Business masters have been the most popular graduate degrees in the United States for a decade (since they overtook education degrees in 2010-11). Given their popularity, it’s understandable that universities began adapting MBA programs for distance learners as soon as it was feasible to do so.
The growth of online MBA programs at prestigious business schools is a fairly recent development, however. In 2010, Poets & Quants listed just 67 AACSB-accredited online MBA programs, with only a handful at high-ranking institutions. Now there are hundreds of accredited online MBA programs, many of which are administered by top business schools.
The growth of online MBA programs isn’t hard to explain. There have always been graduate students seeking flexible study options. Early online degree programs didn’t offer an experience comparable to on-campus programs because the technology wasn’t up to the challenge. Faster internet speeds and the advent of streaming, however, made it possible for business schools to build online programs at least as engaging as in-person programs.
The question, of course, isn’t whether these programs are accessible. They are. The question is should you get your MBA online? In this article, we help you answer that question by covering:
MBAs are advanced degrees closely associated with both increased hireability and earning potential in the business world. One Graduate Management Admissions Council found that 81 percent of companies planned to hire MBAs in the upcoming year; the degree is in demand. The average salary associated with a business bachelor’s is about $66,000. In contrast, the average salary associated with MBAs is $88,000—and the starting salary for MBAs who graduate from top business schools is much higher. An MBA offers a clear return on investment.
There are dozens of MBA concentrations, meaning this degree can prepare you to work in many areas of business and in different disciplines. MBAs work in general management positions in corporate settings as well as in specialty leadership roles in fields like marketing, finance, operations, energy, logistics, healthcare, and information technology. Jobs for MBA graduates include:
Many students in on-campus and online MBA programs dream of becoming:
MBA programs prepare students to step into managerial and executive-level positions or to launch a new business. Typical MBA programs develop advanced business skill sets related to:
Most MBA programs also prominently feature leadership training. Degree candidates complete work designed to foster skills in decision-making, performance optimization, vision development, and action planning.
Students in full-time MBA programs, whether delivered on campus or online, typically graduate in two years. Students in part-time MBA programs often graduate in three years but may take more time in programs with more self-directed or asynchronous coursework. There are also accelerated full-time MBA programs that last a year or less, and executive MBA programs for working professionals that may take anywhere from 18 months to three years to complete.
The MBA is generally regarded as the must-have degree for aspiring executives. It’s possible to earn big bucks, break into ultra-competitive fields like tech or finance, or become CEO without a Master of Business Administration, but you’ll face a long uphill battle. An MBA can open many doors that might otherwise be closed to you. Not only do MBA grads possess skills and knowledge that business bachelor’s degree holders don’t have, but they also have access to a network of professional contacts they can tap into for support, advice, and opportunities.
The MBA and the MS in Business Administration are master’s-level degrees for business professionals, but these graduate school programs target different types of students. On-campus and online MBA programs are typically designed for business professionals who have a few years of work experience under their belts and want to advance into management roles. Some programs only admit working professionals.
MS in Business Administration (and Master of Science in Management) programs, on the other hand, are often geared toward recent undergrads who want to strengthen their skills before launching careers or their own businesses and startups. They also appeal to students interested in pursuing academic careers in research and theory.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
|University and Program Name
In most cases, online MBA programs are traditional Master of Business Administration programs adapted for distance learners. They’re not shorter, less expensive, or less challenging than in-person programs. They cover the same material as programs delivered on campus and confer the same degree. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no differences between online MBA programs and in-person MBA programs.
Some people assume online classes are easier (they’re not) or that online classes are cheaper (not necessarily). Good online MBA programs are virtually identical to on-campus programs when it comes to admissions requirements, coursework, career support, and the internships, capstone projects, and immersion experiences MBA students must complete before graduation.
The most significant difference between online MBA programs and on-campus programs is that online learning programs can’t replicate some aspects of the in-person experience, like regular networking opportunities, job fairs, and events with industry speakers. Distance learners may have to work harder to build their professional networks. That said, immersion experiences and online job resources go a long way toward serving online MBA students’ career path needs. There’s a difference, but it’s not a huge difference.
Some online MBA programs offer more flexibility, schedule-wise, but just because classes are delivered online doesn’t mean all coursework is delivered asynchronously. Many online programs have synchronous live lectures, proctored exams, and group work that can only be completed when scheduled. There are 100 percent asynchronous online MBA programs out there. Still, most programs—especially those at higher-ranked schools—are built around a combination of synchronous lectures and asynchronous self-directed work.
Some colleges and universities with both in-person and online MBA programs assign different curricula for each program. It’s common now, however, for business schools to offer the same core classes, regardless of delivery format.
Elective options vary from program to program. Some online MBA programs let students choose from among specific general management electives offered by the business school. Others let MBA students fulfill elective requirements by taking non-business courses related to a chosen specialization. Still others require MBA candidates to complete a lengthy list of core classes that doesn’t leave any time for electives.
In general, online MBA programs offer fewer concentration options than in-person programs. If you have a specific specialization in mind, however, there’s probably an online program out there for you (for instance, the University of Tulsa offers a specialization in consumer behavior). Online MBA specializations include:
On the other hand, some online programs, like the one offered by Howard University, offer no specializations at all. These are often the better choice for professionals who aren’t sure where their career goals will take them.
Immersion experiences are a big part of most MBA programs, and online MBA programs are no exception. Students enrolled in the online MBA program offered by Southern Methodist University‘s Edwin L. Cox School of Business, for instance, participate in two four-day, in-person immersions in the US or abroad, during which they work on real-world consulting projects for local companies. Some colleges and universities also ask distance learners to visit campus for one or more residencies, so students experience face time with peers and professors.
Online MBA admissions requirements vary by institution. Applicants usually need a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university and two or more years of professional experience to qualify for acceptance.
There are already plenty of no-GMAT required MBA programs, and more schools are making score submission optional. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t take the GMAT. Submitting strong scores can make your application more competitive.
One-year MBA programs have been a mainstay of business education in Europe for years, and demand for these programs is growing in the US. Many of the nation’s top-tier b-schools offer these accelerated MBAs, but usually only on-campus. One-year online MBA programs are still relatively rare. This may be because 12-month MBA programs are intensive and immersive by nature.
Online MBA programs often appeal to ambitious but busy business professionals because they offer flexibility. That’s not the only reason students opt to pursue MBAs online, however. What makes an online MBA worth it will be different for everyone.
Many online MBA programs allow students to customize their schedules. Some are even self-directed. These tend to appeal to students who must continue working full-time or meeting demanding personal obligations while studying.
Online MBA programs are also a good fit for students who aren’t located near major metro areas or business hubs. They have more options when applying to MBA programs and can enroll in highly ranked business schools without relocating.
Some students choose online MBA programs because they seek particular concentrations offered at some schools only. Others want to study under notable business leaders or at schools with connections to certain companies or industries. If you want to work in the energy industry, for example, it’s worth checking out online MBA programs based in Texas or Oklahoma.
This is one area where the question ‘Does it matter where you get your MBA?’ comes up. Some people are wary of online degree programs because they worry that future employers will judge their choice. The vast majority of MBA programs for distance learners confer a traditional MBA. Nothing on your diploma will indicate that you studied online.
The quick answer is yes. Keep in mind that online MBA programs typically confer the same diplomas as on-campus programs, and it’s pretty uncommon for hiring managers to inquire how you earned your degree. If they do, the fact that you successfully earned an MBA online may be an asset—provided you attended a reputable school—because it demonstrates that you can work independently and are driven.
The job market for MBAs is robust. It doesn’t matter how you earn your degree, provided the program you choose offers career support and an alumni network that generates opportunities for its members.
This is another area where the question ‘Does it matter where you get your MBA?’ is relevant. The average MBA salary is only five figures because many MBAs are granted by unranked colleges and universities. You’ll get a bigger salary bump if you graduate from a high-ranking b-school like Carnegie Mellon University‘s Tepper School of Business or Indiana University – Bloomington‘s Kelley School of Business. You might even start earning double your pre-graduation salary soon after earning your degree.
If you’re looking to land a job with one of the big consulting firms or some other hyper-competitive employer, MBA rankings can be a significant factor. For the vast majority of students, they are less critical.
If attending a top program is off the table financially, you can still pursue an MBA online at budget-friendly schools. There are plenty of affordable AACSB-accredited MBA programs and affordable ACBSP-accredited MBA programs out there, though keep in mind that your future earnings may make it relatively easy to pay for your degree in the future.
The following colleges and universities charge less than $300 per credit hour:
Best value is subjective. The best-value online MBA program (or master’s degree program) will be the least expensive one for many people. But for others, the best-value business school will be the one with the best connections in a specific industry or is known for boosting graduate salaries. Only you can decide whether taking on debt today for future rewards is worth it or if it makes more sense to enroll in the fastest or least expensive online MBA program. As you explore your options, keep in mind that there are lots of ways to save money on an online MBA.
Yes, if studying online is the right choice given your circumstances and you can get into a program that’s right for you. There are no professional downsides to pursuing a graduate business degree online. An online MBA from a prestigious school is a degree from a prestigious school, which means it will carry more weight when you’re applying for jobs and negotiating for higher salaries in the future. And if enrolling in one of the top online MBA programs isn’t an option, it may still be the case that studying online is what allows you to earn a career-boosting degree that might otherwise be out of reach.
(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org