Mistakes Online MBA Students Make — And How to Avoid Them

Avoiding common pitfalls can help participants flourish on an intense and demanding degree program

It’s no mean feat to successfully complete an Online MBA program: it involves balancing the study of a rigorous academic curriculum alongside the demands of day-to-day working life, usually as a senior executive, and very often alongside family and other personal commitments, too.

So it’s worth looking at the main mistakes that Online MBA participants make — so you can work out what hiccups to avoid and how to prosper on an Online MBA course. 

Zeeshan Sultan is director of the Global Online MBA at Germany’s WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. He says participants in this course make a few key mistakes related to networking.

“One of the reasons why people enroll in an MBA program is that they expect to advance in their career and leverage the network of the school. The participants in our Global Online MBA program realized early on that networking in an online environment works differently,” he says.

However, it requires more effort to establish and nurture relationships, both with peers and external contacts, than many people think. “Having online coffee chats alone is simply not enough.”

That being said, collaborating on study projects with team members from across the globe, as well as learning from the best practices and economies of other cultures, provides students with an opportunity to get to know each other better.

“Online formats and social media make it much easier to stay in touch with peers living in other countries,” says Sultan. “Being part of the WHU community means being part of a very active global network of talented professionals.”

Adjusting to life on an Online MBA

Over at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, many participants go through a natural adjustment period when they first enroll in the Online MBA.

“Starting something new always requires learning and adapting as you go. Most students pursued previous degrees in person, so there is a little bit of an adjustment when it comes to learning online. Luckily, with the shift to remote work over the past two years, this adjustment is coming even easier,” says Aaricka Hellberg, assistant director of admissions and recruiting.  

Indeed, many students on the iMBA online course at Gies were facing a daily commute of up to four hours per day before the pandemic struck in early 2020. “With a global shift to remote work, students are gaining back valuable time in their days. This shift has increased the comfort with navigating an online environment, so our students are more efficient in the learning process,” she says.

That being said, Hellberg acknowledges that the pandemic has added emotional and mental strain on people all over the world, and Online MBA students are not exempt. “We have support built into our program to help students navigate the additional commitment to education,” she says. “It’s important for students to prioritize self-care so that they are able to be successful in the academic space.”

A learning process

Rather than common mistakes, Leonardo Meeus, director of the Online MBA program at Vlerick Business School, sees a learning process for most participants in the Belgium school’s Online MBA.

“As soon as you realize that the MBA is what you need to survive and thrive at work, you will find a way to survive and thrive in the MBA,” he says. “Each course is designed to make you reflect on your experience within a certain industry, organization, or team. It is about challenging yourself and enriching yourself with the experiences of others.”

The participants on Vlerick’s Online MBA prefer the flexibility of the online format than the residential periods on campus.

“Some of them are based in other countries, others travel a lot for work, or they simply prefer to learn in the comfort of their own home,” says Meeus. “Courses are spread out over several weeks with some live moments where everybody is online at the same time, and other activities that must be completed within a certain deadline.”

Maurizio Floris, director of the Online MBA programs at Sydney’s UNSW Business School in Australia, insists that Online MBA students attract a broad church of candidates, despite the demanding nature of moving through the program.

“Our students are busy working professionals who need to be able to fit their studies around their other commitments — and they don’t want to be in a position where there is a trade-off between quality and flexibility,” he says.

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