By Sarah Stevenson
Go ahead—look at the clock. It might be the wee hours of the morning or it may be well after the work day is over, but at this very moment, business students all over the world are pulling up chairs, switching on their computers and logging in to study everything from accounting principles to international finance. This scheduling flexibility is something that the best online MBA programs share—but does this mean an online business degree is the right choice for you?
How do you zero in on the best online MBA programs in the first place, and are they a good value for your money? Taking a long hard look at the pros and cons of online MBA programs—and weighing the advantages and disadvantages against your own needs and career goals—can help you decide on an education plan that will work for you.
The Best Programs Offer Numerous Advantages
- Accreditation: One critical characteristic that the best online MBA programs share with traditional programs is accreditation. Most reputable online MBA programs are regionally accredited, but professional accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) confers even more prestige.
- Cost-Effectiveness: As with traditional degrees, tuition for the best online MBA programs varies widely depending on geographic location, whether the school is public or private, and what financial aid is offered. Do your research to find an online school that's a good fit for you financially, and you just might end up saving money on commute costs and parking fees.
- Ideal for Working Professionals: Perhaps the greatest advantage of an online MBA program is that students who are already working professionals can continue at their current jobs while attending school. Furthermore, having a wide range of students already employed in the business world leads to a diverse and experienced student body.
- Innovative Technology: With constantly-developing technologies such as video chat platforms and digital blackboard systems, the virtual classroom experience is becoming just as interactive as the traditional classroom. A recent Department of Education study cited that online programs may even produce better learning outcomes than traditional schools.
- Rigorous Curriculum: Online education is a relatively new form of learning, one that often falls under heavy scrutiny. As a result, a lot of courses are developed with the assistance of curriculum consultants, tailoring the subject matter and delivery to be effective in a virtual setting. The best online MBA programs include cutting-edge curriculum that is just as rigorous as a traditional b-school, if not more so.
Even the Best Might Have a Downside
- Avoiding Scams: Online "diploma mills" are the seamy underside of distance education. In your search for the best online MBA programs, be sure to avoid those that lack proper accreditation by a regional accreditation agency or the AACSB. Also, do your research to ensure that the program you're interested in employs faculty you want to work with, whether they're professors of business or "practitioner faculty" with hands-on experience.
- Fewer In-Person Networking Opportunities: Convenient as it is to take classes from the comfort of your own home, the opportunities to participate in face-to-face discussion are more limited. Videoconferencing fills in some gaps, but networking is a little trickier. The best online MBA programs provide chances to network with your peers and professors, though you might have to change your strategy to suit the online environment.
- Differences in Learning Style: Excelling in an online degree program requires a lot of self-discipline. If you need a highly structured educational environment, then you might want to think twice about online education. In addition, if you're not comfortable using technology, then online degree programs may prove challenging.
- Fewer Electives: Some of the best online MBA programs take place at an accelerated pace, and therefore focus more on core curriculum than traditional programs do, offering fewer opportunities to take broad elective courses. Of course, depending on what you're looking for in a program, this might be an advantage.
- The Growth of MOOCs: A 2015 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reported that massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been a a big topic of discussion in graduate management education. More and more universities are making courses available for free or at a very low price, so the door to graduate-level education is easier than ever. This presents questions about the status of MOOCs as an academic credential or a vehicle for earning an online MBA.
Most employers (63%) surveyed were familiar with MOOCs, but just 15 percent felt that MOOCs were a viable alternative to graduate management education. So if you're thinking of getting an MBA online, consider doing it at an accredited online school, not just by taking MOOCs. You may already know that the perception of online education is changing, and those who attend the best online MBA programs will be giving their career a leg up, particularly if they have work experience to back it up.
Weigh Your Options
Weigh your options and look at your situation carefully before you consider an online MBA degree. Online MBA degree programs aren't for everyone, but if your circumstances, such as family responsibilities or an existing career, warrant the rewards and flexibility that an MBA online offers, then the best online MBA programs might just allow you to realize your career and salary goals much more quickly and efficiently than a traditional MBA degree program.