How to Build Strong Personal Bonds in Online MBA Programs

Building Offline Bonds in Online MBA Programs

In business education, networking is one cornerstone of professional growth and development. Traditionally, MBA programs have thrived on the camaraderie and connections forged through face-to-face interactions on campus. However, the landscape of business education has evolved, with the rise of Online MBA programs. So, how can these virtual degrees replicate the strong bonds typically fostered in on-campus environments?

While Online MBAs may lack the tangible presence of classmates and professors, they offer unique avenues for cultivating professional connections. And there are strategies that online students can employ for maximizing networking potential.

“A sense of community and camaraderie can be forged in online programs,” says Danielle Wang, director of MBA programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. 

Leveraging virtual platforms 

For one, in the absence of physical classrooms, virtual platforms become the lifeline of interaction in Online MBA programs. Students can make good use of discussion forums, virtual meetups and collaborative tools to engage with peers and faculty members.

“Many of our online courses include team project assignments. For example, in the Action Learning course, students form teams to work and complete a project in two consecutive semesters. They collaborate, partner and support each other in the assigned project,” says Wang.

Alumni networks are invaluable resources for networking and career advancement. It’s important to note that, in the digital age, networking transcends physical boundaries. “We all rely so heavily on spontaneity and physical presence to drive unstructured networking. However, the diverse global reach of an Online MBA program, coupled with convenience and accessibility, can create a far richer, more valuable network,” argues Gavin Symonds, senior program manager for MBA programs at Imperial College Business School in London. 

Establishing a robust digital presence is paramount in virtual networking. Students can leverage professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn to showcase expertise, connect with alumni and expand their professional network. They can also participate in online communities, to contribute insights and initiate conversations, thereby amplifying visibility and credibility within the business world. 

Events are good places to forge connections 

Events, ranging from webinars to conferences, are also good opportunities for networking. Online students can attend industry-specific events, alumni gatherings and career fairs to meet recruiters and fellow students. Authenticity lies at the core of meaningful networking, so it’s wise to approach it with a genuine intent to connect, learn and contribute. 

In the Smith School’s Online MBA program, most of the courses are offered online, but there are two in-person courses – “Opening Residency” and “Capstone” – offered at the beginning and towards the end of the program. “Students have the opportunity to reconnect and get to know each other through academic sessions, icebreakers, socials and friendly team competitions,” Wang says. 

Meg Lukus, director of Online MBA programs at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, adds: “While there are a number of incredible online platforms out there, there is also magic that happens when students come together face-to-face. In order to prepare and support our students in meeting their full potential, we believe that in-person experiences are critical to post-MBA success.” 

The challenges of remote networking 

But it’s not easy, as Lukus says: “All of our students enter the program working full-time and, often, are balancing challenging careers, personal and family obligations. Finding space for networking on top of that, can feel like an ‘extra’ that students just don’t have time for.” 

However, she adds that it’s well worth the effort. “The network you build during your time in the MBA is nearly as critical as the skills you obtain from the academics.” 

Anil Ram, careers manager at Warwick Business school in the UK, agrees. “Building a strong network offers graduates life changing and life-long benefits,” he says. “Many candidates embark on an Online MBA to open doors, learn and challenge themselves. Networking can provide a catalyst for that transformation.” 

So while virtual MBA programs may pose unique challenges in replicating the tangible interactions of on-campus environments, they offer solid opportunities for global networking and collaboration. 

“Physical distance, lack of face-to-face interaction and time-zone differences can be restrictive. But online platforms, video-conferencing tools and flexibility can lead to students becoming resilient in the face of obstacles and derive more benefit from their networks,” says Symonds at Imperial. 


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