Online MBAs: Best Advice From Top Graduates

best online MBA advice

Christa Musgrove hadn’t been in a classroom for over a decade. After earning a Mechanical engineering degree from Auburn, Musgrove relocated to Houston. Starting as a facilities engineer, she rose to become a staff advisor in the Office of the Chairman at Chevron Strategy and Sustainability. Along the way, she married and became a mother to two young sons – all while staying active in her church.

Talk about a full plate! And Musgrove’s schedule became even more swamped when she made a life-altering decision: she joined the MBA Class of 2023 at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Businessthe 2nd-ranked online MBA program in the world.

Back to the grind. Lectures, projects, and tests – grinding out late-night readings and constantly juggling priorities – sacrifices, tradeoffs, and doubts. Three years later – with a degree in hand – Musgrove is glad she took the MBA plunge. She gained a wider perspective from listening to how her classmates tackled problems in various roles and industries. Better still, she could apply the lessons from classroom models and cases right to her work in real-time.

How did Musgrove balance the ever-changing demands of work, school, and family? Simple: she took the long view – and never looked back.

Christa Musgrove, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)


“Before you start the program, take some time to reflect on the most important things in your life,” Musgrove emphasizes. “Talk with your loved ones and define your top 3-4 priorities. These are the ones you make time for and will lose sleep for, then commit to letting go of the lesser activities. For me, I prioritized being a good mom, wife, and employee while managing the MBA program which meant other items simply did not happen. The online MBA program only lasts for a short time; other activities can be resumed after the program is over.”

Jill Bookman changed jobs three times as an online MBA student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Now a brand manager in the food industry, Bookman gained the most from her Ross network – relationships that were forged through intensive online group work and in-person residences held on campus. When the demands would weigh her down, Bookman just reminded herself that her struggles were normal and cut herself some slack.

“Going back to school, working full-time, and trying to manage relationships (family, friends, etc.) is HARD, and there will be times when things will slip; your inability to participate in events and gatherings will be disappointing to you and to friends and family. You have to make hard choices and you have to study! So give yourself grace while doing something that is harder than most people realize.”


Jennie Wunderlich, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

Across the Atlantic, Zoriana Adamovych earned her online MBA from IE Business School while living in Dubai. A senior product manager at Visa, she urges future online students to embrace the experience with all of their hearts.

“Be bold, be open-minded, and be genuine! Stay true to yourself and always value other perspectives – the people in the program are a true gem!”

Earlier this year, as part of the nomination process for the Best & Brightest Online MBAs, Poets&Quants asked top 2023 graduates to share their advice to future students. From planning to effective communication, here are ten strategies that made these professionals so successful when they returned to graduate school.

1) Never Lose Sight Of Your “Why”: “At the end of a long day or week, when you need to help your group by participating or completing an assignment with excellence, you should remember the reason behind getting this degree. It should be important enough to put forth quality effort, so you gain insight that you find valuable. You will get out of the program what you put into it, but also understand that your input impacts others in your class; be prepared to actively participate for the betterment of everyone.”
Jennie Wunderlich, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

“Earning an online MBA (especially while working full time) is a significant time and financial investment not to be taken lightly. Be honest with your goals and intent, then weigh the pros and cons. To get started, ask yourself: Where do you aim to go with your career? How will you utilize the knowledge obtained to your advantage? What do you expect to gain from an MBA other than another degree? It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so the more you mentally prepare in advance the better your outcome will be.”
Kelsey Wolak, University of Michigan (Ross)

2) Set Realistic Expectations: “A top-ranked online program will be just as competitive and time-consuming as other full-time programs the school offers. We have the same teachers, volume of work, and performance expectations. The difference is you will likely have other obligations competing with your time that full-time students might not have. As such, you need to be realistic about what you can accomplish every week and communicate early to those impacted by your constraints. You will have to make tradeoffs with your time to be successful. This may mean waking up a few hours before family to study or aligning with your manager to add OMBA to your goals and objectives, so you can dedicate some of your bandwidth to the program without impacting performance ratings.”
Ta’Sheema Taylor, USC (Marshall)

3) Take Advantage of School Resources: “Put yourself out there by leaning into your university. There are so many incredible student organizations, resources, and people willing to help and support you and your career goals. Even though I am an online MBA student, I still feel like I am just as much a part of my university as an in-person student. You will get out what you put in, so reach out to your school, professors, and classmates.”
Riley Samaniego, University of Texas-Dallas (Jindal)

Guillermo Villa, University of Cincinnati (Lindner)

4) Be Flexible: ”Students must ensure that they take the time to understand the expectations and timelines fully. I would also add that success in any online class can be attributed to spending time understanding the professor, their expectations, and their grading criteria. A big part of the success of online courses is ensuring a student can adapt to a professor’s teaching style. Although the pandemic accelerated it, online learning is still in its infancy. Even with a well-structured program like the one at the University of Cincinnati, there is enough variance that a student must learn to adapt.”
Guillermo Villa, University of Cincinnati (Lindner)

“Be disciplined and approach time as a commodity – bartering and trading time between all commitments to accomplish your goals. It was important to me that pursuing my MBA didn’t force me to pause my life for 2+ years, especially following the isolation experienced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant trading time: working full time, five days a week but utilizing lunch breaks to study. It meant giving dedicated attention to my family after work but logging back on to complete quizzes, peer reviews, and case studies. It meant traveling to a family gathering or vacation but working on assignments in the airport or on the plane. Time was not elusive, but I did have to manage it effectively.”
Terrica Gupton, University of Illinois (Gies)

5) Focus on Building Relationships In The Program: “Put as much effort into connecting with your classmates virtually as you would if you were in person. There are a lot of group projects throughout the program, and it might be enticing to go through the motions, divvy up the work, and complete the projects with little collaboration because everyone has busy schedules. By getting to know your classmates, you can exchange ideas and insights, learn from their experiences and perspectives, and broaden your understanding of the course material. It’s also helpful to build that support network to share resources, get advice on courses and the program overall, and expand your professional network.”
GiGi Ross, Lehigh University

6) Set A Schedule – And Follow It: “Do not go into an online MBA program planning on fitting in schoolwork when life dictates for you to do so. If you don’t make it a priority, it won’t be. That isn’t fair to yourself as well as your teammates. Where I have seen the most success is when I have set times for schoolwork and enforce that boundary with other life tasks as well as loved ones.”
Chitray (Ray) Eddy, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

Anais Koivisto, Indiana University (Kelley)

7) Emphasize Learning Over Outcomes: “Learn how you learn and take responsibility for getting what you need out of each class. There’s a gamification aspect to the online learning experience where it can be really satisfying to sort of “tick” all the boxes and complete each module and get the A on the test. In my experience, some learning opportunities can get lost along the way. I think it’s really important to enter each course with a clear understanding of what you hope to gain from it – how you want to have changed or grown by the end – and then to be really deliberate about making sure that the work you are doing supports that goal.”
Anais Koivisto, Indiana University (Kelley)

8) Lean Into Your Natural Curiosity: “If there was a topic I didn’t understand – or one I wanted to dive into more – I would reach out to my professors, teaching assistants, advisors, classmates, and faculty for help. This was a powerful way not only to build on my learning but to network and build relationships as well.”
Kristen Lazard, Boston University (Questrom)

9) Keep Everyone Informed: “The best advice for thriving in an online MBA program is to communicate openly and often about your schedule, your needs, and your challenges. During your online MBA experience, there will be changes, your commitments will shift…and no two weeks will look the same. Therefore, it’s important to continuously communicate with the people in your life, including your cohort teammates, loved ones, and supervisors.”
Christopher “CJ” Epps, Boston University (Questrom)

10) Find The Right Fit: “Think carefully about what you hope to get out of the program. Most programs have a distinct curriculum flavor or personality, and applicants should choose programs that best fit their needs. Don’t just look at rankings. Look at program styles, composition, and personalities to make sure that you chose a program that will give you the best chance at success and the best chance at meeting your expectations”
Gary D. Fleischer, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)






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