Should You Get an Online MBA Now?

The pandemic has crystallized the benefits of a digital degree

Applications for Online MBAs jumped 43.5 percent in 2020, according to a survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, as the economic disruption of coronavirus caused many people to remain in or return to education. With the pandemic recovery now gathering pace, does it still make sense to get an Online MBA now?

“It absolutely makes sense,” says Aaricka Hellberg, assistant director of admissions and recruiting for online programs at Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“The disruption caused by the pandemic only highlights the need for the workforce to develop future-ready skills,” she says. “Many of the skills needed to adapt and grow in this rapidly changing business landscape are inherent to graduate business education – agility, strategic leadership, and innovation.”

Hellberg says the benefit of pursuing a degree online is that you can use your education in tandem with your career to not only develop a deeper understanding of what you learn in the classroom, but also to demonstrate the skill in applying that knowledge as well. “We will continue to see changes in business as the world begins to rebound, which will require an agile, skilled workforce,” she says.

Additionally, Online MBAs are often more affordable than their residential counterparts, Hellberg points out. “This means that you really are able to invest in your education while increasing your return; it’s a win-win.”

Can Online MBAs co-exist with in-person programs?

The pandemic lockdowns have accelerated the use of online platforms for study, blurring the distinction between distance learning courses and full-time MBAs taken in-person. However, Covid proved the two degree formats can coexist, instead of cannibalizing each other, according to Maurizio Floris, director of the MBAX online programs at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) in Sydney.

“There is space for a variety of MBA program experiences – we see demand growing or remaining consistently strong for online, part-time and full-time MBA programs,” he says.

Floris says students who want to start an Online MBA tend to have a very different profile to those who want to undertake a full-time MBA: “Not everyone can take a year out of the workforce to complete a full-time MBA. We recently restructured our full-time MBA to make it a 12-month program. It’s an intense learning experience.”

In contrast, students enrolling in AGSM’s MBAX are on average aged 36, and many are experienced, mature professionals who are reluctant to put their career on pause to study full-time. “But the majority of our Online MBA students mix and match and do some courses online while doing other courses in face-to-face modes,” says Floris. “It really is the best of all worlds.”

An MBA on your own schedule

Furthermore, he says that an Online MBA is much more adaptable if life throws dramatic changes at you: “Online MBA students can continue their studies without any issues, whether they change jobs, the country they live in, or even through a pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the increasing acceptance of virtual communication and shift to remote working has strengthened the appeal of the Online MBA, says Shivraj Kanungo, vice dean for graduate programs at the GW School of Business in Washington, DC.

“In some ways the Online MBA will become even more sought-after given the emerging post-pandemic shift toward greater appreciation for remote interactions,” he says. “Employers are seeking to hire individuals with virtual team leadership and management skills. An Online MBA provides numerous opportunities for students to get experience in that.”

But, much like AGSM, the GW School offers a blend of learning formats for Online MBA students. Kanungo says: “We have moved beyond binary choices. Since we offer six MBA formats, we allow students to blend online and in-person classes.”

Where an online program has huge value is that students own their schedule, says Rebecca Loades, director of career accelerator programs at ESMT Berlin. “An Online MBA has a unique value proposition that sets it apart from other formats: earn an MBA degree while you are working, raising a family, or taking a career break. Make it fit around your life, from your preferred location,” she says.

There is no need to travel, nor be limited to local business schools, Loades  says. “Physical barriers to study have been removed so the class is really diverse,” she adds. “Our students can therefore share, and learn from, each other’s experiences in real-time.”

Amy Foster, director of MBA@UNC at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in North Carolina, says that ultimately, a quality online program was a great option before coronavirus, and remains one today. “The pandemic accelerated prospective students’ interest in an online program and, perhaps, made them more open to online studies,” she says. “The appeal is timeless.”

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