Wharton Again Tops U.S. News Ranking Of Best Undergrad Business Programs

The Wharton School takes first place yet again in U.S. News‘ 2021 ranking of the best undergraduate business programs

It’s that time of the year again when U.S. News & World Report unveils its latest college and university rankings. Always controversial and much discussed, the 2020 ranking (which U.S. News brands as its 2021 list to keep it less perishable) is full of surprises. But who won top honors today (Sept. 14th) was no surprise at all.

Among the best undergraduate business schools, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School retains its number one ranking over every other institution. Wharton earned top honors by earning a 4.8 peer score on a five-point scale in U.S. News surveys. That’s exactly the same score it obtained last year. Right behind Wharton was MIT’s Sloan School of Management, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, New York University’s Stern School of Business, and the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business–exactly the same lineup of top five schools as last year.

So where are those surprises? Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School made the biggest advance among the top 25 programs, moving up seven places this year to rank 24th from 31 a year ago. Three schools increased their standing by three spots on the list, including Cornell University’s Dyson School which landed in seventh place from 10th last year, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business placed 19th, an improvement from its 22nd rank a year earlier, while the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business also took 19th in a tie, from 22nd last year.


Not every school in the top tier went up, of course. Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business lost two places to rank seventh from fifth last year. And there were many other schools that lost an edge.

Of course, those slight changes can be attributed to little more than the sample of responses from deans and senior faculty to U.S. News’ surveys. The entire ranking is based on nothing more than those views collected in the spring and early summer of 2020. The magazine sent its questionnaires to deans and senior faculty of 511 undergraduate business programs accredited by AACSB International. They were asked to rate the quality of all programs with which they were familiar on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished).

In 2020, U.S. News says that 51.7% of those surveyed responded, a decrease from the 56.2% overall response rate in 2019. That alone could account for changes in rank at some schools. U.S. News uses the two most recent years’ responses to calculate weighted average scores of programs in undergraduate business. For example, a program that received 55% of its total ratings in 2020 and the remaining 45% in 2019 would have 55% of its overall score determined by its 2020 survey results and 45% by its 2019 survey results.


The methodology leaves much to be desired. Unlike Poets&Quants annual undergraduate business ranking, this list does not take into account the quality of a school’s enrolled student base, the academic and extracurricular experience of the students, the quality of the faculty, or the career outcomes of a school’s graduates. U.S. News, in fact, doesn’t even report on the actual acceptance rates for the business programs nor the success of their career management offices in placing students. Instead, the entire ranking relies on the opinions of the deans and senior professors who fill out the survey. Truth be told, many of them have little to no knowledge of what is going on in rival programs and tend to rely on U.S. News‘ previous lists to fill out the survey. That is why so many critics have called the ranking little more than a measure of popularity.

Nonetheless, the U.S. News ranking gets lots of attention and schools that do well on the list certainly gain bragging rights to say they rank highly which can impact application volume and the quality of applicants a school can ultimately attract. All told, the magazine put numerical ranks on 511 different programs, though the list is littered with many annoying ties because the methodology is so mundane that it doesn’t allow U.S. News to smartly differentiate the schools from each other. At the bottom of the list, in fact, the magazine has 31 different undergraduate programs tied with the same rank: 480 to 511. Some 33 schools are tied with a rank of 447.

This year, for the first time, U.S. News included a ranking of business analytics programs in addition to its specialty rankings of 12 other undergraduate business areas from accounting to supply chain management. These specialty rankings have even less credibility than the overall undergrad business ranking because a school need only receive seven nominations in the top 15 to be included. Only five undergraduate business schools made the new analytics list: No. 1 MIT, No. 2 Carnegie Mellon, No. 3 Georgia Tech, No. 4 Wharton and No. 5 the University of Texas at Austin.

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