Going back to business school can be intimidating for adults. At work, they’re bombarded by non-stop emails and meetings, juggling high-wire emergencies and last-minute demands. At home, they serve as a provider and protector, the all-in-one manager, teacher, and cheerleader. Who has the time and energy to take on any more?
The online MBA was designed to make this “third job” more flexible. Here, students can study on their schedule. Better yet, they receive the same quality content and teaching as their full-time and executive peers. Still, the online platform raises certain questions. Who will be there to support them when they struggle? How do you manage team projects when peers are hundreds of miles away? How do I build my network beyond my cohort?
In June, Poets&Quants ran its 2nd annual ‘Best & Brightest’ feature, which profiled 50 of the most decorated and promising online MBAs from the Class of 2019. These profiles included a key question: “What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment?” Turns out, the online platform was far better than the brick-and-mortar classroom model they experienced as undergrads. Here are the ways that online MBA programs topped expectations according to this year’s graduating class.
1) Strong Sense of Community: “I was absolutely amazed by the level of group engagement, camaraderie, and networking that happens within the online environment. Auburn provided incredible opportunities to stay involved on campus and with the cohort, including on-campus orientation, an international experience which sent us to Croatia, invitations to speak with incoming students, business site visits, and group case studies and projects. This has not only provided a great networking opportunity but has also led to great friendships from coast-to-coast.”
Eric Hensley, Auburn University (Harbert)
2) Part of the University as a Whole: “What I found most surprising was how well the program makes you feel a part of the university through an online learning platform. All the same services available on-campus are available to online students. When I utilized the different services and participated in student events, although a different experience, I felt just as integral to W. P. Carey as if I were an on-campus student.”
Lindsay Scherer, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)
3) Aligns with Real World Business Practices: “Also surprising has been realizing the online format inherently mimics the business world in that it raises the stakes for students to be organized, presentable, and prepared to engage in the “webinar”-format classes each week. This requires a high level of organization and being able to utilize technology very efficiently.”
Joe Costigan, University of Maryland (Smith)
4) Not Isolated from Peers: “What surprised me most about the online learning environment is the proximity with fellow students. I wrongly assumed that learning remotely would mean being isolated, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The regular group projects and the occasional face-to-face meetings with the rest of the cohort mean building relationships with people from around the world, working in many different industries. At the end of the day, we are all powering through a common challenge. The positive atmosphere has bonded people together much more than I thought it would. Patrick Wohlschlegel, Warwick Business School
5) Intensive Faculty Support: “The most surprising thing to me was how available the professors were to help and answer questions. I always felt like I had continual support and quick responses to questions to aid in my learning.”
Jeremy Searer, University of Delaware (Learner)
“The engagement of the faculty and staff! Even though lectures are pre-recorded, professors go out of their way to ensure their students are properly served, from providing detailed written feedback on assignments to meeting students on calls or video chats to review the material. I can specifically recall one professor who read and commented on every post on our online discussion boards – now that’s dedication! Furthermore, UF operates a dedicated Student Affairs team just for its MBA programs, and it’s truly a concierge service. Anytime I had a question or concern, I would message or email a member of the team and receive an answer in just a few hours – and sometimes minutes!”
Angeline Gross, University of Florida (Hough)
6) Strongly Team-Based: “I was very surprised by how collaborative and “hands on” the program was at times. I was expecting for most of the assignments and tests to be individual take-home tasks. However, the program did a really good job of blending in collaborative team-based assignments. These were really valuable because they represented a lot of the challenges that I face in my job when working with remote groups across the country. I also was surprised by some of the live simulations and discussions, which were able to give similar experiences to in-person classes I’ve had in the past. I found these activities to be some of the most beneficial of the entire program.”
Samuel Speet, University of Arizona (Eller)
7) See How Your Classmates Really Live: “One of the pleasant surprises was being able to see people in their literal habitats during the live weekly classes. For the weekly live classes, everyone video-conferences in and you’re able to see 8-10 students at once on your screen; there have been instances when some students had their pets (cats, dogs, parrots, etc.) and kids with them on-screen and sometimes even from exotic vacation locations.”
Remi Popoola, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
8) More Effective Team Meetings: “I was most surprised at how efficient team meetings can be in an online learning environment. Going into the program, I had assumed that it would be difficult to coordinate and partake in online team discussions. However, because everyone is intimately busy with their work and personal lives, the time in these team meetings is spent very wisely; students come prepared to discuss their contributions, and come away with clear action items for next steps.”
Ariel Prochowski, Penn State University (Smeal)
9) Easy To Communicate: “I initially thought it might be challenging. Verbal and physical cues are missing from online interactions, so it can be difficult to gauge another’s tone. However, it was easy for an introvert like me to carefully think through my responses and feel like I was being heard. Although controversial questions were raised, our discussion forums were always courteous and professional.”
Cassidi Reese, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium
10) Overall Convenience: “I was surprised at how much it felt like I was attending class in person while being able to complete assignments from the comfort of my home or on the road. The professors were very understanding and willing to be flexible when it came to office hours, as well as responding to emails quickly on the weekends.”
Alejandro Lozano, Arizona State (W.P. Carey)