Is an Online MBA Worth It?
| OnlineMBA.com Staff Modified on June 9, 2022
Are you ready to discover your MBA program?
According to a Payscale analysis, master of business administration (MBA) graduates from top business schools can earn a median 35-year pay of $5.7 million. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that master's degree-holders may find better job availability or higher salaries than bachelor's degree graduates.
An MBA builds skills needed for leadership positions. Additionally, learners grow expertise in areas like marketing, human resources, and finance. Students can attend in-person and online MBA programs, but some might wonder if earning an MBA degree online is worth the investment.
Answering the question, "Is an online MBA worth it?" can help prospective learners decide their best educational path. This guide details the benefits, costs, and other considerations of earning an MBA online.
Benefits of an Online MBA
Prospective business students might be weighing the benefits of an MBA. First, for many professionals, an MBA financially pays off. A 2020 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) salary survey projected MBA graduates to earn $77,298, compared to an annual salary of $57,939 for bachelor's graduates.
An MBA can also help professionals pursue career advancement, improve their job prospects and salary potential, and increase their authority and credibility within their industry.
Some students may still wonder if an online MBA makes sense. When considering an online MBA versus an on-campus business degree, prospective students should weigh the pros and cons of the online format. Some students may prefer the classroom experience of an on-campus program.
For others, the benefits of an online MBA, including the increased flexibility and accessibility, outweigh any potential drawbacks. Consider, for instance, that 91% of online MBA students work while earning their degree, according to U.S. News & World Report. The ability to build work experience, earn a paycheck, and complete an MBA appeals to many prospective students. Consider some of the following benefits:
You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job
Many traditional MBA programs hold daytime classes that do not offer flexibility for students who want to work while earning a degree. Particularly for professionals who receive MBA funding from their employer, the ability to continue working while earning an MBA makes an online MBA a much better investment.
You Can Pursue a Rare Specialization
MBA concentrations prepare graduates for specialized career paths, with options like healthcare administration, supply chain management, and human resources management. But a prospective student’s local university might not offer the student’s top-choice specialization. By considering online MBA programs, professionals can choose a specialization that advances their career.
You Gain Unique Perspectives From Diverse Classmates
Online MBA programs often attract a different student profile from on-campus programs, enrolling students from around the world who bring diverse professional and personal backgrounds. Online students often bring more professional experience to their program, providing a different perspective.
A U.S. News & World Report survey found that the average age of an incoming online MBA student was 33, compared to 27 for on-campus students. As a result, cohorts of online students benefit from more diverse experiences and points of view. In the workplace, this experience helps business professionals work with diverse teams, consider ideas from multiple perspectives, and bring a global perspective to business.
You Don’t Have to Relocate
Most MBA students would prefer to attend a top program, but many do not live within commuting distance of well-known schools. Online programs let students enroll at some of the top universities in the country without having to relocate, quit a job, and potentially uproot a family.
You Can Save Money
An online MBA can help students save money compared to a traditional program. That's because students considering an online MBA can make affordability their top priority without facing limited options in their local area. Learners can also benefit from flat tuition rates for online students at public schools, regardless of their state residency.
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When Might an Online MBA Not Be Worth It?
Online degrees offer flexibility and affordability compared to in-person programs. However, earning an MBA degree online does not fit all lifestyles and situations.
First, prospective students should consider their learning styles. For some learners, face-to-face education supports their need for interaction. An online format may provide virtual classes, but not the hands-on learning environment some students prefer.
Online learners might face challenges getting the support they need from their school. For instance, a visit to a career center may not be possible or give the same experience through the online platform. Online MBA students could miss out on their school's in-person events, networking opportunities, and campus resources.
For some students, earning an MBA, whether online or in-person, may not be necessary. Prospective MBA enrollees should consider the program cost versus salary potential. The average MBA costs $66,300, while graduates earn an average annual salary of $91,000. However, some learners may experience higher tuition or a lower starting salary, reducing an MBA's return on investment (ROI).
Some professionals do not need an MBA to advance their careers. Many management occupations require only a bachelor's degree. Workers can sometimes climb the career ladder as they gain experience without continued education.
Is an Online MBA Program Respected?
In the past, some employers saw MBA degrees earned online — and online degrees in general — as inferior to on-campus business programs. But with the expansion of online learning options, a growing number of employers recognize and respect online learning formats.
In fact, employers value students with online MBAs for their self-motivation and independence, both required skills to succeed in an online degree. As the number of graduates from online MBA programs increases, employers realize the valuable workplace skills they bring to businesses. Today, employers enthusiastically hire professionals who have completed online MBA programs, particularly those who hold degrees from accredited institutions.
Today many well-known and top-ranked schools offer hybrid or fully online MBA programs, including Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California, and Penn State. At many business schools, the online MBA program uses the same curriculum as the on-campus MBA.
Online MBA courses often share instructors who provide the same education through a different delivery method. Similarly, institutions grant the same diploma to online and traditional MBA graduates, indicating the educational equivalency of the degree.
Many students choose to get an MBA degree online for its flexibility and convenience. Rather than quit their jobs to attend a full-time day program or relocate to attend a top school, students choose an online MBA option that lets them balance school with work or family responsibilities.
Employers recognize this need for flexibility and may even reward job applicants who demonstrate an ability to manage work and an MBA program simultaneously. In addition, employers themselves rely on online options for long-term and continual learning, meaning more hiring managers understand the value of an online format.
While many employers respect online MBA programs, not all programs provide the same high-quality level of education. Prospective students should always check a program’s accreditation status before applying to any business school.
Accredited online programs meet the same educational standards as their on-campus alternatives, meaning students and prospective employers know an online MBA follows the highest standards. In addition to the school holding regional accreditation, prospective students should also look for an MBA program that holds accreditation from the AACSB, ACBSP, or IACBE.
The Cost of an Online MBA Degree
On average, degree-seekers can expect to pay $400-$1,600 per credit to complete an online MBA. An online MBA typically requires between 18-48 credits. Technology use, application, and course fees also tack extra costs onto some programs.
Students should expect varied tuition between schools. Location affects affordability, with many schools charging higher tuition fees for out-of-state enrollees. Additionally, private institutions usually command higher tuition rates than public schools.
Prospective MBA students can speak with a financial advisor to explore financial aid opportunities. Scholarships, grants, and private or federal loans may cover some or all of a learner's costs.
MBA Cost Versus Return on Investment
For many prospective MBA students, the cost of an MBA provides a strong return on investment. Consider that professionals with an MBA see salary increases and qualify for positions with higher responsibilities and growth potential.
Similarly, an MBA can help professionals change career paths, pursuing more profitable opportunities. An MBA may prove valuable in multiple scenarios — it often depends on one's aim:
If an MBA Could Help You Advance Your Career
Many professionals pursue an MBA to advance their career. In fact, some employers offer tuition reimbursement benefits to help their employees advance. In these cases, an MBA may offer a high ROI.
An MBA does not always have to mean changing careers, or even changing companies. For some professionals, the MBA offers a chance to advance more quickly than by accumulating professional experience.
If You Want to Change Career Paths
Many professionals change paths during the course of their career, sometimes multiple times. An MBA can help professionals pursue opportunities in different sectors. The MBA stands out for its versatility, especially when compared to other business degrees.
For professionals moving into tech or other sectors, an MBA shows potential employers the job candidate’s training and advanced business skills. In cases where professionals lack relevant work experience, an MBA can offer a valuable route to career change.
If You Want to Increase Your Earning Potential
Earning an MBA degree online can increase salary potential. MBA concentrations like management and finance yield high-paying positions, such as chief executive officer and financial director.
The NACE 2020 data projected a significant difference in average salaries between bachelor's and master's degree-holders. The average salary projection for bachelor's degree in business graduates was $57,939. Meanwhile, NACE projected the average master's in business graduate to earn $75,197, a 29% increase.
If Your Professional Goals Require an MBA
Some career tracks require an MBA or strongly prefer candidates with a graduate degree in business. On these career paths, earning an MBA might be the only way to advance.
Professionals who want to move up within an organization or qualify for executive-level positions in other organizations often need an MBA to meet their career goals. Some companies require an MBA for mid-level and higher management roles. In this scenario, the investment required to earn an MBA pays off professional dividends for years.
If You Want to Stand Out in the Job Market
Holding an MBA helps applicants stand out in the job market, even when applying for positions that do not require an MBA. Many companies promote candidates to management positions without a graduate degree if they meet professional experience requirements.
But holding an MBA can fulfill work experience requirements and help candidates apply for jobs for which they would not otherwise qualify. A graduate degree in business demonstrates advanced training in the field, and graduates who complete an MBA concentration further show their distinct qualifications to prospective employers. If an MBA helps a job candidate get their foot in the door, it can be a smart investment.
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Was My Online MBA Worth It? Interview With a Graduate
Dustin Sitar is the Director of Marketing and Operations for brite.co, educating and serving digital-centric consumers looking to insure and protect their valuables.
Before joining brite.co, he worked for Zappos.com as a Senior Analyst for the Strategy team. After graduating from TCU in 2003 he spent over a decade as a Professional Poker player. He transitioned to business through consulting and receiving an online MBA with an emphasis in Finance from the WP Carey School of Business - ASU.
You can contact Dustin through linkedin.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
After spending a decade-plus as a professional poker player, I was ready for my next life challenge. An MBA seemed like the perfect way to “catch up” on education and be a resume bridge to a different career.
What drew you to select an online MBA program?
There were a few reasons. The MBA programs that I was attracted to were in different states from where I was living. I was unable to move to pursue my education due to family and work obligations. I was also planning on working full-time while in a full-time MBA program.
The flexibility of attending classes via recorded lectures at 4 a.m. worked best for me (coffee and school were my 4 a.m. routine for two years). I loved the structure of ASU’s program. It offered five-week classes with a one-week break consecutively for two years. This fit perfectly with my lifestyle, work, and family commitments.
Do you think your MBA was worth it? Why?
Absolutely worth it! It was an ideal business education, giving me additional background and vocabulary to discuss so many disciplines from a high level. I proved to myself that I could return to school after a 14-year hiatus and excel. And, it added to my confidence that I could pivot and learn new skills in my mid-thirties!
What financial or career benefits did you see from attaining an MBA?
As someone with a unique background, an MBA provided a reason for a second look or a validation point for recruiters. I was able to get a business-related job due to being on track to receive an MBA. The fact that I am the Director of Marketing and Operations for brite.co today is heavily influenced by the decision to get an MBA.
What other benefits do you feel your MBA provided?
An MBA provides an overview of so many aspects of business that it helps your performance in your niche, or allows you to bounce between very different roles and disciplines (as I have). I made great friends in school and since who have given me insights into different industries.
How long did it take you to see results from earning your MBA?
From a learning perspective — day one. I began working with my cohort on the initial residency. It was a diverse group of individuals. The interactions taught me about working as a team and the project was an exercise in idea formulation and proposal creation.
From a professional perspective, I was offered a contractor role at a large corporation four months into my MBA and a full-time role 10 months into my MBA.
If you had the option, would you get an online MBA again? Why or why not? What would you change about the experience?
Definitely, I would get an online MBA again. The flexible schedule allowed me to work full-time and be a husband and father. The education was fantastic. Honestly, I don’t think I would change much about the experience. Maybe, apply for scholarships sooner.
What advice would you give to students considering pursuing an online MBA?
There would be one primary criteria I would recommend for someone considering an online MBA: do you want the education? If you pursue it with the goal of learning as much as you can, you can’t lose.
You will get out of the courses and teachers exactly what you put into it. If you just want to pass the set of courses and get an MBA by your name, that’s fine. But the real fulfillment comes from taking what is offered in terms of learning. It will be valuable in your career and in your life.
A secondary criteria to consider is: what will it do for my career? I didn’t get the “networking” benefits that are often touted with an in-person classroom MBA experience. As a resume builder though, it is a distinguishing data point when being considered versus other candidates. The weaker your resume may be in terms of direct business experience (as in my case), the more valuable the degree will be for your career advancement.
Common Questions About Getting an Online MBA
Does it matter if you get your MBA online?
An MBA online from a respected school compares to an in-person program. According to U.S. News & World Report, employers generally receive candidates' online MBA degrees well if they attended a renowned school.
What is the average cost of an online MBA?
MBA degree-seekers typically pay between $400-$1,600 per credit. Private schools often cost more than public schools. Out-of-state learners may also pay higher tuition than in-state enrollees. Some schools also charge extra fees for applications or specific courses.
What salary can you expect after getting an MBA?
NACE reports MBA grads from the class of 2021 are on track to make an average starting salary of $87,966.
Can I get an MBA from home?
Yes, you can earn an MBA degree online. An online MBA offers the same curriculum as an in-person program but with flexible class schedules. These programs also allow learners to attend their college of choice from any location.
Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships.
Covington founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills and connect with other high-achieving women. Covington received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.
Krystal Covington is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Page last reviewed December 10, 2021.
Featured Image: Paul Bradbury / OJO Images / Getty Images
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