Choosing the Best Online MBA Program

Choosing an MBA program can be hard, but there are ways to narrow your search. Learn more about which factors to consider and how to find the right MBA program for you. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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MBA applications increased by 50% at top business schools in 2020. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) 2021 survey, recruiters seek candidates with business-focused skills. Furthermore, 91% of recruiters projected hiring MBA graduates in 2021.

An MBA can increase salary potential, advance careers, and build leadership and business skills. With many programs moving online, learners can attend schools across the country on a flexible schedule that accommodates their careers.

This guide helps answer the question, "What MBA program is right for me?" by exploring some essential factors to consider when choosing an MBA program.

Are You Ready to Pursue an MBA?

Many students worry about choosing the right MBA program, but the first question to consider is whether you are ready to pursue the degree. MBA programs are intensive but rewarding. Many programs also require students to have previous business experience before applying.An MBA is a big commitment. The questions below can help you decide whether an MBA program is right for you.

Does an MBA align with my goals?

MBA degrees can help propel graduates into upper managerial roles in nearly every industry. If students do not aspire to MBA careers, they may want to rethink whether an MBA is right for them. MBA-holders often work over the standard 40-hour workweek — especially at the start of their careers — so individuals who value a work/life balance may want to consider a less demanding role.

Can I handle graduate-level work?

Typically, graduate courses are more difficult than undergraduate courses. Graduate programs, like MBAs, focus more on the real-life application of theories and principles. Graduate students also tend to write more papers and conduct more research than undergraduate students. Those who succeed in MBA programs are motivated, focused, and determined students with enough time, energy, and resources to commit to the course load.

What is important to me right now?

Before devoting time and investing money in an MBA, prospective students should determine why they are pursuing the degree. Some of the most common motivators include earning more money, credentials, new skills, and preparing for their future careers. Those interested in finding the best MBA programs might consider interviewing people with MBAs about how different priorities can affect their goals.

What experience do I have?

Most MBA programs do not allow degree-seekers to apply directly into the program straight out of college. MBA programs are highly interactive and collaborative, and students need to bring their professional experience into class discussions. Most programs require at least three years of prior work experience.

How long will it take me to see the payoff of my degree?

MBA-holders might see an immediate increase in salary potential and opportunities for advanced positions.

According to the 2021 GMAC survey, MBA graduates can earn a median salary of $115,000. In comparison, bachelor's degree graduates earn a median salary of $65,000. Additionally, recruiters expect to see an increased demand for technology-focused MBA concentrations, like data analytics.

Still, learners should consider how student loan payments, cost of living expenses, and their MBA concentration can impact starting salaries.

What skills am I seeking from this degree?

Recruiters typically look for MBA graduates with interpersonal, leadership, and strategic skills. These in-demand skills ensure that a candidate can effectively communicate and drive change in a company. MBA programs build their curriculum on developing these skills through hands-on application.

MBA-seekers should consider whether an MBA is a right fit for them based on the skills they want to develop. For example, students desiring to learn more theoretical skills might decide on a different master's degree.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 10 years?

MBA programs are a big commitment, financially and otherwise. Before embarking on an MBA program, carefully assess whether the degree will help you meet your goals. Does the future career you envision demand the skills and credentials provided by an MBA?

Online MBA Programs for You

Grow your career, leadership, and business acumen with an accredited online MBA program.

Why You Should Consider an MBA

Each MBA applicant pursues a graduate-level business education for different reasons. While some may be driven by the desire to start or own a business, others may want to work in international business settings or advance their careers.

Regardless, these students may believe earning an MBA will help them achieve their professional goals. Some of the other reasons individuals consider an MBA include:

  • Earning Potential: Annual salaries may depend on your job, location, and alma mater. For example, graduates of institutions such as Stanford University may earn a starting salary of $156,000.
  • Professional Networking: More than 197,000 students graduated with an MBA in 2019, making it a popular degree. Professional networking can help launch or enhance careers by bridging connections with other industry professionals.
  • Leadership Roles in a Target Industry: A wide variety of fields, including technology, finance, retail, and real estate, offer an increasing number of high-ranking positions suitable for MBA graduates.
  • Professional Development: If you cant decide exactly what you want to do with your career, MBA programs are a great tool for professional development, providing exposure to many opportunities after graduation.
  • Change of Career: Many workers pursue an MBA in order to change their career direction, enter a new industry, or pursue a new job.
  • Employer Reimbursement: Some employers offer to partially or fully pay for workers to earn their MBA. This offer may require that employees commit to remaining at the company for a minimum amount of time after graduation.

What to Consider When Choosing an MBA Program

Pursuing an MBA is a big decision, but learners have many other important things to consider. Prior to making any decisions, degree-seekers should make a plan that suits their skills, academic talents, and career goals. The following sections examine these questions in greater detail.

Accreditation for MBA Programs

Proper accreditation ensures that a school and programs are certified and trustworthy. Accredited schools have demonstrated that they meet high-quality educational standards and undergo third-party review by outside learning commissions. Attending an accredited institution allows degree-seekers to know they are getting a quality education.

Accreditation comes in two forms: regional and national. Regional accreditation is generally considered more prestigious as schools undergo a more rigorous process. Students with aspirations to eventually attend graduate school or receive licensure should consider attending a regionally accredited institution.

Business schools, including MBA programs, can also hold program-specific accreditation. These credentials ensure that business programs meet industry standards.


MBA programs seek the best candidates that fit their criteria. According to U.S. News, the average acceptance rate for full-time MBA programs in fall 2020 was 58.9%. Therefore, students should prepare for competitive admissions.

Before starting the application process, degree-seekers should look at various schools' admissions policies to get a sense of common expectations and requirements. In general, learners should be prepared to provide the following items:

  • GPA and Official Transcripts: While some schools, including Stanford, have no minimum GPA requirements, many other institutions do.
  • GMAT Scores: Not all schools post GMAT score ranges, some MBA programs dont require a GMAT score at all but learners can review our guide to the GMAT to get a sense of what is a good score.
  • Work Experience: MBA students may have three to four years of professional experience under their belts. Schools often include information about experience-related requirements on their websites.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Most institutions ask applicants to submit at least three letters of recommendation, but individual programs have different requirements.
  • Personal Statement: This document should highlight why you want to attend business school and how you are a good fit for the program.

The majority of MBA programs start in the fall, but some online programs provide multiple start dates throughout the academic year.

Online MBA Programs for You

Grow your career, leadership, and business acumen with an accredited online MBA program.

MBA Program Length

Each MBA programs schedule differs slightly. While the average program length is 20 months, some take as few as 10 months to complete.

Whether a student is enrolled on a full- or part-time basis affects program length. Because many students cant simply take off work for multiple years to attend school, the majority of individuals continue employment while completing their degree.

Another factor that influences program length is whether or not a student completes an accelerated or a traditional program. Accelerated MBA programs cover similar content, but feature shorter, more intensive sessions rather than full semesters. Accelerated degrees tend to operate year-round and cover course material at a quicker pace.,

Most MBA programs offer degree paths tailored to either full- or part-time study. Many schools place time restrictions on how long students can be in a program without graduating. A common maximum is five years, meaning students who havent met all the requirements for graduation by the end of those years may be ineligible to continue the program.

Cost of an Online MBA

The Education Data Initiative notes that the average MBA program costs $66,300. Meanwhile, the average master's degree program ranges from $55,200-$73,000 depending on the field. Still, several factors influence a program's cost, including in-state and out-of-state tuition and the program length.

A school's prestige, location, and accreditation can affect tuition rates. According to a 2021 BusinessBecause report, MIT Sloan charges the highest MBA tuition globally at $241,980. In comparison, Northeastern State University charges students less than $12,500 for the entire 36-credit program.

The Education Data Initiative notes that the average MBA program costs $66,300.

Online MBA students have several ways to fund their degrees. Schools plus a variety of foundations, professional associations, and organizations offer MBA scholarships to help offset costs.

However, most students also end up taking out loans and paying them back over time. Learners may work with their scholarship donors, lending agents, employers, and personal accountants to ensure tuition and fees are paid.

To qualify for federal student aid, learners must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. These forms can be sent any time after January 1. Depending on their place of employment, some students may be eligible for employer-sponsored tuition assistance programs.

Curriculum in an MBA Program

Most MBA programs require students to complete between 55 and 65 credits. About one-third of these credits cover core business topics. These core classes may include coursework in managerial statistics, financial accounting,business analytics, operations management, and the global economic environment.

Typical MBA Concentrations

Students can choose a MBA concentration or specialization. When choosing one of the highest paying MBA concentrations, in addition to providing students with a more focused education, such specializations can also make it possible for MBA graduates to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of a particular subject area.

  • Marketing: Marketing concentrations can help prepare students for roles in advertising, branding, market research, digital media, or product management. Some graduates seek employment at tech start-ups, while others focus on working with restaurant groups. Common coursework includes studies in strategic market planning, global marketing strategies, marketing research and analytics, plus digital marketing.
  • Finance: Individuals with an MBA in finance bring home salaries averaging $101,000 as of December 2021, according to Payscale. These professionals tend to work in financial management institutions, banks, hedge funds, or other enterprises. Some of the classes in this concentration include investment management, securities trading, financial derivatives, and multinational banking and finance. Individuals who want to start their own financial or investment firms may also find this specialization particularly useful.
  • International Business: Whether students want to work with multinational corporations or plan to move abroad, an international business concentration may serve them well. These professionals find work in a variety of settings, including global consumer goods companies and boutique international hotels. Individuals who follow this path can expect to take coursework in international accounting, multinational financial management, international business law, and global operations and supply chain strategies.
  • Human Resources: Nearly every company in the world requires the knowledge and skill sets of human resource directors. As a result, this concentration is a favorite amongst students and employers alike. Many choose this concentration because it deepens their knowledge of a particular field without limiting their job prospects. Coursework in this specialization covers social issues in management, leading the strategic change process, foundations of negotiation, and strategic management.

MBA Program Reputation

It is important to consider a programs reputation and accreditation before enrolling. Accredited schools meet high educational standards. MBA programs with renowned alumni and respected professors attract attention from prospective students and the local business community.

Rankings can help give students a sense of how adequately a school prepares its graduates for employment. However, many schools offering MBAs do not appear in official rankings, despite turning out large numbers of prepared, successful students.

Does it matter where you get your MBA? Yes, but every student has their own set of metrics when it comes to what they want out of their education. Does brand recognition matter? Are there certain companies you want to work for that you know recruit from specific MBA programs? By considering these questions, students can adjust “official” school rankings according to their needs and desires.

MBA Alumni Network

The strength of a business school's alumni network can impact the school's reputation and reflect the overall success of its graduates. Some questions to consider when assessing a schools alumni network include:

  • How large is the network? Schools with large, active alumni networks provide ample opportunities for students, making it easier to make connections with prospective employers and professionals in the field. Networking can be especially beneficial to learners considering an international role after graduation, and those who want to learn more about a particular field before applying for jobs.
  • How engaged are they? It could be a bad sign if a business school has 100,000 alums and little engagement within the network. Students who had a good experience completing their MBA may be more interested in staying in contact with the school long after graduation. Do alums regularly attend events at the school? Are they routinely featured in departmental newsletters and bulletins?
  • What are they doing now? A quality MBA program should have alums located around the world working in a wide range of industries. Successful alumni can indicate that the school adequately prepares its graduates for their chosen careers.

Location of MBA Program

When thinking about the location of potential business schools, learners should consider whether they see themselves working in the same city as their school. Networking is a crucial part of the MBA experience. Lots of schools offer extensive resources to alums. If you plan to relocate across the country, some of these may be difficult to access.

Online MBA students will likely have different concerns. The online alumni network tends to be spread out more across the globe, and learners can interact with prospective employers wherever they live.

MBA Program Culture and Composition

While researching prospective MBA programs, students can also consider program culture. The environment of a school or program and how the students interact with peers and instructors are incredibly important factors.

Some business schools are known for their competitive culture; Students should carefully consider whether they can thrive in that kind of environment. It can be helpful for prospective learners to talk to current students about what a typical day in the program looks like.

When assessing an MBA program's culture, students can ask the following questions:

  • In judging the alumni network, does it seem like a good fit for your needs and interests?
  • Do the people in this program seem genuinely motivated?
  • Are my goals completely different from those of my prospective peers in this program?
  • Is there time to participate in extracurriculars?
  • Does this program push students? If so, is this done in a healthy and productive way?
  • Is collaborative learning encouraged through a cohort model or is the program taught asynchronously?
  • What is the program composition? Is it a truly diverse mix of experiences and viewpoints?
  • How many students attend each class? Is the professor able to devote enough time to the needs of individuals?

University Resources

MBA students may require ample resources and support. When researching prospective schools, try to speak to current students or alums to determine the availability of student services.

Career Services

One of the most significant services business schools provide is helping new graduates jumpstart their careers. Most MBA programs offer career services, providing tailored support to each learner.

Consistently touted as one of the best career services programs, Cornell Universitys Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management is a good model for the types of professional resources students should seek. In addition to providing various career placement workshops and webinars, the school regularly hosts alumni panels where previous students speak about their professional experiences and share tips for getting hired.

Another service to look for is one-on-one coaching or mentoring for MBA careers. Mentors can help individuals figure out the next steps and find jobs that match their desired career trajectories.

Some business schools offer students self-assessments, access to the alumni network, and a wide variety of updated job postings. While these services benefit current students, alums can also rely on their alma mater for networking opportunities.

What to Expect After Graduating with an MBA

Many leading business schools have impressive three-month graduate employment rates, including Stevens Institute of Technology (96%) and University of Washington (94%). The average three-month graduate employment rate in 2020 was 78%.

According to the GMAC 2021 survey, 91% of recruiters planned to hire MBA-holders in 2021 and expect the trend to continue, especially in the technology industry.

As you evaluate schools, check to see if the employment rate and starting salary of graduates are on par with other programs.

Online MBA Programs for You

Grow your career, leadership, and business acumen with an accredited online MBA program.

How to Narrow Your Choices of an MBA Program

  1. Define your must-haves: Before comparing rankings, degree-seekers should determine their nonnegotiable requirements. When thinking about your must-haves, consider making a list of important program features. Some important considerations include the MBA program's student-to-faculty ratio, location, average starting salaries for graduates, extracurriculars, and international study options.
  2. Do your research: The next step is to conduct research and find business schools that meet your needs. Once you have a list of prospective schools, compare them against your list of non-negotiable needs. Rank these according to your preferences. During this stage, realistically think about your probability of acceptance. Consider dividing your list into “reach” and “safety” schools to get a better sense of possibilities.
  3. Ask questions: Prospective students can reach out to admission counselors, alums, and current students to learn more about the program, including the program's culture and resources. Current and former students may give a less-biased viewpoint than information on a programs website. Chat with any of your colleagues who already hold an MBA to learn about their experiences. Some questions to ask include: what did you like least and best about business school? What is your best advice? What do you see as my strengths and weaknesses? When you speak to campus staff members, talking with the career services department is crucial. Find out their schools placement rate, how quickly students find employment, and the average starting salary for graduates. If possible, also try to speak to a few professors. Do they seem interested in your career goals? What previous business experiences do they have?
  4. Visit campus: Many schools host recruiting events throughout the year and invite interested students to tour campus, meet faculty and students, and shadow a class. This is a great way for prospective learners to picture themselves on campus and have any remaining questions answered. Students interested in pursuing an online MBA should ask if they can test out the course's online platform and virtually sit in on a class. Does the distance learning format suit your learning style? Can you access course materials and assignments from anywhere and at any time?

What to Consider When Choosing an Online MBA Program

The popularity of online MBA programs has increased over the previous decade and shows no signs of stopping. Before choosing a program, degree-seekers have a lot to consider.

In addition to researching accreditation and employment stats, prospective distance learners should evaluate other program aspects, including technology, resources, and culture. The following section provides advice about what to look for in a top-tier online MBA program, as well as some questions that prospective online students should ask.

What Technology You Will Need for an Online MBA

  • What technology does the program use? Most schools use a learning management system like Blackboard or Canvas to facilitate online learning. Though some schools may also rely on proprietary systems. Future students should get familiar with these course delivery systems and decide whether or not they fit their learning style.
  • How are courses delivered? Online business courses can be delivered synchronously, where students learn in real-time alongside their peers and professors. Students can also complete courses asynchronously, meaning they log in and view pre-recorded lectures and respond to forum comments by their peers. Individuals hoping to work while pursuing their degree often gravitate towards asynchronous courses because of the flexibility.
  • Who helps when I have questions? In addition to receiving support from your professors and/or teaching assistants, online programs have tech support professionals available — often 24/7 — to help learners overcome any tech problems.
  • How do I interact with teachers and students? This varies depending on the specific program, but learners tend to interact with their professors and peers through a mix of email, chat programs, online forums, phone calls, and/or video conferencing.

Access to university resources

Many prospective distance learners have questions about how readily resources can be accessed. Important things to consider include:

  • Do online students have the same resources as learners in traditional programs? Student resources may vary significantly depending on the school. While some online MBA programs help ensure that distance learners feel just as supported as campus-based students, other programs lack digital resources.
  • How are resources accessed for online students? Online programs may provide students with access to online libraries, video conferencing for career coaching, and extensive job boards. Some schools also use separate, secure portals to connect current distance students to alumni or host online student clubs and organizations.
  • How can online students take advantage of these resources? Aside from online avenues for involvement, learners also have the opportunity to visit campus to take part in face-to-face meetings, conferences, and competitions.

Online MBA Programs for You

Grow your career, leadership, and business acumen with an accredited online MBA program.


Faculty can have an overwhelming influence on a students experience, greatly affecting their future success. While some online MBA programs supplement their teaching staff with adjunct professors, the best MBA programs use the same faculty who lead campus-based courses to teach distance learners. This continuity creates a sense of equality amongst students and ensures all degree seekers receive the same level of education.

Aside from the faculty, students should also have access to teaching assistants, program administrators, and support staff to help with day-to-day concerns, such as understanding the requirements of an assignment and ensuring that an online project is successfully submitted.

When evaluating online MBA faculty, prospective students should ask whether the teachers have experience with online classes and if they received any specialized training on how to best deliver courses to distance learners.

On-Campus and Travel Requirements

As with many other components of distance education, requirements for visiting campus or traveling depend on the individual school.

Some programs — especially hybrid programs — ask learners to visit campus as infrequently as once per semester, while others may require students to show up once per week. Some schools allow distance learners to complete an online orientation, while other institutions require individuals to visit campus to meet with professors and get to know their peers.

The college experience a student hopes for and how far they live from the campus determines whether these requirements represent pros or cons. Many schools give online students the opportunity to walk across the stage to receive their diploma; this is seldom mandatory.

In addition to possible campus travel, some programs encourage students with international aspirations to take part in global business trips. For example, UNCs Kenan-Flagler Business School offers online MBA students the chance to participate in a variety of international and global immersions during their time in school.

Next Steps on Your MBA Journey

The above information explores how to choose an MBA program that is right for you. First, consider a program's culture, costs, reputation, and curriculum to determine if it is a match. Then, narrow your top MBA program choices to the best option.

Use the following resources as you continue your search to find the best MBA.

The Best Online MBA Programs of 2022

The Best Online MBA Programs of 2022

The Most Affordable Online MBA Programs 2022

The Most Affordable Online MBA Programs 2022

Affordable Online MBA Programs: No GMAT Required

Affordable Online MBA Programs: No GMAT Required

The 5 Best Accelerated Online MBA Programs

The 5 Best Accelerated Online MBA Programs

Common Questions on Choosing the Right MBA Program

How do I choose the right MBA program?

The best MBA program is one that aligns with your goals, offers positive student outcomes, and targets the skills you want to develop. Browse school websites to learn more about an MBA program's career services, curriculum, and admissions process as you narrow your options.

How much is an MBA?

MBA costs vary between schools. The Education Data Initiative lists the average MBA program's cost as $66,300. However, factors like school reputation, in-state and out-of-state tuition, and program fees can influence MBA tuition.

What MBA is right for me?

To find the best MBA, consider your ideal concentration, program culture, and delivery format. Prospective students should also determine if a program's tuition, curriculum, and student resources fit their needs. Our online MBA ranking is a good starting point.

What is the best way to evaluate an MBA program?

First, consider your career goals and whether an MBA program's curriculum will help you meet those goals. Then, evaluate the program's alumni resources, prestige, accreditation, and student outcomes. Most schools make this information available on their websites.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Lauren Albano, M.Ed.

Lauren Albano, M.Ed.

Lauren Albano is the Assistant Director and Designated School Official (DSO) at Seattle University's International Student Center, where she advises international students and alumni on maintaining F-1 status. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Irvine, and a master's degree in student development administration from Seattle University.

Page last reviewed January 4, 2022


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