stellar job outcomes are there result of its focus on the basics of business in accounting, finance, marketing and strategy. But they also are a function of superior selection and a career services office that prepares its students for a market eager to employ them. Wharton’s career officials do an excellent job of advising students, of holding resume and interview training sessions, setting up career panels and on-campus info sessions with employers, organizing career fairs, and hosting hundreds of different employers on campus to conduct interviews for both internship and full-time job opportunities.

“We provide our students with amazing technical fundamentals,” Rosenkopf explains. “Wharton for many years has been recognized as providing excellent technical fundamentals for students and our new curriculum continues to provide those. Now we’re looking to ensure that our students also have complementary training in leadership skills, and we’ve expanded that training.”

Commencement at Washington University’s Olin Business School, which finished second in this year’s P&Q ranking of best undergraduate business schools. Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.


In all, 82 schools were ranked this year— an increase of 32 schools from the 50 in last year’s debut ranking. These schools represent the top 16% of accredited undergraduate business schools in the U.S. A handful of the schools on the list have acceptance rates tougher than Harvard Business School’s full-time MBA program. They boast innovative student-run clubs in such areas as entrepreneurship and social enterprise as well as student-run investment funds that regularly churn out high returns. And these programs are graduating future business leaders at mind-boggling levels of compensation from the get-go.

The Poets&Quants ranking was launched in 2016 after a year of collaboration with business school deans and administrators from leading institutions. It was slightly tweaked this year based on feedback from deans and administrators at dozens of schools (see our detailed explanation of our methodology). The only other established and reputable ranking for undergraduate business education currently comes from U.S. News and World Report and it is based solely on an opinion survey of deans and senior faculty. The result is a U.S. News ranking based largely on popularity, a list that has remained virtually unchanged for years despite up-and-coming programs and continual innovations at established schools.

Conversely, our ranking takes business-school specific admissions data, including average SATs for newly enrolled students, the percentage of incoming students who finished in the top 10% of their high school classes, and each school’s acceptance rate for applicants. It also factors alumni satisfaction on every important dimension of the educational experience, with answers to 18 of 43 core questions meant to gain meaningful information on their undergraduate years. Lastly, the ranking includes business-school specific data on employment outcomes, such as the percentage of graduates who landed a job soon after graduation, average total compensation in first jobs, and the percentage of students to complete a full-time internship before their senior year. Schools that enroll driven, talented, and smart students, provide them with a top-notch educational experience, and then help them secure solid jobs in the industries and companies they desire rise to the top of our list.

  • Sheldon Deng

    Thanks for this plethora of info and analysis. Just curious as to what happened to Ohio State, which was #41 last year but is not even in the top 82 this year?

    • Nathan Allen

      Thanks for weighing in, Sheldon. Ohio State submitted school survey data but unfortunately didn’t make the 10% minimum participation rate. Based on what they submitted and responses they did receive from the alumni survey, it’s safe to say they definitely would have finished well within the top 82. We expect them to try again next year and be included.


    • JohnAByrne

      The 10% threshold for alumni responses is, in my view, fairly low. The fact that a school is unable to meet this requirement is telling. I find that that alums who are generally happy with their degrees are more likely to respond to a survey like this. Those who are less satisfied may just prefer to stay quiet. Remember what everyone’s mother has told them: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

      • Sarah Diaz

        I would hold off on making assumptions about why the alumni response rate was not met on any particular school. It could be a multitude of factors. Additionally, larger graduation classes mean higher number of individuals who need to complete the surveys. This is very difficult to accomplish, even at 10%. It takes a very strategic and concerted effort. It is not just done by emailing out a few surveys. There is also a thing called survey fatigue, and alumni are already getting surveyed by the schools.

        • Nathan Allen

          Generally speaking, our data seems to support the idea about larger (and public) universities struggling a bit more with hitting the minimum response rate. The schools asked about in this comment thread (sans USC) are examples. On the other hand, there are many large state institutions easily hitting the 10% mark. Texas, Arizona State, Texas A&M, and Indiana, to name a few hit the minimum rate fairly quickly.

          All that said, this is one of the big questions we’re going to tackle and ask schools to offer some feedback on when we do the evaluation period early next year.

          • Sarah Diaz

            I agree, Nathan. Being larger isn’t the only reason one wouldn’t meet this threshold. And, as you see and mentioned, some large schools did. I just don’t think it is responsible to assume that schools who didn’t hit the alumni response threshold have alums who are less satisfied, as John indicated.

          • Nathan Allen

            Yep, that’s fair. As I mentioned, we’ll open up more discussion with your school and others about this topic as well as the methodology and surveys early next year. It bugs me when schools are willing to survey their alums and take the time to complete the school survey and then are unable to be ranked because of alumni response. I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep this from happening as much next year.

          • JohnAByrne

            One other observation I would add to all this. While what I am about to say does not apply to every school, it does apply to a good number of schools that are unable to get to a 10% response rate for a single alumni class. Failure to meet this minimum threshold may also suggest that a school hasn’t invested enough resources in the alumni network. Some schools, frankly, aren’t keeping very good track of where their alums end up. That is also, to my way of thinking, a measure of a school’s quality. If some schools do this well and invest in alumni relations and development, those networks are going to be more valuable for current students and graduates. It is another indicator of quality.

          • obamaniac

            i like how you assume a lack of response reflects on the school’s quality in multiple ways and in no ways on the P&Q brand.

  • Avery

    USC? #17 last year to nothing this year.

    • JohnAByrne

      Avery, unfortunately the response rate from alums was below 10% so USC was excluded. We do think the school has a solid undergraduate program. Sadly, we couldn’t get much cooperation from the school to help.

    • Nathan Allen

      USC didn’t meet the minimum alumni response rate, nor did they submit a school survey. They likely would’ve been up around there if they had qualified.

  • Taric Sam Alani

    Complete garbage, Creighton University isn’t even listed, despite being the only CFA Institute University Affiliate to offer a degree that prepares students for all three levels of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam. They also offer a graduate certificate that prepares students for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam.

  • Pranav Desai

    Thanks for publishing this, can you tell me why Boston College is not on the list. Is it the 10% participation threshold?

    • Nathan Allen

      BC decided not to participate this year. We’ll invite them again next year.

  • JS

    What happened to Uconn this year?

    • Nathan Allen

      Same. Submitted school survey data. Fully willing to participate. Didn’t meet the minimum response rate. We expect them to try again and be included next year. Definitely still a top 80 school.

  • A. Murray

    Same as other questions….What happened to University of Missouri and University of Tennessee from last year’s rankings? Not enough response, or something else?

    • Nathan Allen

      Yep. Not enough response. Both schools submitted school survey data, which is updated in their school profiles. Just not enough response. Both indicated they will try again next year.

  • Red Layug

    I’m confused how the admissions criterion was computed and given weight on this ranking. For example, Cornell’s admission rate is a measly less than 3% — that’s substantially lower than Wharton’s and Haas’, yet it only ranked number 3 for admissions. It doesn’t make any sense.

    • Nathan Allen

      Here’s a breakdown of how we do it. Each category (admissions, alumni survey, employment) have 100 available index points. Within each category, we assign weights to different datapoints. As you can see in the chart on acceptance rates carry a 30% average. We assign a calculation that gives descending points based on the difference between the data points. For example, out of 30 points available for acceptance rates, Cornell earns the 30. Wharton received 28.62 and Haas got 28.11.

      Then you jump over to average SATs where 35 points were available. WashU scored 35 with the highest SAT, Wharton received 34.11, and Haas with 30.1, and Cornell with 30.01. Finally, top 10% of high school class, which again had 35 maximum points available. Haas and Cornell earned around 21 and 26, respectively, while Wharton earned about 34.

      The short way of saying all of this is the differences between acceptance rates weren’t as great as the differences between average SATs and high school class rank, so Cornell didn’t get as big of a gap on acceptance rate as Wharton did on average SAT and high school rank.

  • Red Layug

    % In Top 10% of High School Class (35%). University of California-Berkeley (Haas) – 60.87% ???

    Really? I think this figure needs to be double checked. The UC’s admit only the 10% of their graduating high school class, and UC Berkeley reported 98% of their students were in the top 10% of their HS. I think it’s safe to say that the missing 2% were due to athletes, not those students heading to Haas, which is an oversubscribed program.

    • Nathan Allen

      We question that as well. It comes from the alumni survey data (alums of the Class of 2015 are asked if they finished in the top 10% of high school class). But, you have to remember that around one-third of the Haas class each year comes from outside UC-Berkeley (transferring in from mainly two-year junior colleges in California). They are not required to report SAT scores or many other high school stats. So while UC-Berkeley could be enrolling 98% freshmen in the top 10% (we question that as well), that’s not the exact population actually enrolling in and graduating from Haas.

  • Wait, who me?

    Kudos to us at Providence. We never get our respect. But when you only have 4,000 students you can see why.

  • Enrique Seir

    When you have so many historical well known and ranked business schools missing from this list is hard to read too much into these rankings. I can name so many schools that are missing from this list. Whether some information is missing or not, I think it is unfair to not even mention Boston College, USC, Ohio State, Mizzou, UF, etc In addition you have schools such as last year’s darling (Minnesota) falling to 22… As much as i hate the US News rankings, they tend to be more consistent from year to year. Hard to believe business schools would fluctuate so much in such a short period of time. Going forward you should probably mention schools that would have made the list but not enough data to provided in order to be ranked.

    • Nathan Allen

      Hi Enrique,

      Let me clear up a few things. First, this list is nothing like U.S. News. The U.S. News sends surveys to senior faculty and administrators at schools and asks them to rank other schools on a one-to-five scale. It’s consistent because most admins aren’t going to suddenly rank a school at a three when they’ve been giving it a five year after year, and vice versa.

      Ours takes yearly data that usually changes year after year and so it will fluctuate. It’s important to look beyond the actual ranking and into how schools perform in each category.

      As for schools left of this year’s ranking, we built their school profiles, which you can find on the site, but I get your point about mentioning schools that fell off the list.


      • Enrique Seir

        Gotcha!!! Being that this is fairly new way of qualifying Business schools it would be a good idea to include those that would probably be on the list but for whatever reason they are not longer on it.

        Keep in mind that a lot students and parents alike put a lot of weight on these rankings. Obviously, it should not be the deciding factor, but you can understand how powerful rankings can be…

        • Nathan Allen

          Understood. While we believe this list does the best job at portraying which schools are doing the best at this point in time, this is very much just a starting point for students and their parents. All of the data should be carefully examined in the other articles and then schools should be visited and alumni should be spoken with. And, just because a school finishes 82nd, it is still an incredibly elite school. These are the best of the very best.