Wharton Finishes First For Fourth Straight Year In Poets&Quants Undergraduate B-School Rankings

Portrait of a smiling university student on graduation day with classmates in the background

What makes for a truly magical college experience?

Some say it’s not unlike a perfect meal. You find the best ingredients, pour passion into the preparation and cooking of them, and then you plate all of your work in a way that makes the dish incredibly inviting.

That formula pretty much sums up what the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School does year after year in its undergraduate business program. It recruits and enrolls the best students on the market, delivers a world-class academic experience that transforms those young minds, and then puts into the market smart, highly desirable graduates that are eagerly scooped up by many of the world’s prestigious employers.


And that is why Wharton has once again topped Poets&Quants’ 2021 ranking of the best undergraduate business experiences for the fourth straight year. Wharton claimed first honors by acing two of those three essential elements of excellence: admission standards and employment outcomes and placing seventh in academic experience. 

Of course, Wharton which annually enrolls just under 400 undergraduates wasn’t the only business school to get the recipe for excellence right. Rounding out the top five are the University of No. 2 Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, No. 3 New York University’s Stern School of Business, No. 4 University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and No. 5 Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Not far behind are UNC at Chapel Hill’s No. 6 Kenan-Flagler Business School, the No. 7 University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, No. 8 Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, No. 9 Cornell University’s Dyson School, and a newcomer to the top ten, Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business.


These ten undergraduate business programs lead an exceptional group of some 93 schools ranked by Poets&Quants this year. All of them are at the leading edge of business education, delivering a learning experience that transforms students’ sense of who they are and what they can do in the world. In fact, the ranked schools in this report reflect the top 12% of the more than 840 business schools accredited by AACSB International, the main accrediting body for business education.

This year, Wharton boasted the stingiest acceptance rate of all ranked schools at 7.6%, making the school’s undergraduate program harder to get into than Harvard Business School’s MBA. Even so, Wharton’s admit rate is a percentage point higher than the 6.7% reported for students entering in 2019. The newest incoming class boasts an average SAT score of 1,504 out of a possible 1,600, putting the class in the top 2% of the world’s test-takers. An impressive 90% of the graduating Class of 2018, moreover, acknowledged that they finished in the top-10% of their high school class, according to our survey of the school’s latest graduates.

While Wharton’s admissions standards are certainly rigorous, the career outcomes reported by the school continue to be incredibly strong despite the coronavirus pandemic. Some 98.0% of the Class of 2020 had business-specific internships before graduation, and 97.9% of 2020 graduates seeking employment secured full-time positions within three months of graduation — a slight uptick from 97.7% reported by the year-earlier class in 2019.

“Our students are loved by recruiters,” says Diana Robertson, a Wharton vice dean who runs the undergraduate program. “They hit the ground running and they have all the technical skills but we are also told that they also have these softer communication skills.” And while some 50% of Wharton undergrads land jobs in finance, a typical graduating class goes into 35 different job functions in 18 industries with eye-popping starting salaries that average more than $86,000 a year.

In fact, average salaries to start hit a new record last year: $86,217, not accounting for the $11,585 average sign-on bonuses received by 82.6% of the graduates. Put it all together and Wharton undergrads, in the middle of a pandemic-caused economic collapse, walked off with total compensation of $95,786 to begin their new jobs. No wonder so many parents are nudging their children to major in business.


The graduates of many other business schools are doing just fine, too, thank you. Consider Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce which moved into second place, ahead of last year’s number two school, Michigan Ross. One of the few remaining two-year programs, McIntire has placed either second or third for the past four years. McIntire was the only other winner of an individual category, taking first in academic experience, which is based solely on our student satisfaction survey of recent alumni. The school placed highly in our other two core metrics, earning third in admissions standards and sixth in employment outcomes. With an admit rate of just 13.4%, McIntire students overcame some of the toughest admissions standards in the world. Those entering the school last fall had an average SAT of 1,429. Of those seeking employment, 92.5% of the Class of 2020 secured full-time positions within three months of graduating. Those graduates reported record-setting average starting salaries of $81,930, second only to Wharton.

Ranking third this year, NYU Stern has consistently moved up our rankings over the past few years, placing sixth in 2019 and fourth last year. NYU finished eighth in admissions standards, fifth in academic experience, and third in employment outcomes. Like other schools towards the top of this year’s rankings, Stern had tough admissions standards, admitting just 12.7% of applicants. Students in the latest fall cohort posted the second-highest average SAT scores at 1,507. Of course, the school also boasted some frothy career outcomes with 96.3% of the Class of 2020 having at least one business-specific internship before graduation and 95.2% with full-time employment within three months of commencement. Average starting salaries hit $80,064, making Stern grads one of just four schools to report annual paychecks of at least $80,000 along with Wharton, Virginia McIntire, and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.


Michigan’s Ross School of Business slipped two spots to finish fourth this year, a position it claimed in 2019. Ross maintained its highly selective admissions standards and a stellar record in career outcomes, placing fourth in both of those categories, but fell to 14th in academic experience. Following Ross is Georgetown’s McDonough School which is in fifth place for the second straight year. For the first time, all top five schools remained in the top five for two consecutive years, even if the second, third, and fourth schools were jumbled a bit compared to last year.

The only school to slip out of the top ten this year is Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis. Olin, whose superb undergraduate program landed it at the top of our debut ranking, is the only other school other than Wharton to place first. But in the past few years, the school has slid from third in 2019 to seventh last year to 12th this year. While WashU remained in the top-10 in both admissions standards and employment outcomes, it plunged to 52nd place in academic experience this year.

The Top 10 newcomer, Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business has been slowly climbing the rankings, moving from 18th in 2019 to 14th last year and finally to 10th for 2021. Georgia Tech made up most of that ground by getting higher and higher accolades from its students. Scheller placed 12th in admit standards,  16th in career outcomes but earned the fourth-highest scores from recent graduates for the quality of its academic experience. That was enough to lift the school into the Top 10 for the first time ever in our ranking.

Two other schools also moved steadily up the ranks: UNC’s Kenan-Flagler and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School. Kenan-Flagler has risen from 14th in 2019 to ninth last year and sixth for 2021. The school’s best finish ever was buoyed by placing fifth in the academics. Carnegie Mellon, meantime, has gone from 22nd to 10th to eighth this year. And while Kenan-Flagler was anchored by a strong showing in academics, Tepper came in second in admissions standards and seventh in employment outcomes.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.