Online or Traditional MBA Program: Which is Right for You?

Business schools have become increasingly innovative in their approaches to management education in recent years, and it comes as little surprise that we’re seeing an increased interest in online MBA programs as more and more schools now offer this option to meet the needs of working professionals who need greater flexibility.

In fact, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2016 Application Trends Survey, 57% of online MBA programs reported increases in their application volumes, up from 50 percent in 2015. Two-thirds (63%) of online MBA programs expect to increase their class size in 2016 compared with last year, which may reflect the growing interest in this educational format.

To determine whether an online or traditional MBA program is right for you, you’ll need to consider many factors, such as cost, reputation, your preferred learning style, and career goals.
online MBA programs

Where Online MBA Programs Shine

Flexibility. For MBA aspirants who are either unwilling or unable to leave their job and family to pursue a full time, two-year degree, a program that can taken from the comfort of one’s own home could be the ideal solution. Not everyone can afford to take two years off from work to pursue their degree, and the online MBA path is even more appealing given the lower cost of most online programs.

On-campus programs have far less flexibility by comparison. You need to be in the same city and able to attend classes on a set schedule in order to receive your assignments and meet with study groups.

Keep in mind that this format requires a high degree of self-motivation and excellent time management, and, like the one-year MBA, is best suited for candidates who are intent on sticking to the same career path or moving ahead within their current company.

Credibility Can Rival Traditional Programs. The caliber of online options has improved dramatically, with offerings coming from such highly ranked schools as Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Spain’s IE Business School, University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, and the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. You often receive the same education with the same professors as the on-campus MBA students, without having to leave your job and uproot your life.

Many news publications publish annual rankings for online MBA programs, which can aid your school selection process and help you determine whether a particular program is able to meet your needs and help you reach your MBA career goals.

Adaptive to Today’s Working Conditions. In today’s global business environment, much of the day-to-day interaction takes place remotely, via E-mail, text, or video conference. An online MBA format maximizes these technologies and perhaps even better prepares tomorrow’s business leaders for navigating within the dominant communication methods. Students can also apply what they learn in class on the job the next day and see real-time results.

If you decide that the online MBA experience is right for you, there are a couple of things you should look for in a program. Ideally, choose one that is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which also accredits all of the top brick-and-mortar b-schools and ensures that the program meets educational standards.

If at all possible, I also recommend pursuing online degrees with short-term in person residencies. For example, the UNC Kenan-Flagler program will feature up to four weekend residencies at different locations worldwide. IE Business School requires two one-week residencies in Madrid, and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business includes five short residency sessions along with the online work.

While the residencies might not yield the lifelong friendships and business partners many acquire during their traditional b-school experiences, they still offer chances to interact with professors and classmates face-to-face, which will remain an important business skill no matter how much of our work and education can be conducted online.

The Case for Traditional MBA Programs

The classic MBA experience is still the gold standard for many applicants because the full-immersion experience is invaluable for the networking opportunities and alumni connections. Students pursuing their degrees online inevitably give up many benefits offered by full-time programs.

While technology allows online students to easily communicate with their professors and even carry on discussions with their fellow learners, they don’t participate in campus clubs and interact with their cohorts during study sessions and off-campus activities, which are big parts of the b-school experience. The peers you move through the program with, who have similar interests and goals, will make up a huge part of your professional network for life.

In addition, opportunities for internships and recruiting are, by and large, far less prominent for the online student. Many of them also face the added stress of completing challenging course material while trying to maintain their career at the same time, something full-time MBAs usually don’t have to worry about.

In reality, every candidate has his or her own unique needs that must be aligned with the format that makes the most sense. Whichever program you choose in your MBA journey, a great fit with your goals and lifestyle will ensure the best results from application to graduation.


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