online MBA

3 Myths About Doing Your MBA Online

Online MBA programs have seen record growth in applications for admission in recent years. For many working professionals considering an MBA, however, studying online may not be how they envisioned going to graduate school.

There are many stigmas associated with online MBA programs – for instance, learners may believe that employers will not take an online MBA seriously, or that an online MBA is not as difficult or rigorous as a traditional on-campus program. Many B-school bound students could easily take for granted that online MBA programs have been evolving for decades – growing in both sophistication and popularity, particularly with growth in digital video streaming and online assessments in the last 20 years.

You may have some strong feelings about online MBA programs. In this article I address some common online MBA myths; as online learning has grown, so has the demand and power of these uniquely-created business degrees, so it’s worth thinking about them in new context.

Myth #1: Online MBA programs are not “as good as” on-campus programs.

Each year, selective business schools find new and dynamic ways to demonstrate their MBA program differentiators; their Class Profiles, their placement rates with top employers, their GMAT average (less popular now), the accolades of alumni…and, of course, rankings in a variety of publications. While making the choice is difficult, these data sets can help students navigate the subtle differences among even the most similar Ivy league MBA programs. Beyond qualifications, however, most admission officers will advise applicants that finding the right program is often about finding the right “fit” with the program and school (just as it is true for undergraduate degree seeking students). Not all on-campus MBA programs are focused the same way; some have well-earned reputations in industry, and not every pedagogy will fit with a student’s career goals. The need for more differentiation in the market has led, in part, to an increase in the popularity of online MBA programs that offer the same topics, taught by the same faculty, but in new ways.

Various elite business schools have been working for decades to provide learners with an online experience that comes close to the “real” on-campus experience; for example, Harvard Business School Online offers a variety of multi-week certificates with interactive modules, led by HBS faculty. These cohort-based certificate courses offer learners all over the world the chance to dive into topics such as leadership development, data analytics or disruptive strategy (taught with recorded material from the late Clayton Christensen). While these virtual classes are non-credit bearing, they can be used as a part of a Credential of Readiness in preparation for applying to an MBA program. While this is not an “online Harvard MBA,” it’s content from the same faculty.

The bottom line is that a university’s online MBA can offer the same rigorous curriculum as its on-campus counterpart; instructors simply tailor coursework to online platforms. Advances in technology have allowed schools to enhance opportunities for location-independent study. While the quality of online instruction delivery is growing, so is the selectivity of online MBA programs. Arizona State University is widely regarded as a university leader in online learning and offers an online MBA through their W.P. Carey School of Business (more than half of the W. P. Carey School’s 30+ undergraduate business degree programs are also available 100% online). The W.P. Carey Online MBA was recently ranked #7 among the best online MBA programs by U.S. News and World Report, and has become quite selective with a 48% admit rate. While this is not as selective as some elite on-campus programs, the W.P. Carey School of Business benefits greatly from having the entrepreneurial resources and investment of ASU Online to drive demand and innovation in online delivery of content at scale. High-quality online MBA delivery is a growing trend, particularly as more traditional MBA programs seek ways to attract new learners in a competitive recruitment environment and reach learners “where they are,” both at work and at home (which are sometimes one and the same).

Myth #2: Doing an MBA online isn’t worth the money.

I am sure that many MBA graduates can argue that an on-campus experience affords learners certain opportunities that do not come as easily (or at all) with an online program – on-campus recruitment programs, in-person faculty interactions, peer-to-peer learning in informal settings, campus communities and environments, etc. One could also argue, however, that these are only a part of one kind of MBA experience – and that is the premium, expensive experience that requires in-person interaction. This type of on-campus MBA experience can require learners to live in a foreign place for an extended period of time, sometimes with their families, and with little means to support themselves or those who depend upon them.  Sometimes, the burdens of these programs can outweigh the benefits.

Costs savings can bring some additional advantages to those considering MBA programs online. First, online MBA programs are much more flexible and usually do not require learners to be out of work. Working while being able to go to school, particularly for asynchronous programs that do not require any real-time instruction, can make learning possible for busy working professionals. Online MBA programs also make it very easy for these learners to get in touch with support to find resolutions, answer questions about course registration etc. In on-campus programs, while these resources exist, many students must “figure things out” among the sea of distractions mentioned earlier. While online MBA programs may not give a student the chance to participate in certain activities, they can reduce those distractions and provide a level of focused support based on the data-driven learning environment. So, by choosing to do an MBA online, some students may find they are more focused and able to balance their responsibility with the goal of obtaining the degree, and that they have better supports in place to help them succeed.

For example, the University of Memphis, a top-tier research institution (according to the Carnegie Classification) offers an Online MBA from their Fogelman College of Business & Economics. Like the W.P. Carey Online MBA, admission to the Fogelman Online MBA is competitive. However, the published cost for the Memphis program is only slightly over $23,000 (this is less than half the cost of most online MBA programs, and 25% of the price for some of the elite on-campus MBA programs in the U.S). While there are some trade-offs in terms of the campus experience (and certainly disadvantages for some learners looking for a certain B-school experience), an online MBA is definitely worth the money when you consider the lower costs for some programs. Other top research universities have followed the University of Memphis and are offering online MBA programs at a fraction of the cost of competitor programs, aligning with a shifts in the market.

Myth #3: Employers don’t take an online MBA seriously.

There is no denying that demand for online MBA programs is growing, but many would rather not admit that they are earning a degree online. One commonality among university online MBA programs is that they never identify the program as “online” on the degree. So, if you are worried that your parents or your employer will look at your Master of Business Administration and see that you did it “online,” don’t worry…they won’t (this is a common question for admissions offices for lots of kinds of online degree programs, so feel free to ask if you are worried). Why does this bother learners? They are afraid that if it were generally known that they did their degree online that they would not be taken seriously.

When it comes down to it, employers not only take online MBAs seriously for hiring purposes, but the skills that come with an online MBA help advance professionals in their career – producing a demonstrable impact on performance. The skills that come from an MBA can be the most valuable part of the degree.

Beyond making a distinction between online and on-campus MBAs during hiring or employment, companies are clearly leaning towards online MBAs in employee tuition benefits. In the past, on-campus MBA programs were exclusively where companies would sponsor tuition assistance for top executives. A handful of individuals would be able to take advantage of top-tier education because the on-campus delivery, the high cost, and other factors made it prohibitive to offer that to more than just a few, top executives. Today, innovative companies like InStride are helping employers like Starbucks and Uber that want to offer the life-changing power of a degree to their employees, at scale – across worksites, across borders, to thousands of employees.

In addition to fully funding employee education, employers are providing coaching services to help employees navigate successfully to enrollment in an MBA. Some companies are even offering to pay for the courseware and books for employees taking online business degrees. In today’s competitive job market, where many professionals are working entirely remotely, companies need new ways to connect teams, inspire engagement and retain top talent. Online MBA programs can help employers to do that for their teams, providing cohort learning and building skills in ways that an on-campus program could never offer at the scale of virtual programs.

So, if you are considering an MBA program in your future, check out an online MBA program! You may be surprised by what you learn.