10 Biggest Surprises About Online MBAs

Online learning gets a bad rap. It’s the low-cost option, some say. That can generally signal lagging support, second-string professors, unfriendly systems, and slipshod course design. Well, those are the horror stories you sometimes hear. No community. No rigor. No magic.

In reality, business schools have socked millions into their online MBA programs. They’ve drafted their top faculty onto the frontlines and turned their platforms into marvels of simplicity and functionality. Now, an online MBA isn’t a trial you endure for the next promotion. Instead, it is a transformative experience that exposes you to talented peers and urgently needed ideas. Oh – and you don’t have to sacrifice career momentum or family time to earn the degree, either.


Carnegie Mellon’s Andrew Woodward

Best of all, online mimics how work gets done. That’s what the Class of 2020 learned all too well. As the pandemic raced across the globe this spring, online MBAs were already well-versed in the new normal according to Andrew Woodward, who earned his MBA from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business this spring.

“Now more than ever in the age of COVID-19 being a competent and comfortable as an online manager and employee is not a choice – it is a necessity. The shift to the hybrid online environment was not a shock. Rather, it was second nature after spending the last three years developing these skills learning in online.”

In fact, the ability to work and collaborate online became a real asset for MBAs in 2020, adds Imperial College’s Nicolas Van de Velde. “The world changed and those skills became real assets. So, as everyone will be aware by now, the advantage of an online environment is that it is always at your fingertips.”

The value of digital tools is just one of the surprises that top online MBAs encountered in 2020. For them, the online platform enriched their learning and over-delivered on what they were promised. In June, Poets&Quants released its 3rd annual Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Class of 2020 story, which honored 52 decorated MBAs from the Class of 2020. As part of their nominations, these students were asked the following: What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? From the ease and sophistication of the online interface to the accessibility and quality of faculty, here are the 10 biggest surprises about online MBAs from this year’s Best & Brightest.

Ada Koo, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

1) You’re Learning On Your Own: “I was surprised at how much it teaches students to figure things out on their own. This has been incredibly valuable in my work life, and something that online students don’t get credit for. Because our teachers are not physically there and available whenever we have questions, it forces us to learn to find information on our own when we are stuck.”
Rachel Pruitt, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

2) …And From Each Other: “The breadth and depth of discussions and collaborations I had with my classmates. The online learning environment means that we, as students, must take a proactive role in the learning process to gain the most out of it. Moreover, I believe many of us chose an online program for its flexibility. Since most of us are working, we were able to share real-life work experiences that are relevant to what we learn in class.”
Ada Koo, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

3) It’s Like Learning A New Language: “I have been exposed to a variety of online and in-person learning environments throughout my academic career.  However, I was usually able to balance the online and asynchronous environment. As a professional trained in healthcare, the language used in a business setting required me to reorient my thinking. In many ways, it was like learning a new language to describe familiar concepts. The first few weeks of the program were the most challenging as I oriented myself to a new way of thinking. Like learning any new language, with each passing course, I became more familiar and was able to see connections with my new knowledge and my established practice.”
Tammy Ostroski, University of Arizona (Eller)

DON’T MISS: The first admissions event focused exclusively on online MBA programs.

During the day-long interactive event, you’ll hear directly from Admissions Directors from top programs across the country in a series of panel discussions, get the chance to engage in small group video chat sessions with Admissions teams to get your most pressing questions answered, and also have the opportunity to watch short excerpts of online classes from select schools to understand what your learning experience will look like. Register here.

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