Considering going back to school to earn your Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree? Whether you work in the corporate world or own a small business, getting an MBA is a great professional development strategy. The MBA degree is a well-established pathway to an expanded business skillset, improved effectiveness as a business manager or owner/operator, and heightened potential for increased earnings. Now, the emergence of numerous online MBA programs offered by reputable business schools makes it possible for busy professionals to achieve the distinction of holding an MBA degree without interrupting their career paths.
What is an Online MBA?
The MBA is one of the most popular postgraduate university degrees in the worldis nearly universally accepted as the terminal credential for professionals in the business world. A quality MBA program imparts advanced understanding of critical business concepts. Beyond that, study for your MBA will offer opportunities to build practical competencies and practice with the latest technologies, enhance decision-making and leadership skills, provide real-world experience, and leave you with a network of valuable connections to support future career advancement.
An online MBA is simply an MBA degree program that has been designed for delivery via the Internet. The curriculum of a modern online MBA program differs very little from what would be encountered in a traditional on-campus program. Whether carried out online or face-to-face, study for the MBA degree focuses on foundational aspects of business operations and management as well as strategic thinking and decision-making processes associated with leading a successful enterprise in today’s globalized, highly-competitive business environment. MBA candidates can expect to engage in core coursework in accounting, business law, economics, finance, management, and marketing. Specialty study might include fields such as business analytics, entrepreneurship, international business, management information systems, and more.
Like most current university distance learning options and indeed most university courses in general, the courses for an online MBA program are delivered and accessed via a learning management system (LMS). An LMS is software, either cloud-based or hosted on university servers, that supports the creation and delivery of multi-media educational content. The LMS also provides for typical instructional functions such as instructor-student communication, student participation monitoring, performance assessment, and grade reporting. Today’s learning management systems are easy to learn and simple to use for instructors and students alike. The most popular learning management systems now in use at U.S. universities include
Students working through an online MBA program may encounter both synchronous class sessions in which instructors and students are present online together and interacting in real time, and asynchronous sessions based on pre-recorded lectures and self-study materials that students work through according to their own schedule. Student papers and other assignments are handed in by uploading them to the LMS. Quizzes and exams may be taken within the LMS or at designated testing centers under proctored conditions.
It is important for prospective online MBA students to realize that the majority of courses in American universities are now delivered in hybrid format. That means on-campus students attending face-to-face class sessions access portions of their courses and materials online through the LMS. This is also how they reference their course schedule, receive messages from the university and keep track of their grades. Many on-campus students mix fully-online classes into their schedule of traditional courses for the convenience, time savings, and other advantages offered by online study. There is no reason to feel that online study is somehow inferior, or that an online MBA degree will not be as acceptable and respected as a degree earned on-campus.
What are the Benefits of Earning an MBA Online?
There are many advantages associated with earning your MBA online. One obvious upside is the ability to work through courses on your own timetable and at your choice of locations. Depending on specific program requirements, there may be hard deadlines; for example course beginning and completion dates, assignment due dates, and exam schedules. Synchronous class sessions usually require students to log in and participate at set times. Some programs require attendance at periodic on-campus intensive sessions. However, any online program will offer far more flexibility than traditional on-campus study. This is what makes the online MBA so attractive to mid-career working professionals and older students who have family responsibilities.
Doing your MBA study online offers other benefits that may not recognized by those who have never experienced online study. A very important advantage is cost savings. Certainly the ability to continue full-time employment while studying represents huge savings on the opportunity cost associated with going to school and is extremely important when it comes to avoiding graduate school debt. Beyond that, even if distance learning tuition rates are identical to on-campus course charges, online students can avoid many major expenses. These might include various fees paid by on-campus students as well as costs for relocation, housing, transportation, parking, childcare, cafeteria food, and many other items.
Working students will likely find that online study is far less stressful than taking on-campus courses. Anyone who has rushed through traffic at the end of a full work day, struggled to find parking on campus, then walked into a 2 or 3-hour evening class tired and hungry will attest to this fact. Students who have already been out of school for a number of years can benefit from being able to go through recorded lectures at their own pace, rewinding and reviewing the material whenever desired. Online courses also often include useful supplemental materials like videos, extra readings, and links to external sites and resources. Overall, it is easier to feel relaxed and in control of things when taking online courses.
Those who think online students miss out on important interactions with their instructors may be surprised to find that it can actually be easier to get in touch with online instructors. The ability to make contact by means of email, LMS messaging systems, discussion boards, text messages, and other communication modes removes the often difficult-to-navigate restrictions of time and place that come with trying to meet professors during their office hours. In a similar vein, it is common for contact with classmates to be more frequent and rich through digital channels in an online course than in a face-to-face classroom. And important on-campus resources like technical support, advisory and administrative services, career counselling, job placement, and corporate recruiter networks are just as readily available to online students as they are to on-campus students.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online MBA?
Depending on the program selected and the strategies used, an online MBA can offer additional benefits in terms of time to completion. In general, online and on-campus MBA degree programs have similar core credit requirements of 30-36 graduate credits. Depending on a student’s previously completed coursework, which affects prerequisite requirements, full-time study should see either type of degree completed in about 24 months. However, some online programs or specific courses may allow for self-paced study. This means a student could push to finish a course quickly, for example during a work vacation period, and move on. With the correct strategies, a month or two can be trimmed from the degree completion time.
There are also programs that offer students with business backgrounds credit for previous work experience. In an ideal situation with this type of program and with intensive work, some scenarios could see a student finishing in 18 months or less. Another option is the accelerated program in which MBA candidates are placed in a cohort and the entire group of students is moved through a pre-set schedule of courses presented in blocks. Some of these programs advertise degree completion in as little as 12 months. Disadvantages aside from the killing pace might include having to forgo opportunities to participate in internships or overseas study experiences.
Alternatively, the demands of work and family may call for a slower pace of study. There are online programs that can accommodate this, with some allowing up to six years for completion. On-campus programs may present rigid enrollment and load requirements, higher costs for part-time study, and problems related to the frequency of course offerings. With online programs, it is generally easier to adjust course loads up and down from term to term and even skip a semester if needed.
What About MBA Concentrations?
A concentration combines the advanced management education delivered by an MBA curriculum with graduate-level elective courses targeted around a specific adjunct field or topic. Typical and popular concentrations include Accounting, Criminal Justice, Healthcare Management, Economics, and a host of other possibilities. Completing an MBA concentration equips graduates with specialized skills and knowledge in preparation for leadership roles in their desired field.
Choosing an in-demand concentration that also suits your interests and capabilities is an important consideration when enrolling in any style of MBA program. It is possible to find online MBA programs that offer the same concentrations found in on-campus programs. General Management is consistently popular and is offered by most online programs. Trending concentrations like Entrepreneurship, Finance, International Management, IT Management, Marketing and others are also readily available.
Programs that do not offer specific pre-designed concentrations may allow candidates to build their concentrations by selecting appropriate electives. A related detail that is important to look into is whether or not a program under consideration lists a graduate’s chosen MBA concentration on transcripts and diplomas. Some programs do not do so; in these cases, concentrations are self-declared and graduates list them on their résumés. Be careful to choose a program that meets your preferences in this area.
When it comes to concentrations, an online MBA can offer some advantages over a traditional program. Lower costs and more availability of elective course offerings online can translate to the ability to put together and complete custom concentrations to suit career requirements and personal interests. For students with the required energy and passion, the flexibility and degree of freedom from time constraints provided by online study can support completion of more courses and coverage of a broader range of subjects.
How Much Does an Online MBA Cost?
Like any other university study experience, the cost of an online MBA can vary widely. Program tuitions differ dramatically from school to school. As is true for on-campus degrees, the status and reputation of the school and program greatly affects tuition cost for online programs. Elite Ivy League degrees come with corresponding price tags whether the degree is earned on-campus or online, and tuition for such programs can run well over USD $100,000.
Other factors include whether a school is public or private, profit or non-profit, and the type of MBA program chosen. An Accelerated MBA can cost more than a traditional MBA program, and MBA specialization also affects cost. Program fees along with the cost of course materials must be considered. Aside from costs related to the choice of school and program, related direct expenses such as GMAT study materials and testing fees as well as tuition for any prerequisites that must be completed are variables that will affect costs on an individual basis. In addition, like their on-campus colleagues, many online MBA students participate in internships, field experiences, and study abroad programs. In most cases, these extras will add to the overall cost of the degree.
Recent numbers place the average in-state tuition cost for an online MBA at USD $35, 489, or $841 per credit hour. Out-of-state average tuition is $39,842, or $963 per credit hour. The median cost is around $25,000. At the lower end of the spectrum, several schools offer an online MBA in the sub-$10,000 dollar range. For example, an online MBA degree from Fayetteville State University’s College of Business and Economics costs about $6500. Near the other extreme, the Tepper School of Business at the private Carnegie Mellon University charges $132,000 plus fees for a part-time online MBA program. However, even this high-altitude number pales in comparison to the average of $140,000 that full-time on-campus students pay including tuition and fees, textbooks, living expenses and transportation. Clearly, online programs do hold out the potential for significant cost savings.
Is an Online MBA Right for You?
Online MBA study, like any online coursework, presents challenges and demands that differ from those encountered in traditional classroom settings. Success in an online MBA program requires strong self-discipline and excellent time management skills. Online students study alone, following their own timetables and driven by personal motivation. They cannot rely on the structure imposed by daily class schedules and regular face-to-face contact with teachers and classmates.
It is also very important for online students to have access to a quiet environment that is conducive to engaging in long periods of concentration and the effective uptake of complex information. And of course, a reasonable level of skill and comfort with technology, a reliable fast Internet connection, and up-to-date computer hard- and software are absolute requirements.
If doing an online MBA degree is the right strategy for you, choose the school and program that best suits your needs and preferences, then move forward confidently. The work ahead will not be easy, but your drive and dedication will be rewarded as studying for and earning your online MBA yields rich returns in terms of both personal growth and career advancement.