You’ve decided to get an MBA education. But attending a full-time or even part-time on-campus program is just not realistic for you. You want more flexibility and greater control at a lower cost. So, an online MBA it will be!
Of course, you want a program that will deliver the knowledge, skills and network you need for success in your current and future jobs. You want a diploma you can be proud of. And you want to get admitted on your first try. So, how will you make this education happen? Here’s some solid advice from The MBA Exchange, reflecting our experience advising over 5,000 MBA applicants over the past three decades.
As you roll up your sleeves to get started, the first step is to determine the right program model for you. Rather than dive head-first into the overwhelming list of possible programs, I encourage you to begin by asking and answering questions that reflect your priorities, needs and goals.
Elements of the online MBA model are focus, learning style, delivery method and duration. By laying out your personal parameters, you can evaluate and compare the pros and cons of each online MBA model. This will also help you understand any trade-offs you need to make in selecting one that represents the greatest value for you. Once you’ve answered the following questions, the list of approximately 300 online MBA programs will be greatly reduced and refined:
- Do you want to an online MBA focused on general management versus one specializing in an industry or function?
With a general management MBA education, you’ll gain an overview of business including basic disciplines such as accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, economics, etc. These requirements typically provide about half the credits necessary to earn an MBA degree. The other half comes from elective courses of your choosing.
However, if you want to advance your current career in — or change direction to enter — a specific industry such as sustainability, healthcare, sports management, etc., then consider a model focused on your desired field. If you want to stay in — or switch to — a specific function such as Finance, Operations or Human Resources, choose a program model with your preferred focus.
Most importantly, you should make the choice between general management versus specialization according to your career goals. The former model offers breadth to pursue a range of opportunities and ultimately qualify for a C-level job. The latter model provides depth in your chosen industry or function to accelerate your advancement along that path.
- What kind of student are you? Independent self-learner or externally directed?
Models with little or no two-way communication are typically considered “self-paced,” so students have more freedom in scheduling their classes. However, less interaction also means less input from others, fewer viewpoints, and limited relationship building.
Online programs with more interaction can be more engaging and motivating for self-learners. Real-time communication with instructors and classmates invites multiple perspectives and ways to analyze and solve problems. This model also fosters enduring friendships and alliances with fellow students and alumni. Most programs with this model have lock-step timing with a prescribed path to graduation. Such structure can help you stay on-schedule toward completing your MBA studies. However, this model may require more time to earn your degree and offer less flexibility in scheduling classes.
- What’s your preferred mix of remote delivery versus on-campus delivery?
Many online MBA programs, especially those from top-tier business schools, have a required on-campus component. Lasting anywhere from a few days to a full week, these residencies can take place at the beginning, middle and/or end of the program. Models that start with an on-campus component do so to familiarize their online students with each other and integrate them with their counterparts in the full-time residential program. This approach also introduces online students to various clubs and experiential learning, and facilitates future cohort meetings, team projects, class trips, and on-site company visits. Models with a later residency do so to provide a common “capstone” for their program just before completion.
The schedule, time and travel required to attend on-campus sessions can make residency difficult or even impossible for online MBA students with significant professional or personal obligations. So, discussing this topic in advance with your employer and family is essential in choosing the right model for you.
- What’s your ideal timeframe for completing an online MBA program?
Another major consideration before future online students is the time frame for earning your MBA degree. Program length — ranging from 10-24 months or up to several years — should be considered in relation to your other goals.
Short programs can include more pre-recorded lectures, less interaction with faculty and fellow students, and no required residential component. These programs also offer fewer electives and extracurricular activities such as company visits, real-time consulting and team projects. This model can allow you to highly specialize your studies and have flexibility as to when you “attend” classes.
Longer programs may be less flexible but offer more electives, interaction, team projects and extracurriculars. In addition, students who prefer this model often feel a closer connection with the school’s culture, activities and alumni network.
By defining your personal and career goals, understanding the parameters of the various online MBA models, and thoughtfully answering the questions above, you can build a target list of MBA programs that’s best suited to you. In Part Two of this three-part series, we’ll examine what makes a particular business school ideal for you.
Julie Strong is a Master Consultant at The MBA Exchange. Former Senior Director of MBA Admissions at the MIT Sloan School of Management for 12 years, Julie subsequently served as Director of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office. She has evaluated thousands of MBA applications and conducted in-person interviews worldwide. More recently Julie was founding Director of Admissions for the Asia School of Business, a collaboration between MIT Sloan and the Central Bank of Malaysia. She has served on boards of the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC); Education Testing Service (ETS); and Forté Foundation. Julie created and led the career development office for the school of management of a major management consulting firm. She earned a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.