What to Expect in Your Online MBA Program

To get a real-world perspective into the online MBA, we interviewed a current student enrolled in Washington State University’s online MBA program.

Logan Foley

Content Manager at OnlineMBA.com and Online MBA Student
I currently work as a content manager at OnlineMBA.com in Downtown Seattle. I attended Boise State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I am currently a student at Washington State University, where I am earning my MBA with a concentration in marketing online.

Q: What made you decide to pursue an MBA?

A: After earning my bachelor’s degree, I got a job as a marketing coordinator. After about a year away from school, I realized that I wanted to go back and continue my education. I was considering both law school and business school at the time, both offered me a challenging and rewarding career path. After thinking it over, I decided to choose an MBA because it could teach me the skills needed to eventually start my own business. Many professionals earn their MBA after gaining years of experience, but I knew that I didn’t want to wait on pursuing an advanced degree. I spoke to the human resources director at my company, and she walked me through the employee tuition reimbursement program. The program offered employees up to $9,000 a year for continuing education. I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity, so I registered to take the GMAT the next day!

Q: What made you decide to pursue your MBA online at Washington State University?

A: Washington State University has proven itself to be an excellent choice for earning my MBA. I knew that I wanted to continue to work and gain experience, and the online format was the most accessible option that allowed me to continue to work full-time in Seattle. WSU offers rolling admissions, which allowed me to apply and begin whenever it was convenient for me. Their program advisors walked me through every step of the process, made sure I had all my application materials together, and gave me clarity around the enrollment process. The online MBA program offers a variety of different concentrations, allowing me to specialize in marketing. Classes are delivered in 7-week terms and I took no more than two classes at a time, which help me focus my efforts on the topics I was currently studying. WSU’s MBA brings in people from all around the world, and that has allowed me to learn from a diverse group of peers, with many different backgrounds and careers.

Q: How is your program structured?

A: WSU’s online MBA is structured in 7 week increments, with students taking one or two classes at a time and graduating in two years. The program is offered asynchronously, meaning that students can complete coursework at their own pace while following set due dates for assignments. Even though there are no long breaks between classes, the fact that I could complete a part-time MBA in two years was a huge draw for me.

Q: How are classes structured in your program?

A: In the beginning of each class, the instructor introduces the class by providing the syllabus and a full course schedule. This allows students to get a full picture of everything that will be required of them and to plan ahead. WSU uses Blackboard, and lectures are delivered through Blackboard Collaborate, which allows students to interact directly with professors and peers in real time. All lectures are recorded so students can access them at any time. All homework and assignments are submitted through Blackboard as well. As for proctored exams, the school offers testing services that are administered through student’s laptop webcams and tests are proctored virtually.

Q: How much time per week are you spending on coursework outside of class?

A: I spend about 10 hours per class, per week actively engaged in my MBA program. Whether that’s reading textbooks or case studies, watching and participating in lectures, or completing assignments. Any online program requires dedication and a disciplined schedule, so I build homework time directly into my schedule so I can hold myself accountable. After finishing my work day, I find it beneficial to do school work at my desk, as it allows me to have a space for school work that was separate from where I relax at home. This allows me to stay focused and engaged in what I am doing without the distractions that being at home brings.

Q: How does coursework look in your online program?

A: Homework can come in different forms and may include quizzes, essays, case studies, or graded activities. We usually submit essays and case studies, anywhere from one and 40 pages in length. In most classes, there is a deliverable due at the end of each week with a final project or exam due at the end of the seven-week period. Nearly all of my online classes require students to participate in discussion board activities. The instructor typically poses a question or assigns a reading, and students are required to post their thoughts to a public discussion forum on Blackboard. Students then respond and elaborate on each other’s posts. These activities allow us to apply what we’re learning and interact with our peers.

Q: Does your program have a Capstone?

A: Yes. The Capstone course in WSU’s MBA program lasts three semesters. The final deliverable is a full written business plan and presentation to WSU’s faculty committee. The first stage of the capstone class is creating a feasibility analysis for the company you will be presenting. The second stage is creating a full business plan, with checks along the way to ensure you are on the right track. The last capstone class consists of fine-tuning your business plan and preparing your oral presentation.

Q: Are there any on campus requirements in your online program?

A: My program doesn’t have any on-campus requirements, but encourages students to attend different events, lectures, and conferences on-campus in Pullman and other cities across Washington. They also invite all online students to walk in graduation, so when I attend the ceremony in May, it will be my first time to campus!

Q: How did you finance your MBA and was cost a factor?

A: Cost was definitely a factor when I was choosing my MBA, but I tried to make sure my decision wasn’t solely based on cost. While I needed to be sure I could afford the program, I also knew that I would take out loans to cover what I couldn’t pay out of pocket. I took advantage of my employer’s tuition reimbursement program, which was a huge help in covering the costs of tuition. My parents agreed to purchase all of my textbooks, which was a huge help when trying to afford the more day-to-day expenses of the program. I also took a small unsubsidized loan to help with tuition costs, which I hope to have paid off in the next three years.

Q: How do you interact with classmates & professors?

A: Blackboard Collaborate allows students to interact in real-time with their peers and teachers. This service allows students to ask questions during lectures, either in the message board or with their microphone and webcam. Anyone can answer these questions, allowing for open communication and discussion. There are also forums and discussion boards within Blackboard where students can ask questions and request feedback. Email is another great form of communication between peers and instructors, though it may not be the quickest.

Q: What do group projects look like in your MBA program?

A: Nearly every class in my MBA program requires at least one group component. Sometimes this is full group projects, and sometimes they are smaller, less-involved assignments. Most of the time, groups are assigned by the professor when you first sign up for the class. For my capstone class, we were tasked with forming our own groups. This was quite difficult, as there was no time I could meet with everyone to figure out if our skills matched. I surveyed the discussion board and emailed the most active and timely people, and we ended up forming our capstone group. Group projects in an online program are more difficult, as you have to work harder to stay on top of communication and due dates. I did experience some freeloaders who didn’t carry their weight within the group. In these cases, I reached out and tried to suggest components they could do, with mixed success. Unfortunately, this is something we will all experience in our careers, so it was good practice at dealing with that awkward and difficult situation.

Q: Which university resources do you use?

A: The university resources I used the most throughout my program were the student services advisors who helped me along the way. They reached out before every class to ensure I had registered correctly and to see if I had any questions. They emailed us the list of required textbooks for each class, and called before each semester to answer our questions. This level of personalized service made me feel like a priority and that I was supported in my MBA journey. While I am happy in my current role, I plan on taking advantage of the career center in the future.

Q: Were you prepared for the course load of your program?

A: My undergraduate degree from Boise State University prepared me for the rigor of an MBA program. In my undergrad, I took a few online and hybrid courses, so I was familiar with the layout and time commitment required. Since I entered a graduate program so soon after graduating with my bachelor’s degree I was still familiar with what was needed to succeed. However, it may be difficult for professionals who have been out of school longer than I was to get back into the swing of things. Online programs require more dedication and self-motivation to be successful, which was the only skill I really had to work at that didn’t come naturally to me in undergrad.

Q: Describe the curriculum and concentration you chose.

A: I chose a marketing concentration, which meant that I took many marketing research and product planning courses as electives. These courses prepared me to lead marketing projects, strategy, and new product development. The marketing theories I studied have provided with a clear understanding of the principles behind the marketing decisions I make everyday in my career. The other classes I took as part of the core curriculum cover topics like accounting, statistics, management, strategy, and leadership. These classes taught me how to be an effective manager, even if I’m managing someone who works in IT or finance. These classes emphasizes the managerial side of these topics without getting too granular. They also taught me what I needed to know to make effective strategic decisions while relying on employees who are the experts in their respective fields.

Q: What advice can you offer prospective MBA students?

A: Choosing an MBA program is a personal choice, and there are many different aspects to weigh when deciding. Of course cost is a factor, but it should not be the only deciding factor. There are always financial aid options like loans and scholarships that can help you afford a more expensive school if it is truly the right fit for you.

The biggest piece of advice I can give for success in any online program is to make a schedule and stick to it. While online courses offer great flexibility, this also means it is fairly easy to fall behind if you are not on top of your readings and assignments. Find a space where you can be productive without the distractions of everyday life, whether that’s your office, public library, or a reserved corner of your house. Online classes rely heavily on self-teaching, so textbooks become very important. Read them all! It may seem tedious, but this is how I truly cemented the knowledge into my brain, which helped me to understand it all and put it together for my cumulative Capstone project. As we all know, emergencies happen and if you are ahead of the course schedule, events outside of your control will have less of an effect on you.