5 Biggest Surprises In Online MBA Programs

Most surprises aren’t pleasant. Clients change deadlines and friends cancel plans. Tires go flat and sinks clog up. In the end, surprises usually mean less time and higher costs – and added stress too.

Not surprisingly, many MBAs enter online programs with skepticism. It won’t be as good as the campus version, some assume. Others worry they’ll rough it alone, with minimal contact with classmates. Here’s the funny part about online MBA programs: the biggest surprises are often the most pleasant.

Just ask the Class of 2023.

Coming into the online MBA program at Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School, Sara Schwartz wondered just how she would actually learn in business school. Turns out, the program provided plenty of ideas she could quickly apply in her role as a project manager in a real estate investment firm.


Sara Schwartz, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

“The five-week course structure on occasion made me feel like I was drinking from a fire hose,” she admits. “As I reflect on the past two years, there is at least one concept, case study, lecture, or online discussion from every one of my courses that I feel confident I will be able to reflect on as I continue my professional career.”

Others associated online with isolation. They expected to simply listen to lectures before submitting assignments and taking tests. Turns out, to their surprise, the experience required students to engage with each other to complete the work. Even more, the online tools made it easier for students to interact with each other, says Valecia Harris, an advisor who earned her MBA from Southern Methodist University’s Cox School this spring.

“In an online environment, students can participate in discussions during small breakout sessions, collaborate on projects, and provide feedback to one another just as if they were in a face-to-face setting. This interaction led to the development of excellent meaningful relationships and connections that will last many years.”


The biggest surprise of all? In many cases, the online setting possessed the same capabilities as its on-site counterpart, asserts Terrica Gupton, a Comcast executive director who earned her MBA from the University of Illinois’ Gies School.

“I never [felt] as if the content or the experience was substandard. We had enough breakout rooms, group projects, office hours, and interactions during live lectures to still feel like an in-person classroom. There was always opportunity for passionate debates, questions of curiosity, and real examples shared by classmates in relevant professions which helped enhance the online learning environment.”

What are some other surprises awaiting online MBAs? In selecting P&Q’s Online Best & Brightest MBAs from the Class of 2023, we asked candidates to share the most unexpected aspect of their online experience. Here are some aspects of the online MBA programming that they didn’t anticipate.

1) The Curriculum Is Demanding: “I was most surprised by the rigor of the program. The program was fast-paced, academically challenging and current. On a weekly basis, the program required completion of various types of assignments, exams, presentations, and group projects that required online collaboration with peers. In addition, my peers were extremely talented and intelligent, which pushed me to bring my best efforts to group and individual assignments. Finally, the professors did a great job with pivoting to keep the material current by using real time events in their lectures and weekly assignments.”
Ta’Sheema Taylor, USC (Marshall)

2) MBAs Receive Personalized Attention: “When I decided to start an online MBA, I was a little apprehensive that it would be challenging to get personalized teaching from instructors, but I was surprised that there were many opportunities to learn from faculty through office hours and synchronous sessions when applicable. The instructors were also very approachable, adaptable, and open to having further sessions to ensure that I got clarification and the most out of my education.”
Niyati Raghavan, Santa Clara University (Leavey)

Kelsey Wolak, University of Michigan (Ross)

3) Online Is Conducive To Connection: “Pursuing an MBA part-time and virtually proved to be a strong bonding experience since my classmates and I all decided to supplement rather than discontinue our daily routines with an MBA education. This created a unique sense of empathy amongst us as the program required a multiple-year-long balancing act between careers, families, vacations, relocations, interviews, and more.”
Kelsey Wolak, University of Michigan (Ross)

“I was surprised by the genuine connections I made with my classmates and professors. Because of the distance, I assumed that any communication would be very surface-level and focused on the task at hand. However, the digital environment created opportunities for more frequent and flexible communication. Despite how busy we all were as working professionals, my groupmates throughout the program really surprised me by not only their commitment to each project, but also their earnest interest in getting to know one another on a personal level.”
GiGi Ross, Lehigh University

4) The Community Is Smaller Than You Think: “I was surprised at how well some of our professors made our class size feel small and intimate given that some of the classes included over 100 students in a remote setting. There were professors that were very skilled at ensuring students were engaged in the class and that teams were formed to foster relationships with my classmates.”
Guillermo Villa, University of Cincinnati (Lindner)

5) The Technology Is Far Advancd: “I was surprised at the technology that allowed for a seamless learning experience. Who knew that you could proctor a test, work collaboratively with people from around the world, and have meaningful learning coming from pre-recorded videos? It was fantastic to have the opportunity to learn 100% online!”
Lynn Isaak, University of Florida (Warrington)



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