How to Prepare for Your Online MBA Program

For working professionals who have been out of school for a while, getting back into the groove of becoming a student can be a challenge

One big attraction to an Online MBA is the flexibility for participants to combine their work with study, so they can continue earning an income while upgrading their credentials. But that is a tall task. For many working professionals who enrol in these programs, it can be a shock to the system becoming a student again after years in employment. Therefore, preparation is key.

“It is important that students put a strategy in place in order to be ready to fully commit to the program while continuing with the same busy life that they had before the MBA. They need to take into consideration the time they need to invest, and how they can have a good work-study balance,” says Valentina Armini, head of admissions and enrolment for executive programs at Milan’s POLIMI Graduate School of Management.

These plans must already have been put in place months before the beginning of the program, she adds, so that participants can prepare for becoming a student again. “What drives them is the curiosity and willingness to take on a new challenge,” Armini says.

Happily, POLIMI supports Online MBA students from the moment they first show an interest in the program. “After an initial screening, they go through a selection process, which allows them to show their skills and to understand more about the school and our program. Once their participation has been confirmed, they are put in contact with our International Student Office, which supports them with any administrative matters and with finding accommodation if they are moving to Milan,” Armini explains.

Getting a jumpstart on MBA courses ahead of time

Other schools also have support systems in place for Online MBA candidates to get prepared long before they actually embark on the program. The Gies College of Business, in Illinois, has a partnership with online education company Coursera, which provides digital courses created by faculty from the school, so that students can review their Online MBA content prior to the start of classes.

This allows students to get a jumpstart on each course ahead of time. “Many students in our iMBA program are working professionals who have been out of school for a while, so quite naturally getting back into the groove of becoming a student can be a challenge for them,” says Marcus Phillips, associate director of recruiting and admissions for Gies’ online programs.

Shifting their focus onto their studies, and for some, managing a family, can be very challenging. That is why Gies has an onboarding process prior to the first day of class.

“Incoming students have the opportunity to connect with current students during our student ambassador office hours to learn more about the program, coursework, expectations and resources available,” explains Phillips. “There is also a welcome webinar prior to the beginning of courses that consists of a student panel and breakout rooms in Zoom to provide you with a glimpse of what it will be like engaging with fellow learners in the program.”

Smoothing the transition into business education 

Business schools want to be sure that Online MBA students have the resources, information, and support to help make their transition into the program as smooth as possible. “The most challenging part to pursuing the Online MBA is fitting it into an already very busy schedule,” says Meg Lukus, director of Online MBA programs at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, in Pittsburg.

“Unlike full-time students who pause their careers, our part-time online students are full-time working professionals who are managing their careers, attending live classes in the evenings, studying on the weekends, and many have families and young children as well.”

It is a delicate balancing act, and the first semester of the program can be challenging for Online MBA students as they navigate their new normal.

Therefore, the Tepper School offers many resources during the onboarding process. “In the summer leading up to their program start we offer academic prep courses to ensure that students can confidently and successfully navigate the core curriculum. This is helpful for our population as most of our students have not been in school for several years,” says Lukus.

Moreover, the school runs an in-person orientation, known as BaseCamp, on which Tepper reviews academic resources, connects incoming students to faculty, and shares best practices for navigating education in a virtual environment.

But while the transition back to education is challenging, this is also what actually appeals to Online MBA students, who are thoughtful about what they put their time into. “They are an incredibly talented group of individuals who manage to balance their academics, professional careers, and personal lives while also seizing every opportunity that an Online MBA creates for them,” Lukus adds.

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