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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

Is an Online MBA Right for You?

Online MBA degrees are becoming more and more popular. COVID-19 has only increased the popularity, and necessity, of online degrees. However, not all online degrees are created equal.

The gold standard for business school accreditation is the Association to Advance Collegiate School of Business. Online programs which are accredited have the same caliber and curriculum as in-person degrees. However, they offer students more flexibility surrounding their education.

Before deciding if an online or in-person program is more desirable for you personally, it’s important to consider many variables. Online programs provide more flexibility and oftentimes affordability, however they are a completely different learning environment. Consider each of the following carefully before making your decision.

1) Are you willing to take a break in your career? Or are you searching to switch careers?

To complete an in-person, full-time MBA program, taking a break in your career is necessary. It’s impossible to hold onto your full-time employment and to attend full-time courses. For many who pursue an online MBA, much of the appeal lies in this flexibility. By completing your degree online, you’re still able to work. 91% of all online MBA students still work while completing their degree according to the U.S. News and World Report. This allows students to keep their paycheck coming, gain more professional work experience, and maintain a more stable financial situation throughout school.

For those pursuing an in-person program, the desire may be to switch careers. This takes away the concern which comes from leaving your current career. The MBA becomes a perfect segway into a new profession. A bachelor’s degree in business will not provide someone with all of the nuanced skills necessary to be successful in every business industry. An MBA provides the opportunity to choose a specialization and become an expert in that area.

If your goal is to make strides in your current industry and position, an in-person program may not be ideal.

Although you can complete an online MBA and have a career switch, there are some other important factors to consider. For instance, will an in-person program provide more networking opportunities? The required internship for many in-person programs may provide the perfect entryway into a new career.

2) Do you need an in-person learning environment?

Learning online is still very different from learning in-person despite the improvements and innovations in technology. Some students feel more comfortable speaking out in an online environment. Others thrive in an in-person setting. If you thrive off of social interaction and in-person connection, an in-person program may be best for you, and it may be worth the sacrifices which come with it.

Some online programs now allow in-person learning opportunities for students who desire it. This does provide a bit of a hybrid experience for students, offering the best of both types of programs.

3) Is there a local university you want to attend? Are you willing to relocate?

There are many reasons you may not want to attend the university in your backyard. It may not be a top school, and you think you can receive admission at a higher ranked university. Or, there may be a university with a unique concentration or dual degree elsewhere that you want to pursue.

If there is no local university you want to attend, and you want to attend in-person, you’ll need to relocate. Are you willing to move yourself and potentially your family to another state?

If you don’t mind attending online, you have the opportunity to attend a top university without uprooting your current life and career.

4) Do you need flexibility?

Flexibility can make all of the difference. You can start an online MBA program without changing practically any other aspect of your life. You can learn through a screen without changing your location, your job, or anything else.

For those who already have a family to take care of, who are hesitant about changing their job or giving up their salary, or who have a hectic daily schedule, an online option can make a degree attainable which previously did not appear to be.

Additionally, many online programs give students up to five or six years to finish their degree. There is no tight timeline. You can take longer than a traditional online graduate program if needed.

5) Think about the environment

Online MBA students are often more diverse than full-time MBA students. There are more international students due to the increased accessibility of online programs. The programs attract a diverse student body from many different professional backgrounds and geographic locations.

Online students also tend to have more work experience than those in in-person programs. Most students in online programs have between six and ten years of work experience. Contrarily, full-time students have between three and five years of work experience, on average. The average online MBA student is 33 whereas full-time students are 27 years old.

6) What can you afford?

Online MBA programs often cost less than traditional, full-time programs. Whereas when attending a full-time program, students have to consider a high private tuition cost or whether a program is in-state or out-of-state, online students have the same cost regardless of location. Some in-person programs cost more than $200,000 dollars. Online programs average $38,000 for the entire program.

7) Think about a school’s reputation

The benefits of an MBA are well known and well documented. However, some express concern that an online version of the degree may not provide the same level of benefits as an in-person program. Well, reputation matters. Online degrees which come from accredited business schools offer the same rigor as their in-person counterparts.

Employees have also come to value online degrees for the unique contributions they offer. For instance, students who complete online degrees have high levels of independence and self-motivation. These skills are valuable in any business setting.

More and more top-ranked business schools are developing online programs. For most, the curriculum matches the in-person program seamlessly. Furthermore, the instructors are the same. The only substantial difference is the format of the delivery of the instruction.

As the reputation of these programs grows, admissions to them also grow. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, 57% of online programs demonstrate an increase in their applications.

8) Return on investment

There also seems to be a similar return on investment for full-time MBA and online MBA programs. A US News survey in 2017 found that three months after graduation with an online MBA, most students earn $96,974. Prior to starting their MBA, most students earned just $79,352. That is a 22% salary increase. Students may earn up to 60% more after completing an online MBA.

Most argue full-time MBA programs still offer a higher potential salary range, and this is true for some schools. For instance, at the University of Florida, full-time students experienced a 128% salary increase whereas online students experienced just a 41% salary increase (according to the Financial Times).

Nonetheless, both degrees offer similar reputations and benefits. The choice becomes which is more appealing and advantageous for your personal lifestyle and professional goals.


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