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What to Expect in Your Online MBA Program

Online MBA programs vary greatly in quality, types of courses offered, content delivery methods, focus, available concentrations and target audience, so it’s important to do careful research to determine which program best meets your needs and career goals. However, there are a few characteristics that most online MBA programs share that can give you a better idea of what to expect when you enroll.

The Length of Your Program

Most online MBA programs require a minimum of 18 months to two years of full-time study to complete. Full-time students are typically enrolled in three to four courses per semester. To do well in their classes, students are often urged to spend about 20 hours per week on program course work outside of online lectures. Those 20 hours are typically spent studying, completing assignments, participating in team meetings, reading textbooks or preparing for presentations. Although the number of hours you spend on class outside of lectures will fluctuate from week to week, it will always represent a serious time commitment, which is why online students must possess excellent time management skills and self-discipline. Those who juggle a 40-hour workweek while going to school will appreciate the flexibility of online courses, often opting to earn their MBA part time to meet all their obligations.

Accessing Your Classes

The vast majority of the courses offered in online MBA programs are asynchronous. That means students have access to their professors’ lectures 24/7 and are not required to log in at a specific time of day. It also means students often have the opportunity to fast-forward or rewind video or audio files of lectures, which is helpful for taking notes or understanding material. Depending on your professor, you may participate in some Web conferencing related to your course work that requires you to be online at a certain time, but that is the exception, not the rule. Another occasion where you might have to be online at a certain time is to Web conference or chat with classmates for group projects. The benefit of asynchronous online lectures is that you can access them at a time of day that works best with your schedule. You can log in after work, early in the morning or at midnight. This flexibility is great for working adults with families and other responsibilities who can’t commit to a campus-based program and prefer a more self-paced one.

When you log in to your course management system, you will see listed all the classes you are currently taking. Click to access each course’s syllabus, lectures for the week, assignments, links to study guides and study material and updates from the professor. Included in most classes are online discussion boards where students talk about the material as the professor guides the instruction. When students complete an assignment, they may email the file directly to their professor or upload it to a drop box embedded in the course management system.

Completing Examinations and Group Assignments

Exams are also typically posted to the course site. These tests may be timed or proctored via webcam. Timed online exams may be delivered through a system that does not permit students to leave the testing screen to potentially surf the Web for answers. Some professors do require an online MBA student’s presence on campus for proctored exams, but a stipulation like this will be made clear in the syllabus. Often alternative arrangements can be made for those who cannot make campus visits. Just like traditional MBA programs, online ones ask students to demonstrate their knowledge of the material through essays, research papers and individual and group projects. Group projects are challenging, as members may never meet one another in person and must learn how to communicate and divvy up the work. This helps prepare students for the real world, when effective business leaders must find ways of working as a team even when fellow members are spread out in different cities or countries.

Connecting With Instructors and Classmates

Even though MBA students may never meet their professors or classmates, they don’t miss out on interaction with them. Professors and students communicate via instant message, email, phone, Web conferencing and online discussion boards. Such discussion boards are the primary way an online professor assesses a student’s class participation. Instead of being put on the spot in a traditional MBA course, online students have time to think through their answers. Many professors who teach online classes set up virtual office hours, during which a student can call or instant message to talk in real time.

… And Everything Else

The textbooks and supplies for online classes are selected by the professor, and might include traditional textbooks, e-textbooks, CD-ROMs, workbooks and other supplementary materials. Everything you will need will be included in your syllabus and course description.

The specific classes vary from program to program, but overall you can expect to take courses focusing on finance, accounting, management, marketing, organizational leadership, global or international business, and technology. Depending on your concentration, you may take a suite of courses in a particular area. For instance, if you are specializing in human resources management, you will take a series of three to five classes on that topic. Entrepreneurship is a crucial component of many programs.