Is an Online MBA Right for you?

When considering whether to apply for an Online MBA, there are several key factors that prospective students should consider

Online MBA programs are an increasingly popular way to get ahead in business. But not all degrees, especially online programs, are built for everyone. When considering whether to apply for an Online MBA, there are several key factors that prospective students should consider.

There are some clear benefits to doing an Online MBA course, including the flexibility to fit your degree around your work, family and other commitments. “The online MBA allows you to get an education without waiting for your life circumstances to align perfectly,” says Luiz Mesquita, associate dean of graduate programs at W. P. Carey School of Business. “An Online MBA allows you to access education from anywhere in the world.”

They’re a great choice when you don’t want to move or travel to earn your MBA. Many Online MBAs involve residential periods, campus electives and optional global trips, meaning that students don’t miss out on valuable networking opportunities. However, the need to travel is less frequent.

This means Online MBAs make the most sense for those who want to continue working while they earn their degree and apply what they learn in their organizations right away.

“In a robust labor market that we see today, Online MBA programs are a very attractive alternative to full-time programs because an MBA aspirant doesn’t have to incur the opportunity cost of leaving their well-paying full-time job,” points out Sriram Venkataraman, assistant dean of the Online MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Good for remote leadership

In addition, online courses can help students to lead teams remotely as companies adjust to remote work in the post-coronavirus era. The “delivery experience really mimics the way we work today, by preparing students with the skills to become stronger leaders of geographically dispersed teams in global organizations”, says Venkataraman.

This makes it a popular option for early and mid-career professionals who want to advance in their organizations and already work in business, but it is also an excellent avenue to change careers.

However, it is still a rigorous and challenging degree that requires a significant investment of time and effort. “An Online MBA attracts self-motivated candidates who value a flexible experience and are also able to adopt a disciplined approach to managing their studies,” says Markus Perkmann, academic director of the Online MBA at Imperial College Business School.

He says candidates should plan how they will adapt and ensure they can commit to the program, securing support from their employer for study time and residential modules on campus. An Online MBA is a time commitment that should not be underestimated, Perkmann says: “Evaluating and making this commitment upfront is vital to ensuring maximum ROI from an Online MBA.”

A career plan

Students should have a sense of where they want to go after the program — without a plan for how to apply for the degree, they may struggle to fully leverage the MBA, says Mesquita, at W. P. Carey School of Business. In addition, he says students need to prepare for the rigorous nature of the degree. “Brushing up on writing, math, and statistics skills will help students hit the ground running.”

At UNC, Venkataraman’s advice is that prospective students should consider what they want most from the MBA experience and speak with admissions staff and current students to make sure they find the right fit.

“Prospective students might want to dig into the curriculum and options for customization, get information on global study opportunities and experiential programming, explore whether career coaching is tailored to working professionals, and understand what the online classroom experience is like by sitting in on a class session,” he says.

All of us have different learning styles, Venkataraman explains. “Some of us are self-motivated and can learn from stepping through asynchronous material alone. Some of us flourish in an environment when we also have an opportunity to interact face-to-face in an online format with fellow students and faculty. Some of us learn best when asynchronous learning and face-to-face online learning is further augmented with some in-person opportunities.”

Online MBAs offer different formats, but not all programs cater to all three learning styles. “Online programs also vary a lot in terms of rigor, delivery formats and reputation in the marketplace,” says Venkataraman.

UNC offers a flexible and customizable program that students can navigate based on their workplace and personal circumstances. It also offers in-person summits, an opportunity to meet in-person with classmates and get stuck into leadership development training.

“This is optional, and a vast majority of our students avail of these short-term, in-person learning opportunities,” Venkataraman says. “They can do all this without leaving their current full-time jobs or relocating”

Pursuing an MBA while working is, ultimately, a significant investment and takes a certain amount of sacrifice, but it comes with major personal and professional rewards.

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