2021 P&Q Rankings: How We Crunched The Numbers

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There’s no way around it. Rankings can be a controversial thing. And to be sure, there’s no perfect way of measuring the quality of a business school. Business schools are very complicated. While many share some commonalities, the truth is, many of the schools ranked in our fifth annual Poets&Quants’ Best Undergraduate Business Schools are very different.

Still, we believe generally, the quality of business education comes down to three core issues: the quality of the raw talent coming through the door, what a school does with that talent over four years, and finally how the marketplace responds to the graduates coming off-campus. In other words, what’s the quality of the incoming students, what is their view of the academic experience, and what career outcomes are achieved by the graduating class.

And that is exactly the approach we take in what we sincerely believe is the best ranking of undergraduate programs currently available. This year, we ranked 93 different business schools in the U.S., which is down from 97 schools ranked last year. But it’s still our second-largest ranking in the five-year history of the rankings.

In the world of undergraduate business education, there is only one other ranking that matters: U.S. News & World Report. The U.S. News list, however, is merely a subset of data from its overall university rankings. Largely a popularity contest, it is solely based on a poll of deans and senior faculty members, most of whom have little to no knowledge of the programs at rival schools. Asking deans to rate other schools is less a measure of a school’s reputation than it is a collection of prejudices partly based on the self-fulfilling prophecy of U.S. News’ own rankings.


Like other years, in creating our 2021 ranking of undergraduate business schools, we invested considerable time and effort into putting together a well-balanced approach that was both fair and thorough. We equally weigh admission standards, the full academic experience, and employment outcomes from data that is specific to each business program — not the overall university to which it is attached. That is an important distinction because gathering such information as average SAT scores and starting salaries and bonuses, among other things, is not readily available anywhere else. Admission standards, an assessment of the academic experience, and employment outcomes of a business program are critical factors of the quality of the educational experience. Excluding any one of them would result in a disingenuous effort to rank the very best schools.

Like last year, we included all schools that submitted school surveys. In previous year’s we’ve not included schools that failed to meet a minimum 10% alumni response rate. Of the 93 schools ranked this year, 84 met the minimum 10% response rate, which is one more than last year and our highest ever. This year, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, we included scores of schools that did not meet the minimum alumni response rate, but cut those schools’ scores in half. As a result, those nine schools finished lower in the rankings.

Overall,  Of the 93 schools, 52,662 alums had the opportunity to provide responses to the survey about the academic and co-curricular experience of their higher education. Of those, 6,183 responded for an overall response rate of 11.74%.


A vital factor in judging any higher education effort is the quality of the incoming students. After all, a tremendous amount of learning — both academic and social — occurs as a result of the quality of your classmates. We agree with that old cliche about playing a sport with people who are equal or better than you. If you play with someone you can always beat, you’ll never reach a level of personal excellence.

We relied on three metrics to measure admissions: The average SAT scores for the latest entering class, given a 35% weight in the admissions category; the percentage of the graduating class of 2018 who finished in the top 10% of their high school class, accounting for another 35% of the category; and finally the acceptance rate for the business school program, weighted at 30%.

In several instances, prospective students must pass two hurdles to get into a business school program: First, the university admissions standards and then the business school’s own admissions criteria. We used both acceptance rates to calculate the actual odds of admission for students entering a two-year business program in their junior year. This data was gathered through a survey that was completed by all 93 schools.


No study of undergraduate business programs would be complete without an assessment of the academic and extracurricular elements of the educational experience. So we sent surveys to alumni of each school to determine how satisfied they were on every level of that experience. When we first designed the ranking’s methodology, deans from various business schools suggested that we choose alumni who had been away from their schools for two years. That would give them ample time to road-test their education, to give an accurate assessment of how well prepared they were for the world of work.

Our survey asked 16 core questions of graduates, each rated on a one-to-ten scale of satisfaction (weighted 80%). For the full list of questions and the graded results, see “Report Card Article.” We also asked alumni whether they had a “significant experience,” defined as a major consulting project, thesis, or other program feature instrumental to their professional development, or a meaningful global immersion (weighted 10%). Lastly, we asked if their first jobs after graduation were in their desired industries and companies (weighted 10%).


Students who go to business school expect to get a job not long after graduating. Summer internships are a key way to open the door to a full-time job opportunity. So our employment outcomes category is based on three metrics: the percentage of the latest graduating class (the Class of 2020) to gain jobs within 90 days of graduating, weighted 50%; the average salary and bonus for the latest graduating class, adjusted by the percentage of graduates awarded a bonus, weighted 30%, and finally, the percentage of the Class of 2020 that had internships before their senior year, weighted at 20%.


The results of all three categories measured were then combined equally to determine an overall ranking. In each category, index scores were created to give credit to one school’s lead over others. We publish the numerical ranking with underlying index scores so that readers can determine how useful an actual ranking could be in relation to the other schools on the list. It’s important to note that there are nearly 700 undergraduate business programs accredited by the AACSB. The business schools singled out in our debut ranking are all extraordinary, each in the top tenth percentile of accredited schools.

Ultimately, this ranking and the mountains of data we are publishing is an effort to more fully inform prospective students and their parents to make the best educational decisions possible.

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