Online MBA Students Consider Other MBA Options

Prospective students who are considering an online MBA program are also looking at quite a few other alternative ways to get the degree. A new study by the Graduate Management Admission Council published today (April 24) found that nearly half (46%) of the candidates who are thinking about doing an online MBA are also considering a full-time one-year option, while over a third (35%) are looking at the traditional full-time, two-year MBA.

Not surprisingly, however, the majority (65%) of prospective online MBA students are considering part-time MBA offerings, while 51% told GMAC they are thinking about doing a “flexible MBA.” Of the students who expressed interest in an online format, 36% said they are thinking about doing a hybrid or blended online program that combines long-distance learning with in-residence sessions.

One clear trend in the data is that no matter which MBA format considered or preferred, the number one criteria for applying was the perceived quality and reputation of the business school, showing once again the impact and influence of rankings in every space, including rankings of online MBA programs such as Poets&Quant’s 2019 list, U.S. News’ 2019 ranking, and the Financial Times list.

Online options are under consideration by a wide range of MBA seekers, according to the study. About a quarter (24%) of the potential applicants to Executive MBA programs, for example, say they are also examining online MBA Programs as an alternative.  Some 62% of those who said they are thinking about a “flexible MBA” are considering either a pure online program or a blended option (see table below).

Source: GMAC Prospective Students Survey in 2018

Even so, GMAC’s Prospective Student Survey—of 9,617 individuals responding between January and December 2018—show that roughly one if five would-be graduate business students are either considering an online or hybrid MBA though fewer, just 5%, have a preference for one. 

Some 12% of prospective graduate business students said they would consider an online program, up from 11% in 2017 and 10% in both 2016 and 2015 (see table below). Ten years ago, 14% of potential MBA students said they would have considered an online offering.

Source: GMAC Prospective Students Survey in 2018

But only 3% of the candidates thinking about doing an online MBA actually expressed a preference for it (see below table). Of this group, the largest single chunk of would-be students (28%) were 40 years of age or older, followed by the 31- to 39-year-age group (21%), and then the 25- to 30-year-old group (14%). Their first consideration in looking at MBA programs is the actual format, representing 55% of the sample, one in four said a specific school was driving their interest and 20% said the program’s regional location was a factor.



Even fewer candidates showed interest in more expensive blended programs. Some 9% of the respondents said they would consider applying to a hybrid or blended program, though only 2% would prefer to enroll in one (see table below). Slightly more women (9%) than men (8%) were interested in blended programs. As was true with pure online options, respondents from a wide variety of countries and world regions seem keen on a blended offering, with 14% from the U.S., a surprisingly high 12% from Canada, and 9% from Africa.

Source: GMAC 2018 Prospective Students Survey

In contrast, consideration of both full-time one-year and two-year MBA programs has increased in recent years. Overall consideration of one-year MBA programs (47%) surpassed two-year MBA programs (45%) in 2018 for only the second time in the last decade of survey data. Twenty-one percent of candidates prefer the full-time one-year MBA, and 19 percent of candidates prefer the full-time two-year MBA (see table below).

Source: GMAC 2018 Prospective Students Survey

One important drawback to the study, however, is that it is based on a random sample of registered users on GMAC’s website, largely of test takers who register for the GMAT exam. Most online and blended MBA Programs do not require a standardized test for admission, and those that do are increasingly waiving that requirement. Still, more would take the rival GRE exam instead of the GMAT to get into an online business school program. So the survey would most likely fail to account for many online prospects.


Candid perspectives from Kelley Direct students and Kelley School of Business officials