“It’s very different from the full-time program,” Tate tells Poets&Quants. “But we still do look at transcripts quite closely, and our students are required to show academic accomplishment, and they must maintain a 3.0 average while they’re in the program. So it is still very rigorous. But it is the work experience that we weight quite a bit when it comes to evaluating candidates for the online program.”
Tate has been in her role at D-Amore-McKim since 2005 and so she has seen the evolution of its online program, which is ranked No. 4 in 2016 by the Financial Times. The program has nine different enrollment periods, or intakes, during the year and typically carries between 260 and 270 students. “Our program was one of the first out there to offer the online MBA program, and we started off waiving the GMAT,” Tate says. “The reasoning was because the program was purposely going to target people with extensive work experience. It’s work experience — and extensive, deep work experience — that makes a difference.”
Looking around at other online MBA programs, Tate notes that some require the GMAT and others require a lot less work experience than D’Amore-McKim does. But work experience is what her school is most famous for, its undergraduates having to complete a six-month co-op program as a chief requirement for graduation. “Experience plays a big role in our online MBA, and that is very consistent with Northeastern’s mission here — if you know anything about the university you know that our undergrad students work co-op,” Tate says. “We believe that the way we run the online program is very consistent and so we do hear from students and alumni, they don’t necessarily talk a lot about not having to take the GMAT, but they do feel valued, they do feel that their work experience does count for something.
“In terms of the GMAT, I would say that we see that as offering a level of convenience, although that’s not the express purpose,” Tate continues. “But it does make it more attractive, it is a program where you will prove yourself — and yet you have to prove yourself to get into the program. You still have to show qualifications even though the GMAT is not required.”
SUBSTANTIAL ONLINE GROWTH — THANKS TO NO GMAT
Amy McHale, assistant dean for master’s programs at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, says Whitman has waived the GMAT for its online program for those with five years or more of professional work experience “for as long as I can remember.”
As at Northeastern, Syracuse focuses on work experience as the prime indicator of program fit, and predictor of future success. The full-time program tends to attract students who are 24 to 25 years old, with only a couple years’ work experience, McHale says — and that’s where the GMAT can be most helpful to admissions officers, particularly in the quant. “That’s what we’re looking at, as well as looking at their transcripts to make sure that they did well in statistics and any business courses, etc.,” she says.
For Whitman’s online program, however, the average age of students is 35, with 10 to 12 years of work experience. “So we can look at their résumé, look at their essay, what they want to do with the degree, hear about a challenging situation they’ve faced and often they’ll talk about something they’ve done in the workplace. We can look at how we feel they’re going to be successful in the program based on something other than just their standardized tests.”
The online program can be completed in as little as 24 months, McHale says, but students finish it on average in closer to three years. Between 900 and 1,000 will be enrolled by year’s end.
Whitman’s online MBA has grown substantially over the years, McHale says, evolving out of a homegrown, hybrid residential program in which students came to campus three times a year. “We were starting to see that that was a less competitive model as more and more programs around the country started offering very limited residency,” McHale says. Relaunched in January 2015, the program now only requires three one-credit immersions and some face-to-face sessions, with the opportunity to meet in Seattle in October on a pair of topics: Global Trends in Information Technology and Digital Marketing.
The key — and an “extremely important” one, McHale says — is no GMAT online. “We’ve seen whenever we do tests of digital messaging, whether that be display ads or banner ads or if we’re testing new messaging in social media, GMAT waiver tends to win hands-down in terms of at least drawing people in. I think a lot of schools are moving in that direction, again probably more likely just for the working professionals program, but again, the whole idea being that you’ve got other things to judge the population on.”