Selecting the Perfect Online MBA Program

What are the most critical questions to ask yourself before picking from a wide array of Online MBA options?

With the rapid rise of technology, the accessibility and popularity of online education have soared, making Online MBA programs an increasingly attractive option for seasoned professionals seeking to enhance their skills and knowledge without putting their careers on pause. These have now overtaken traditional full-time residential MBAs in popularity, at least in the US.

However, with the multitude of Online MBA programs available, it is crucial to select the program that aligns best with your goals and aspirations. The number of course providers has surged following the Covid-induced boom in online education, with even top-tier business schools dropping long-held opposition to Online MBAs.

For prospective students, understanding the key factors in choosing the right Online MBA program is paramount — from accreditation and reputation to curriculum and networking opportunities. So, what are the most critical questions for working professionals to ask themselves before picking from a wide array of Online MBA options?

Know your ‘why’ and ‘when’

Coni Zingarelli, the executive director of recruiting and admissions at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business says it’s critical to understand why an MBA is important to your career. Indeed, prospective students should ask themselves what their career goals are and how any Online MBA program will help them meet them.

Additionally, they should ask themselves how the program will fit with their current job situation and stage in life, to figure out the best time to consider pursuing an Online MBA. “Adding an MBA program into your personal and professional commitments will take some adjusting, so it’s important for prospective students to be realistic about their other commitments when selecting a program,” Zingarelli says.

For example, if you have a flexible schedule then it would be easier to participate in an online program that has a “synchronous” or live component to it. If your schedule is structured, then an “asynchronous” or self-paced program may serve you best. “Online learning takes self-discipline, so a prospective student may want to consider programs that have strong academic advisors to help support their MBA journey,” adds Zingarelli.

Narrow down the choices

When prospective students start to look for Online MBA options, the search results will likely be overwhelming, because there are so many choices today. In the last decade, many top business schools have created such programs to expand access to graduate business education. So how can you narrow down the choices?

“The factors that often are the most influential are the school’s reputation or ranking, the program cost and the type of instruction. It’s also important to know whether you’ll participate in immersive courses on campus,” Zingarelli says, because these offer good networking opportunities.

Additionally, she recommends participating in information sessions to learn more about individual programs and get a feel for the school culture and environment. “Interactions throughout the admissions process are a good indicator of how prospective students will be cared for as students of that program,” she adds.

Identify attributes that align with your goals

In addition to common factors such as a school’s reputation or ranking, the program cost and the type of instruction, selecting a program that is accredited will give you assurance in the quality of instruction and outcomes. Another key factor for a prospective student to consider is what on-campus benefits, like career advising or networking, are available to them as an online student.

On top of that, they should identify the program attributes that best fit with their career goals and lifestyle, according to Rosellina Ferraro, the associate dean of MBA programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

“These attributes include the quality of instruction, how much interaction they will have with instructors and other students, and whether the curriculum provides full coverage of all functional business areas with opportunity for elective selection,” she explains. Elective options enable students to specialize in areas that are important to their career, such as digital business or sustainability.   

There are many differences between Online MBA programs. “Programs differ on the level of synchronous versus asynchronous content, whether courses are taught by full-time or adjunct faculty, the expertise level of the faculty, elective specializations, career development services, alumni networking opportunities, and whether there is experiential learning built into the program,” says Ferraro.

What makes a top-class Online MBA?

That said, prospective students should be looking out for a few key elements that make a premium program. “Top-class Online MBA programs offer courses taught by top research faculty and practitioners with deep industry knowledge, offer a rigorous, comprehensive curriculum that builds competencies in core business functions as well as in strategic thinking and leadership capabilities, and embeds experiential learning into the program," Ferraro adds. "In addition, they offer a robust portfolio of career resources and access to alumni."

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