An MBA can offer many advantages, including a boost in salary, skill enhancement, networking opportunities, and career advancement potential. Promotion into senior management roles, especially in fields like investment banking, often requires an MBA. However, ambitious students often face hurdles with traditional campus-based MBA programs. Balancing work and personal life may not mesh with an on-campus schedule or the commute time required for in-person class attendance. Furthermore, full-time and on-campus programs typically take two years to complete.
If work and other responsibilities prevent you from attending a traditional on-campus program, an online MBA may be the way to go. Some schools offer accelerated programs and coursework waivers to experienced professionals, providing opportunities to complete the degree in as little as one year. Our ranking of the top online MBA programs can help you explore your options.
What Is an Online MBA?
Both respected and internationally recognized, online MBA programs focus on developing the knowledge and skills necessary for careers in business. MBA students study big-picture thinking, core aspects of business management, and strategic decision making.
Core coursework for an MBA includes accounting, finance, marketing, management, economics, and business law. Specializations may include business analytics, international business, entrepreneurship, management information systems, and real estate. Students typically acquire 2-5 years of work experience before entering an MBA program, with graduates commonly working in areas like consulting, operations, marketing, and finance.
Online MBA programs often present a more cost-effective alternative to on-campus programs, even when tuition rates are identical.
An online MBA offers the same rigorous curriculum as its on-campus counterpart; instructors simply tailor coursework to online platforms. Technology permits location-independent study, opening a variety of attractive educational options for prospective students. A distance-based MBA offers an opportunity to attend out-of-state schools without the expense and hassle of relocation, and it permits you to have more control over your pace of study.
Considering the potential savings on costs -- such as relocation, childcare, and transportation -- online MBA programs often present a more cost-effective alternative to on-campus programs, even when tuition rates are identical. Some schools also offer a hybrid MBA option, blending online study periods with classes or short intensives requiring in-person attendance. Duke University offers a popular example. Its global executive MBA program combines immersive 1-2-week residencies in selected cities with distance learning.
Online MBA Delivery
Schools conduct coursework for online MBA programs through a learning management system (LMS) -- a software platform like Blackboard or Moodle -- where instructors administer course sites and post material that enrolled students can access. The LMS framework integrates tools and cloud-based services, such as lecture capture, text chat windows, streaming video, audio discussion forums, web conferencing, and interactive video. Students often access textbooks in electronic form through an LMS, with options to listen to voice recordings of the textbook material.
Instructors handle assignments through an LMS, and students submit completed work within the platform, minimizing reliance on email. This may involve submitting recorded presentations or delivering them live through a webcam. Instructors can enable class conversations and allow comments for specific assignments, allowing relevant discussions to be easily located for reference.
While you may view asynchronous lectures anytime, interactive classroom sessions -- also known as synchronous sessions -- require real-time attendance and interaction between students and instructors. Synchronous meeting participants receive a URL and connect through their LMS to join the meeting, and they may raise a virtual hand to ask a question anytime.
Students may take tests at testing centers or through virtual testing services. Special fees may apply for proctoring services. Instructors may also elect to grade tests and assignments automatically or manually. Some instructors prioritize asynchronous communication to accommodate students in different time zones or divide group assignments into chunks, enabling individualized completion.
How Does a Cohort Work in an Online MBA Program?
A cohort model consists of students who progress through the same MBA program and curriculum together in a shared learning process and graduate as a group. Students are grouped according to similar career goals and aptitudes. Cohorts help establish career-building networks of connections that can help you succeed after graduation.
Benefits of cohort learning include increased teamwork, sharing of resources, an emphasis on collaboration over competition, and an ongoing sense of community support. Without a cohort, you select courses independently of other students and may encounter a different group of students in each class. Online MBA programs may facilitate cohorts throughout the full course of study by establishing diversity of gender, background, nationality, and work experience. Schools may also enlist second-year cohort students to provide peer assessments and coaching support to first-year learners. Some schools even offer short on-campus residencies for cohort team building.
On average, an online MBA degree involves two years of study and 30-55 credits. Some programs may allow up to six years for degree completion. Accelerated intensive programs at some schools permit eligible students with business backgrounds to bypass foundation courses and complete their MBA online in just over a year of full-time study. Cohort learning programs in accelerated formats can also shorten the time to graduation.
Some programs require internships, which can unnecessarily extend the time of completion for a professional who already holds ample experience. Depending on your course load, you may find a route to graduate ahead of schedule by completing more credits each term. A typical course load for an online MBA is one three-credit core course at a time over a five-week period, but some programs offer opportunities to complete six or more credits per term.
How Much Do Online MBA Programs Cost?
While tuition rates for online and on-campus MBA programs at a given school are often the same, online programs can offer other cost-saving benefits, including fewer fees, lower transportation costs, and the opportunity to pay in-state tuition regardless of geographic location. State-subsidized public schools usually cost less than private ones, though private schools often offer more financial aid packages. Students should research all of their online options to identify affordable school choices that work for them.
The prestige of a school can also affect the cost of your degree. MBAs from Ivy League schools generally come with hefty price tags. The table below shows the wide range of tuition costs for schools in our online MBA database.
Tuition Breakdown for All Schools in Our Database
Benefits of Pursuing an Online MBA
With increased flexibility and access to many resources, students in online MBA programs enjoy a host of benefits, both during their studies and after graduation. This makes online programs much more attractive than traditional on-campus programs to many students. The following list details some widely recognized benefits of pursuing an online MBA.
The ability to access online lectures and other study materials anywhere can make an enormous difference to your success. You can choose the best study locations to suit your learning style, and you can carry on with your MBA studies through job transfers, relocation, travel, or other life changes without missing deadlines.
Flexibility means you can work your studies around your existing schedule, rather than the other way around. If you are a quick study, for example, you can leverage this advantage to complete your online MBA degree soorer. Alternatively, some schools give students up to five or six years to complete their degree.
Interested in a school that intersperses international residencies with longer periods of online study? Looking for a dual-degree option or a rare specialization? No longer are you limited by your state of residence. By pursuing an online MBA, you can choose a program without regard to geographic limitations.
By design, online MBA programs -- especially those focused on globalization and international business -- offer a multitude of opportunities to network with fellow students around the world. If you thrive in a diverse environment but reside in a location without much diversity, studying online can be a huge benefit.
Online programs offer easy access to syllabi, reading lists, textbooks, assignments, and announcements in digital format, freeing you from worry about misplaced, lost, or forgotten study materials. Many students also find that online formats offer opportunities for class discussions with fewer interruptions, increasing the likelihood that all students may be heard.
From career services to corporate recruiter networks, many on-campus resources are available to online students as readily as they are to on-campus students. Whether you need advice from the writing center, technical support, or a copy of your transcript from the registrar, you can expect your online program to provide equal access.
Is an Online MBA Easy?
There is no such thing as an "easy" online MBA. Whether you participate by walking into a classroom or by logging into your computer, the rigorous coursework and high expectations remain the same. Many top business institutions now offer their MBA programs to distance learners across the U.S., but a prestigious graduate school does not hand out diplomas for half-hearted work. Prospective online students must prepare to commit the same amount of time and effort to their studies as those who learn on campus.
That said, several factors can make the overall MBA process easier for those who choose to study online. Flexibility, pacing, and cost all play major roles in the growing popularity of online learning. However, what seems like the easiest online MBA for one student might not feel that way to another. Research program options according to your own needs.
What Can I Do to Make My Online MBA Program Easier for Myself?
The best way to make an online MBA easier for yourself is to ensure you enter the program with realistic expectations. Understand in advance how much effort you need to commit in order to do well. Review the program's technology requirements and ensure continual access to an adequate computer. For best results, do not plan to squeeze lectures and required reading in when you "find time." Develop a dedicated study schedule and stick to it, maintaining careful organization of an annotated calendar as you go along. Finally, ask for help when you need it. Do not wait until you fall behind or fail an exam to reach out.
Are Online MBA Programs Respected?
Resistance to online learning lingers in some circles. However, many signs indicate growth in mainstream acceptance of online education, such as the fact that enrollment in online MBA degree programs has increased. The Graduate Management Admission Council reports, "for the second year in a row, a majority of online MBA programs (57%) report increases in their application volumes ... [up from] 51% of programs that reported growth [in 2015]." Similarly, The Economist reports increases in application volumes, with one school's application intake for its online MBA program quadrupling since its inception in 2015.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business remains the gold standard for the accreditation of business programs, with strict requirements applicable to all business programs that receive its stamp of approval. Online programs boast the same curriculum caliber, rigorous admissions process, and distinguished faculty students expect in on-campus MBA programs. As online degrees continue to proliferate and public perception continues to shift, you can expect lingering resistance to dissipate.
Traits of Successful Online MBA Students
Self-discipline is perhaps the most essential trait of successful online MBA students. MBA programs require both initiative and follow through. For example, your cohort may rely on you to keep current with reading, assignments, and schedules.
- Time Management:
Online MBA students need advanced time management skills to ensure they meet deadlines. Make sure you can work your studies into your busy schedule of personal or professional obligations.
- People Skills and Networking:
Without the convenience of a classroom space, students typically find that it is even more critical to cultivate strong networking skills for success. Successful online MBA students take a proactive approach to developing positive peer relationships and effective communication with instructors and fellow students.
A standout trait of entrepreneurs and MBA students is perseverance. One exceptionally difficult class may be a struggle, but motivated students know that it need not derail them from their educational goals. Successful students keep going, even in the face of obstacles and discouragement.
Whether juggling a hectic schedule or working through an exam question, problem-solving abilities will serve you well.
In-depth Interview with an MBA Graduate
MBA, George Washington University, 2017linkedin.com/in/lyndatcorrea
I'm Lynda, and I graduated with an MBA from George Washington University in May 2017. Immediately before the MBA, I was working as an operations manager for a startup bilingual public charter school in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, I worked as an assistant store manager for a $65M Target store in Los Angeles. I am now the founder of a startup that I founded while in grad school: Pocket Palette, a single-use, full-face makeup kit.
- What made you consider an MBA?
- I've always known that entrepreneurship was going to be a long-term goal of mine, but I wanted to get more marketing experience before I started, so I entered the full-time MBA program with the intention of becoming a brand manager for a consumer goods company. An MBA seemed like the perfect, well-rounded degree that would teach me everything about running a company.
- What was your application process like? What was the most challenging or unexpected thing about applying to an MBA program?
- The most unexpected and challenging part about the application process was not knowing how introspective I had to be. It felt as though I wasn't picking a degree but a set of ideals I wanted to align myself with for the rest of my life; I was not prepared for that.
- How was your overall experience in your program? What was your favorite thing? The most challenging?
- Overall, I loved my program because of its global perspective. The full-time MBA program is called Global MBA -- GMBA for short. I learned as much from my international classmates as I did reading about things in cases. I loved having the opportunity to work on consulting projects with international clients and then being able to travel to meet them. The hardest part was definitely the first semester, when classes are loaded with quant-heavy topics and you're balancing that with learning how to become a student again after much time off.
- How was your experience towards the end of your program? Did you have to complete a capstone project? If so, was this difficult? Do you feel like it added to your overall experience? Did your school help with internships and job placement?
- I like to say that I had two "capstone" projects. The first one was mandatory, to be completed after your first year. It was called the Consulting Abroad Program, where you're placed into teams and need to work on a live problem with an international client. I consulted for a pair of angel investors in Cape Town, South Africa, and it was the experience of a lifetime. It also triggered my second, unofficial "capstone," which is what I call the starting of my entrepreneurship venture. I entered the New Venture Competition at my school and worked furiously on my startup, which is what led to me working full time on it after graduation. School did help with internships and job placements, but everyone had a different experience. My career coach helped me prepare for a career fair, and I landed an internship that way. But when it came to full-time work, I told her early on that I was pursuing entrepreneurship, so she hung back.
- How has life been after graduation as an MBA? Do you feel your MBA has added to your job prospects?
- The biggest reason I decided to work on my startup right away is because I know that I can rely on my MBA if things don't work out. So many roles are asking for MBA students with an entrepreneurial spirit; I don't know how else I can prove to them that I'm like that other than with this experience.
Is an Online MBA Worth It?
Whether seeking a midcareer salary boost, a larger professional network, or a job promotion, you may still be wondering if an online MBA is right for you. The attractive benefits offered through online MBA programs include diverse networking opportunities, an expanded choice of schools, and the flexibility to customize your academic schedule around other responsibilities.
Matching your needs and skills to the right program is key for success. An online MBA can expand your options, position you for career advancement, develop a global business perspective, and improve credibility with business peers; all of these factors make an MBA one of the most valuable degrees for career advancement. An online MBA program offers the chance to earn a respected credential that distinguishes self-driven business professionals, without uprooting your life or putting your career on hold.