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What MBA Information Should I Know Before Applying to a Program?

Online MBAs are designed for students who seek convenient access to business education. Whether you do your best analysis at a noisy coffee shop or your best analytical writing in the quiet of your home, your business education is no longer limited to the walls of a classroom. Online MBAs allow busy students to complete their education when and where they choose.

While the quality of online MBA programs raised eyebrows in the past, they have continued to improve. Their attributes have been steadily enhanced over the past few years, as have their reputation. Highly ranked programs now make it convenient for students to complete degrees online at schools such as Indiana University and University of North Carolina. Students who want to obtain an education from elite schools can do so without ever setting foot on campus. As is the case with any growing field, the popularity has also spawned a few fake institutions. This presents a problem to unsuspecting students who sometime fall for shady schools.

“With so many online MBA programs popping up,” says Vicky Phillips, CEO and founder of GetEducated.com, estimates that nearly a million people fall for fake programs every year. “All diploma mills advertise as being accredited, so it’s vital to know if the accrediting organization is legitimate,” says Vicky.

It is more important than ever to be able to separate the best from the rest. Here are some factors to consider when choosing an MBA program.

Reputation: In choosing a business school, it’s necessary to ensure that the school has a strong reputation. The meteoric rise of online programs has encouraged “diploma mills” to spring up all over the web. Prospective MBA students can easily investigate a school’s reputation by running its name through the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited institutions or by looking it up on the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) website. In some instances, schools are accredited by the regional body in their area. OEDB.org also maintains a comprehensive database of online colleges in various categories. Keep in mind that, while accreditation is an indicator of quality, it does not necessarily signify the superiority of brick and mortar programs over online programs. According to BusinessWeek, AACSB accreditation requires a high level of interaction between students and faculty. This puts many online institutions at a disadvantage.

Interaction: Interaction is another important factor to consider when selecting a business program. While it may be impossible to simulate the level of intimacy seen in the classroom, the best online programs design good substitutes in the form of residency sessions and cohort projects. Skepticism persists about the level of interaction (or lack thereof) at online institutions. In reality, technology now makes it easier for students and faculty to communicate electronically. This interaction, no matter how minimal, adds balance to the virtual learning experience. Some MBA programs may require up to two or three short residencies per year. The very best programs offer networking opportunities among business students. An ideal MBA program is found at schools where the adoption of progressive interactive methods is a priority. Read your program requirement thoroughly and plan for this extra expense.

Cost: An online MBA can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000. It’s important for prospective students to understand how to choose a business school that offers the right mix of theoretical coursework and practical knowledge at a reasonable price. While some programs are competitively priced, others are too pricey for working professionals with family and other responsibilities. State institutions are generally less expensive than top-tier private programs. Unfortunately, many of the state schools fly under the radar because they lack the advertising budget of the elite schools. Research your options thoroughly before deciding on a program. Consider the cost of your prospective school and make sure you thoroughly understand the fine print before signing up. Any confusing terms should be addressed with the school prior to enrollment.

Coursework: One of the most important things to consider when choosing an online MBA is the coursework. It’s important to ensure that you can accommodate the coursework and residency sessions on your schedule. In addition, many schools now offer specialized programs. Concentration in areas such as sports and digital marketing help open up employment opportunities for MBA graduates. If this is the route you choose to go, be sure to find out if your school offers specialized degrees. If not, continue to research. There are many viable options for MBA candidates.

While we certainly hope that these tips offer a blueprint on how to choose an MBA program, there is absolutely no substitute for personal judgment. These factors should guide your decision as you comb through your list of options. Research your schools extensively, pay attention to enrollment and graduation rates, and consider the cost of the program before you proceed.