The Best Undergraduate Business Program for 2020

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School was named as the school with the best undergraduate business program in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 best undergraduate business program rankings. The Wharton School was the nation's first collegiate business school and was founded in 1881 and currently has 2,500 undergraduate students.

Fast Fact

Business school rankings remain fairly consistent over the years with the same schools appearing at the top year after year.

The other schools ranked in the top five this year were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in second, the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business that tied third with the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business that tied fifth with New York University's Stern School of Business.

If the list seems familiar, it may be because the five highest-listed schools were also in 2019's list of best undergraduate business programs, which shows a
remarkable consistency among business programs.

Ranking Methodology at Issue

Unlike the publication’s overall best college rankings, which takes into account an assortment of factors, including graduation rates, faculty resources, student test scores, and alumni giving, its undergrad business ratings are “based solely on surveys of business school deans and senior faculty,” according to U.S. News. Survey respondents were asked to rank programs they were familiar with on a scale of one to five.

The overall U.S. News rankings also have an expert opinion component that draws on college presidents, provosts, and admissions deans as well as high school counselors. This subjective element of the U.S. News rankings has been a source of considerable criticism over the years. 

To cite one example, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argues in his book published in 2015, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, that “most of these people, when surveyed, aren’t likely to be weighing in with deep and continuously updated knowledge of the entire higher-education landscape. They haven’t been in the classrooms of the colleges they’re grading. They’ve met only a few, if any, of most colleges’ current students and recent graduates.” What’s more, Bruni continues, “Those who dutifully check the boxes and size up their peer institutions are often going by reputation. And because one of the principal engines of reputation is, well, the U.S. News rankings, there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy at work. Schools are rated highly because they’ve been rated highly before.” 

U.S. News, on the other hand, maintains that “Academic reputation matters because it factors things that cannot easily be captured elsewhere. For example, an institution known for having innovative approaches to teaching may perform especially well on this indicator, whereas a school struggling to keep its accreditation will likely perform poorly."

Specialty Areas Also Ranked

Using the same methodology, U.S. News also asked the business school deans and faculty members it surveyed to list the 10 best undergraduate business programs in a number of specialty areas. The top five schools also appeared on many of those lists, but some other schools rated highly also.

Babson College, for example, ranked number one for entrepreneurship, the University of South Carolina was first for international business, and Michigan State University was top for supply chain management and logistics. Other specialty areas covered include accounting (the University of Texas at Austin ranked number one), finance (the University of Pennsylvania was first), management (University of Michigan - Ann Arbor took the top spot), and management information systems (Carnegie Mellon was in the lead). 

How Do the Universities as a Whole Rate Nationally?

All five of the universities with top undergraduate business schools in the estimation of U.S. News also fared well in the overall rankings of best national universities. MIT tied for third place, the University of Pennsylvania tied for sixth, UC Berkeley tied for 22nd, the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor and Carnegie Mellon tied for 25th, and NYU tied for 29th. The national universities category encompasses 399 public, private, and for-profit colleges.

The top five national universities overall were Princeton (first), Harvard (second) and Columbia, MIT, and Yale (all tied for third). (For related reading, see: The Value of an Ivy League Education).

Other Lists to Consult

U.S. News is the best known and most influential of the college raters. However, if you are shopping for a strong undergraduate business program or want to see how your own school rates, it’s worth checking out these other lists too:

The undergraduate U.S. News business program rankings have been criticized for their subjective nature. They are based on surveys of business school deans, senior faculty, and expert opinion, all of which could be biased.

The Bottom Line

If you are seeking a top-notch undergraduate business program, U.S. News & World Report’s prestigious rankings are worth taking a look at. The publication increases its utility by ranking schools in specialty areas, not just business in general, and it’s reassuring to know that the schools in the top business program list also do well on the list of best universities overall.

Nevertheless, students without the grades, scores, luck, or family connections to gain acceptance to a top school should know that there are other options of excellent schools to consider as you choose one that is right for you.