Poets & Quants quizzed the deans and directors at several schools offering online programs to find out the essential questions you should be asking before signing up for an internet-based MBA. Here are their top 10:
1. Is the school AACSB accredited? This one should be a no-brainer. Any program that’s not accredited is likely a waste of your time and money. Employers don’t trust them, and nor should you. Needless to say, business executives won’t exactly be beating down your door to hire you or shower you with raises and promotions.
Some schools claim accreditation, but it’s often the wrong kind. The closest you can get to a stamp of approval is accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. You can check the status of your prospective institution on the AACSB website. This will effectively rule out the for-profit schools, and that makes sense. Why go to a no-name for-profit institution when you can go to a legitimate university with the accreditation that counts?
2. Are students awarded the same degree as full-time MBA graduates? Many institutions offer online degrees for students who either work full-time or have other commitments that prevent them from taking the more traditional bricks-and-mortar degree path. Ideally, the degree for the online program should be indistinguishable from a school’s full-time MBA credential.
Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business will award identical diplomas in their new online FlexMBA and their mainstream full-time MBA. Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC and Arizona State University also grant online and full-time MBAs the same exact degree. You certainly don’t want to diminish your employment prospects by walking away with a newly minted degree that isn’t quite as good as the traditional MBA.
3. What are the outcomes for students who have completed the program? As an aspiring business student, you probably know that outcomes are key. The school should be able to provide you with stats on how many students have completed the program and their job placement rates. You’ll also want to find out job promotion rates and salary raises.
Indiana University reports that their online MBAs began the Kelley Direct program with an average salary of $76,750. By graduation they were pulling in an average of $104,160, an increase of 36%. Moreover, 66% of the students also earned a promotion by commencement. Babson College says its Fast Track MBA students averaged a 30% increase in pay by graduation. UNC’s Kenan-Flagler reports that nearly one-third of students in the online program for more than a year were promoted or landed a new job. While these numbers aren’t a guarantee, they give you a good idea of whether or not a program is effective.
4. What services are available? Students completing online programs don’t have the advantage of rubbing shoulders with on-campus recruiters during social events or dropping in to have their resumes reviewed at the career services center. You’ll want to find out what your potential program offers students who are off campus.
Most importantly, you’ll need to know about access to the career resources center. Can you sign up for interviews with on-campus recruiters, and will career services staff accommodate MBAs with nonstandard hours? Students enrolled in Tepper’s FlexMBA will have access to the full range of career resources, and the school is experimenting with new technology to enhance long-distance job interviews.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that for technology-based degrees you’re going to be using your computer – a lot. So if the software fails on a Saturday night, will their help desk be open and accessible to you? Given the hefty cost of most online MBA programs, you’ll also want to ask about financial aid services.
5. What type of technology does the school use? Online MBA programs rely heavily on digital communication. By and large, the majority of interactions with your professors and peers will be virtual, so you’ll want to be sure these exchanges are as seamless as possible. Many programs, such as those at Arizona State and Duke, have tech teams dedicated to building out and supporting online MBA platforms. Long gone are the days when professors walked into a recording studio, taped their lectures and posted them online. Quality programs will offer a variety of prerecorded lectures (for convenience), live programs where you can interact with professors and platforms where you can connect with peers. You should also expect to find interactive discussion boards where students can post questions and expect a timely answer from faculty.
You’ll also want to find out the ratio of asynchronous learning, or independent study, to synchronous learning, real-time classes. Asynchronous learning generally offers more flexibility since you can pull up prerecorded videos and lectures whenever your schedule permits. The drawback is that you loose the classroom experience of talking with your peers – a major value-add in the synchronous learning experience. Most programs blend the two together to varying degrees, so you’ll want to pick a program that matches your priorities.