Business Administration

Should I Get an MBA Online?

Should I Get an MBA Online?
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. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry December 14, 2020

Does it matter where you get your MBA? Yes and no. An online MBA from a top business school will do as much for your career as a degree earned in person, but a lower-ranked MBA can also do a lot to advance your career.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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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.

As programs got better, demand increased, and more colleges and universities debuted online MBA programs. Covid-19 has prompted even more schools to develop online MBA 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:

  • Why earn an MBA degree?
  • What is an online MBA?
  • Why earn an MBA online?
  • Are online MBAs respected?
  • Online MBA rankings
  • Should I get an MBA online?

Why earn an MBA degree?

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.

What can you do with an MBA?

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:

What skills do you learn in an MBA program?

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:

  • Accounting
  • Analytics
  • Communication
  • Ethics
  • Finance
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomics
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Statistics
  • Operations

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.

How long does it take to earn an MBA?

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.

Why is an MBA valuable?

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.

What’s the difference between an MBA and a Master of Science in Business Administration?

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.


“I’m ready for a degree!”

University and Program Name Learn More

What is an online MBA?

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.

Online MBA vs in-person MBA

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.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous content

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.

Online MBA courses

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.

Online MBA core curriculum

Let’s look at the University of Tulsa‘s Collins College of Business MBA program. All students taking classes online must complete these core courses:

  • Computer Information Systems
  • Corporate and Business Strategy
  • Financial Management
  • Issues in Business Ethics
  • Leading and Managing Organizations
  • Marketing Management
  • Operations Management
  • Preparing, Understanding, and Using Financial Statements
  • The World Economy

Online MBA electives

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.

Online MBA specializations

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.

Online MBA immersions

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

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.

Online MBA no GMAT

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 online MBAs

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.

Why earn an MBA online?

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.

Expanded options

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.

Unique learning opportunities

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.

Same degree as on-campus MBA

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.

Are online MBAs respected?

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.

How does an online MBA impact job prospects?

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.

How does an online MBA impact salary potential?

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.

Online MBA rankings

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.

What are the best online MBA programs?

According to U.S. News & World Report and Poets & Quants, the following colleges and universities are home to some top online MBA programs:

What are the cheapest online MBA programs?

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:

What are the best-value online MBA programs?

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.

Should I get an MBA online?

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)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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