The fees for an Online MBA can be substantial, but many who embark on these digitally delivered degrees reap a healthy return on their investment. The ROI will vary significantly for each student, based on many factors, including the quality and resources of the school from which they obtain their Online MBA.
But generally speaking, many graduates from Online MBA programs in the US will enjoy a salary increase of between 20 and 40 percent during or shortly after the program, with higher incremental increases and earning potential throughout the remainder of their career, according to Shelbi Brookshire, executive director of MBA admissions at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business in the US.
“To maximize ROI, it is extremely important for Online MBA students to ensure they have access to career resources as part of the cost of their program,” she says.
Most students use loans to fund a portion if not all the cost of tuition, says Brookshire. The main loans in the US are the Stafford and Grad Plus loans, which are open to US citizens and permanent residents only. There are also some other banks which will provide access to education loans for overseas students, while state credit unions will sometimes have education loans for domestic candidates.
But many schools provide scholarships and affiliation tuition discounts such as a potential corporate discount with an employer, that may range from five to 30 percent of the fees, depending on the school and partnership.
“Search as many databases as possible since many scholarships are affinity or goal based and only the prospective student will know what fits best with their background or goals,” says Brookshire.
How to land an Online MBA scholarship
To win a competitive scholarship, and maximize the award, Brookshire says students need to ensure they know their goals and that their aims are a true fit with the school to which they apply.
“Most schools award merit-based funds,” she says. “Thus, you need to understand the values and the weight of those values.” For instance, the Smith School values high admissions test scores and undergraduate grade point averages.
“You should engage with recruiters early and have a clear understanding of where your competitiveness is compared to their average student,” says Brookshire. “If you do not have as many of the attributes that school values, consider how you can mitigate such as taking the GMAT or GRE, even if not required.”
Furthermore, many employers have traditionally been willing to fund Online MBA students, in part because they do not have to quit their job to study so can keep contributing to their organization’s growth.
Brookshire says that to win employer sponsorship for an Online MBA, candidates must connect their participation in the program with the goals of the organization and provide concrete ways they will increase their own value to the employer.
“For instance, if the curriculum sources real-time consulting projects or allows for experiential learning, that could be project-based via a challenge the organization is facing,” she says. “In addition, provide at least two development paths whereby the organization investing in your development could leverage your new knowledge, skills and abilities.”
Check on financial aid
Since most Online MBA programs do entail a significant tuition expense and some of these programs are relatively new, it’s important for prospective students to ensure that they offer financial aid options before committing to a degree. “Check with the MBA program’s financial aid office to assess options,” recommends admissions consultant Stacy Blackman, based in California.
One downside is that because Online MBA students are still employed for the duration of their studies, there is less scholarship funding typically available to them than those studying full-time on campus.
“Online MBA programs are relatively new so scholarship likelihood is still a black box — it’s unclear whether the programs offer scholarship but check with the programs via their info sessions to ask,” says Blackman. “And, aiming for a wide array of programs, even those lower ranked, would increase the chances of earning a scholarship, as would quality essays for the application.”
George Andrews, associate dean of degree programs at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, says there are a wide range of financial resources students use to fund their program: from corporate sponsorships and employer tuition reimbursement to federal and private student loans.
Rice University also participates in the Yellow Ribbon program for veteran students using their government benefits. “Prospective students should be aware that every situation is unique and that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to funding their education,” says Andrews. “We encourage students to reach out to our Student Financial Services team early in the process so that we can walk you through the entire process and answer all of your questions.”
Despite the often high upfront cost, he insists that the return on investment for an Online MBA spans decades and therefore doesn’t have to be framed as an immediate payback, though for many students the dividends are forthcoming quickly.