What to Expect in Your Online MBA Program

Updated September 26, 2023

If you are considering an online MBA program, this guide offers information on what to expect and how to choose the right concentration.

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MBA degrees offer enrollees the opportunity to enhance in-demand skills, boost salary potential, and open doors to senior management roles. A bachelor's degree is the minimum required education for enrolling in this two-year graduate program. A traditional campus-based schedule may create an obstacle for working professionals, making an online MBA a convenient alternative to in-person programs.

A survey by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business found that 45,038 students enrolled in online MBA programs in 2020 and 43,740 students engaged in on-campus programs. Some institutions deliver online MBA courses virtually, often without required attendance at specific class times. Many schools offer course waivers and accelerated MBA programs, which allow professionals to complete their programs within one year.

This page explains what to expect in MBA classes, common admissions processes, and how to choose concentrations.

How Does an Online MBA Degree Differ From an On-Campus MBA?

On-campus MBAs require in-person attendance through full-time study and face-to-face interaction with peers and faculty. An online MBA adds the convenience of a flexible schedule, a course load that suits the pace of the learner, and the ability to shorten or lengthen the degree timeline as necessary.

As Logan Foley, senior SEO manager at OneCare Media and a recent MBA graduate from Washington State University, notes, "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."

While coursework is the same for on-campus and online MBA programs, there are differences in their delivery methods. An online MBA requires more discipline and time management because it relies heavily on self-study.

These programs also lack in-person interaction and may not offer internship opportunities. "My program doesn't have any on-campus requirements but encourages students to attend different events, lectures, and conferences on-campus and in other cities," adds Foley.

Comparing Online MBA and On-Campus MBA Degrees
Factor Online Program On-Campus Program




Course Load



Program Length

10 months - 3 years

2 years

Delivery Format









Source: collegeboard and oMBA resources

Online MBA programs boast the same quality, curricula, and credibility as traditional MBAs. However, the convenience and lack of face-to-face interaction require learners to put in extra effort to stay determined. "While online courses offer great flexibility, this also means it is fairly easy to fall behind," says Foley. "My advice is to make a schedule and stick to it."

The Online MBA Admission Process

To qualify for an online MBA program, each applicant must have at least a bachelor's degree, 2-3 years of professional experience in a business-related field, a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA, and a basic knowledge of core business concepts.

Applicants without business degrees often must complete pre-enrollment courses. Other application requirements include resumes, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and college transcripts.

The GMAT is the standard entrance test for business schools, but some schools also accept the GRE. While a GMAT score between 600-650 is recommended, a score of at least 700 is needed for most top-tier institutions. Foreign students may also need to take the TOEFL as proof of proficiency in English.

MBA application fees typically do not exceed $300, but the cost can add up if you apply to multiple schools. Students should apply to programs that align with their goals and academic expectations to save money and time.

Choosing Between Online MBA Programs

When looking for the appropriate business program, candidates should have a solid plan that charts their academic goals, skills, talents, and career expectations. If you have ever found yourself wondering about what to expect in an MBA program, consider the following factors.

  • Program Reputation: Accreditation, alumni network, and graduate employment rate combine to form a program's reputation. Schools that do not appear on ranked lists still produce talented graduates every year, so rankings should only offer a starting place for your research.
  • Program Length: The average length of an online MBA program is 20 months, but accelerated degrees may allow you to finish in a year or less.
  • Cost: Degree length and reputation also affect tuition costs. An online MBA is often cheaper than their on-campus counterparts, but as Foley observes, "I tried to make sure my decision wasn't solely based on cost."
  • University Resources: Career services, mentorship programs, online libraries, and in-person networking opportunities are a few of the resources students can seek from online MBA programs.
  • Faculty: The best schools feature the same faculty for campus-based and online programs. It is also important to note if the faculty has been trained to deliver courses to students virtually.

Delivery Formats for Online MBA Degrees

The delivery format of an online MBA program usually involves a learning management system (LMS). This platform allows enrollees to view lectures, submit assignments, and have direct interaction with peers and professors. "Homework may include quizzes, essays, case studies, or graded activities," Foley says about her program. "Nearly all of my online classes require students to participate in discussion board activities."

Classes may be asynchronous, which means lectures are pre-recorded and uploaded onto the LMS. Students can log in at any time and complete assignments to meet weekly deadlines. Some programs also include certain synchronous, or live, features like real-time classes, group projects, and video conferencing with teachers and peers.

Online MBA programs sometimes use a hybrid model, in which students complete some of the coursework on campus and the rest virtually. This model is better suited to students who value in-person interaction and networking. However, a hybrid format requires campus visits and has a less flexible schedule, which is not ideal for working students.

Finding the Best Online MBAs Across Concentrations

MBA programs usually offer several concentrations. This allows learners to focus on a certain specialization within the degree to showcase their skills.

Your MBA concentration should align with your career goals and hone your job readiness. "I chose a marketing concentration, and my marketing research and product planning courses prepared me to lead marketing projects, strategy, and new product development," Foley says.

The following table provides rankings for the best online MBA concentrations.

Rankings for Best Online MBAs by Concentration


Global Management

Nonprofit Management


Healthcare Administration

Operations Management

Business Analytics

Healthcare Management

Organizational Leadership

Business Intelligence

Hospitality Management

Project Management


Human Resources

Public Administration


Information Security

Public Relations

Criminal Justice

Information Systems

Real Estate


Information Technology

Risk Management



Sports Management


International Business

Strategy and Strategic Management

Environmental Management

Internet Marketing

Supply Chain Management






Financial Planning


Common Online MBA Courses

Although there are many online MBA concentrations, some courses are common across all programs. Aside from core courses, business programs also typically allow enrollees to choose from elective courses. Prospective enrollees wondering what to expect in MBA classes can explore the following list.

  • Finance: This class typically covers investments, capital budgeting, asset valuation techniques, and capital markets. By the end of the course, students know how to balance risk vs. gain, analyze financial statements, and manage businesses' finances.
  • Marketing: An important core course in any MBA program, marketing teaches product policy, promotion, pricing, branding, and distribution. Enrollees also learn to study consumer behavior and analyze buying patterns. Marketing also includes topics like big data and digital analytics.
  • Accounting: Students consider concepts such as understanding financial statements, corporate investments, income statements, and balance sheets. This course also develops the analytical skills required for decision-making and financial management.
  • Leadership: Leadership courses allow learners to develop management and organizational skills like communication, goal-setting, conflict and negotiation, and business etiquette.
  • Economics: Economic coursework typically covers market dynamics, the impact of monetary and fiscal policy on businesses, international trade, and macroeconomic growth and development. This course aims to strengthen the skills necessary for successful business and financial planning.

What Do Employers Think of Online MBA Degrees?

Online learning has increasingly become a popular method for students to earn MBAs. These degrees carry the same weight as traditional, campus-based MBA programs.

Employers focus more on the reputation of the school and the quality of the program than the delivery format. In fact, some hiring managers may even be impressed that the student was able to keep working while pursuing an MBA.

According to a survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers, 92% of employers are unbiased toward online degrees from brick-and-mortar universities. Combined with remote work and communication skills, group activities, and capstone projects, online MBA degrees are as reputable as traditional programs.

Common Questions About Online MBA Programs

Are online MBA programs worth it?

Typically, yes. Online MBA programs offer flexibility and are often cheaper than in-person degrees. These programs help students accommodate their professional obligations while pursuing higher education.

How hard is an online MBA program?

An online MBA degree has the same difficulty level as any business program. In addition, learners need to possess discipline, time management, and exceptional organizational skills to stay on top of their work.

Is an online MBA taken seriously?

The reputation of online MBAs has grown significantly over the last two decades, and they are now held in the same regard as regular MBA degrees. Learners who choose to study MBAs online receive consideration from the same employers as their on-campus counterparts.

What should I look for in an online MBA program?

Aside from the cost, flexibility, and program length, some other features to seek in an online MBA include accreditation, specializations offered, employment rate, and university resources for virtual students.

Meet Logan Foley

Portrait of Logan Foley

Logan Foley

Senior SEO Manager at OneCare Media. I attended Boise State University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration. I recently graduated from Washington State University, where I earned my MBA with a concentration in marketing online.

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