What's the Difference Between Online and Residential MBA Programs?

Updated February 3, 2023 · 2 Min Read

Is an online MBA right for you, or is a residential MBA better? Explore the differences between online and in-person MBA programs.

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One of the main decisions you need to make when attempting to pursue an MBA is whether to do so through a traditional, residential MBA program or through an online MBA program. Not that long ago, few people took online MBA programs seriously. That's changed completely, however, and some of today's most respected business schools now offer online MBAs. Other than where and how they are conducted, how do online programs differ from residential programs? The answer may surprise you.


There's a common misconception that online MBA schools are significantly easier than their residential counterparts. Here's the thing: In most cases, online programs follow the same curricula as residential programs. Oftentimes, the same instructors are used as well. The same degree is earned too, so it's fair to say that online MBA programs are about as difficult as traditional ones. That's a good thing because it means they adequately prepare graduates for career advancements and more.


Thanks to modern technology, online MBA programs can deliver roughly the same curricula as residential MBA programs. Through videoconferencing, Internet simulations, audio feeds and other technologies, instructors can provide the same lessons and lectures to students whether they're right in the classroom or sitting at computers across the country. Many times, online students attend the exact same lectures as residential students, so the two options are very similar in this regard.


Online MBA programs differ from residential MBA programs in one significant way: They are a lot more flexible. Unlike with a residential program, where you need to attend lectures, work with your peers and take care of other school-related activities in person, an online program can be handled from afar and largely on your own terms. It's no wonder that so many mid-career professionals choose to pursue their MBAs through online programs.


One common criticism of online MBA programs is that they lack the community spirit that goes along with residential programs. While it's true that you're not going to have much in the way of in-person, face-to-face interactions while pursuing an online MBA, modern technology still ensures that you connect with others along the way. Online MBA candidates typically use forums and even social media to stay in touch and to help each other out. Students can often video conference with instructors over Skype and similar apps. A community is still there with an online MBA program, if you're willing to look for it.


Like many who want to pursue an MBA, you may be concerned about the credibility of earning your degree online. Whatever stigma that used to be attached to online education is gone. Online MBA programs are widely regarded as being just as credible as their residential counterparts. Employers don't tend to care about the method in which an MBA is earned, so nothing should hold you back from pursuing your degree online if it's the right choice for you.

Student Profiles

Online MBA programs tend to be the most popular with older people who already have established careers and other responsibilities. They're far more flexible, allowing students to pursue their degrees while holding onto their existing jobs. Residential programs still tend to be most popular with younger students who recently graduated from college. This trend is changing too, however, and online MBA programs are attracting students from all walks of life nowadays.

In terms of quality of education, curriculum and the credibility of the degree which is earned, online MBA programs stack up quite favorably with residential MBA programs. When it comes to flexibility and, often, affordability, online MBA programs tend to outshine residential programs. This trend is likely to intensify as time goes by.

Featured Image: MoMo Productions / Stone / Getty Images

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