Online MBA Programs:
Everything You Need to Know

From coursework to costs, get the facts about online MBA programs.

MBA Program Overview

With hundreds of accredited programs in the U.S., the Masters of Business Administration is the most popular online graduate degree going. The résumé-boosting MBA, pioneered by Dartmouth College in 1901, challenges students to develop the skills and insights to lead organizations in every sector of the economy—from healthcare to high tech, marketing to the music industry.

Most MBA programs require that entering students have at least two years' work experience under their belts. Learners tend to be mature and focused, bringing to the table a wealth of real-world business experience. Along with practical skills, business school (or "B-school") offers unparalleled networking opportunities in which fellow students, alumni, professors and recruiters help open the doors to brighter business futures.

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Why an Online MBA Program?


When you're ready to advance your career, but can't quit your day job or relocate to do it, the online MBA is an ideal option. Most distance MBA programs are asynchronous, meaning you can log in and learn at whatever time suits your schedule—after the kids are in bed, weekend mornings, or during your lunch break. Classes, lectures and homework assignments arrive through an online portal, and professors often measure class participation through contributions to discussion forums.

Are you secretly hoping an online program will offer an easier path to an MBA? To the contrary. An online MBA program is just as rigorous—if not more so—than its on-campus counterpart. Both formats lead to the exact same degree and entail the same amount of coursework. But the online path offers fewer (or no) face-to-face interactions with professor and classmates, thus requiring extra reserves of drive, determination and time management skills.

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Types of Online MBA Programs

As schools and universities respond to demands for more online learning options, there are now a variety of MBA formats on offer. Depending on your circumstances and priorities, one of these may be right for you:

  1. Part-Time Online MBA: 3-5 Years
    Ideal for motivated students who are also balancing work, family and other commitments, the part-time online MBA offers the flexibility to study and complete assignments at whatever time best suits your schedule. Live on the west coast but want the cachet of an east-coast MBA? The online option will save you a cross-country move and the associated relocation costs. If you continue working while enrolled in school, you'll be able to apply newfound skills and knowledge to the job you already hold. [ Concerned you won't have time for an online MBA program? Find out how to fit school into your busy life. ]
  2. Hybrid MBA: 3-5 Years
    Similar to the part-time online MBA, the hybrid version complements the virtual classroom with residential immersions, often scheduled for the first week of each semester. The on-campus component usually means a higher price tag for a hybrid MBA. But many students find that the enhanced opportunities for networking and in-person connections are worth the extra investment.
  3. Accelerated Online MBA: 12-18 Months
    This compressed online MBA program is a fast-paced path to earning the credential. Two years' worth of material is packed into as little as 12 months, making it essential that students arrive with a strong grasp of business fundamentals. Although the accelerated MBA is a tough challenge, many students say that the format promotes constant engagement with the material and each other. Because of the shorter overall time frame, the accelerated option can also be a money-saver.
    [How can you get on the fast track to an MBA?]
  4. Executive MBA: 2 Years
    Designed for mid- to senior-level managers with at least five years of business experience, executive MBA programs focus on classwork with real-life applications that enhance decision-making, leadership and strategic skills. Many EMBA programs offer flexible scheduling options in which local students might meet weekly, while out-of-state students join them on a monthly basis.

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Online MBA Coursework

Just like its brick-and-mortar counterpart, an online MBA offers a cross-disciplinary education that lays a solid foundation in the business basics while developing students' analytical and critical thinking skills. Programs tend to be intensely collaborative, with learners working together in virtual environments (video conferences, chat rooms, Skype and the like) to complete and deliver deadline-driven projects.

Whether enrolled in an online MBA program through a public or for-profit university, most students spend their first year mastering core topics such as financial systems, marketing strategy and human resources management. Here's a sampling of core courses from two well-known schools that offer the online MBA:

Online MBA Core Courses

University of North Carolina

  • Analytical Tools
  • Business Communication
  • Business Strategy
  • Developing Management & Leadership Skills
  • Economics
  • Financial Accounting
  • Introductory Finance
  • Marketing Strategy, Analysis & Development
  • Operations Management

University of Phoenix

  • Management
  • Human Capital Management
  • Business Law
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Quantitative Reasoning for Business
  • Economics
  • Accounting
  • Applied Business Research & Statistics
  • Operations Management
  • Corporate Finance
  • Marketing
  • Strategic Planning & Implementation

Online MBA Specialization

With a solid foundation in place, the next step in the MBA path is specialization. Based on your interests and aspirations, you'll narrow your focus with courses in your chosen focus area, whether it's healthcare, human resources, operations or any of a dozen other options. Here are a few more popular MBA specializations and the career paths they can open up.

Career Path

  • Accountant
  • Auditor
  • Brand Manager
  • CEO
  • Financial Analyst
  • Operations Manager
  • Information Security Analyst
  • IT Manager
  • Management Analyst
  • Marketing Analyst
  • Marketing Manager
  • Network Systems Analyst
  • Public Relations Manager
  • Software Developer

MBA Degree Specialty

  • Accounting or Finance degree
  • Accounting or Finance degree
  • Marketing degree
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Accounting or Finance degree
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Information Systems degree
  • Information Systems degree
  • Organizational Leadership degree
  • Marketing degree
  • Marketing degree
  • Information Systems degree
  • Marketing degree
  • Information Systems degree

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How to Choose an Online MBA: 6 Factors to Consider


From sorting through accreditation to parsing the national B-school rankings, there are a lot of details to consider when choosing an MBA program.

Which warrant your attention and which can you safely ignore? Get the down-low on the factors that matter the most.

  1. Online MBA Program Accreditation
    Make sure that the schools you're targeting have received national or regional accreditation. This third-party seal of approval is your assurance that the school meets clear standards for quality and rigor, and undergoes voluntary monitoring by an outside agency. Why is accreditation important? Besides offering a stamp of approval for a school's academic quality, there's a big financial consideration: Only students enrolled in accredited schools are eligible for federal student loans and grants.

[What do employers really think of online MBAs? Find out how to tell if an online business degree is legit.]

  • 2. Online MBA Program Rankings

The business media announces B-school rankings to great fanfare each year, but a school's rank is just one of many factors to consider as you target MBA programs. Before rushing to apply to the top 5 schools on each of the high-profile rankings, consider the criteria that each list-maker uses.

Bloomberg Businessweek: 

Headquartered in New York City, Businessweek has its finger on the pulse of the American business scene. It compiles a biannual ranking of business schools, taking their measure with these three tools:

  • Student survey (45%) – covers the quality of academic and career development offerings and allows students to evaluate their own skills sets.
  • Employer survey (45%) – asks recruiters to rate graduates on specific qualities important to them.
  • Intellectual capital (10%) – counts articles published by faculty in 20 top business journals over a five-year period.

The Economist: 


This venerable London-based magazine compiles data collected over a three-year period to rank B-schools. Its methods include two surveys: one completed by schools (weighted at 80%) and one completed by current students and recent grads (weighted at 20%).

The surveys measure such criteria as:

  • The schools' ability to open new career opportunities (35%) – including employment data on recent graduates.
  • Personal development/educational experience (35%) – encompassing faculty quality, student diversity and student quality.
  • Increase in salary (20%) – a straight-up measurement of how much graduates' pay jumped after completing their degrees.
  • Potential to network (10%) – including the effectiveness of alumni connections.

U.S. News & World Report: 


In a nod to the rising popularity of distance learning for MBA students, this list-maker published separate rankings for online MBA programs for the first time in 2015. Scoring only 195 schools, the rankings emphasize reputation and selectivity. Criteria include:

  • Student engagement (28%) – covers best practices such as accreditation, graduation rate and one-year retention rates.
  • Admissions selectivity (25%) – examines GMAT/GRE scores, student work experience and the overall acceptance rate.
  • Peer reputation (25%) – based on a survey of "high-ranking academic officials."
  • Faculty credentials and training (11%) – compares the credentials of the online MBA faculty to those in on-campus programs.
  • Student services and technology (11%) – evaluates online learning technology, career guidance services, financial aid resources, student indebtedness.
  • 3. Student Support Services
    The best online MBA programs offer student services—including financial aid resources— that mirror those of their campus-based cousins. "Don't go in with the expectation that you're supposed to get 'less than' because it's online," warns CHEA executive director Judith Eaton in an interview with U.S. News & World Report. "Go in with full expectations about what you would receive from any college or university." Access to corporate recruiters is especially crucial to MBA students. As you research online MBA programs, ask about each school's relationships with specific companies in your target industry. Top-quality programs will offer job fairs, mentoring, career counseling and informal networking opportunities alongside the formal ones. Ask the school to prove its mettle by providing documentation of graduation rates and alumni employment data.
  • 4. Faculty Quality & Resources
    The caliber of the online MBA faculty should equal that of a school's on-campus programs. Check the school's website: Do the professors hold the equivalent degrees? Do they have significant track records in the industries about which they teach? What professional journals have published their work? Another word to the wise: Investigate whether the instructors in your target MBA program have online teaching experience. Instructor fluency in the online environment will make for a smoother, more effective experience in the virtual classroom.
  • 5. Technology & Course Delivery Systems
    Ask to test-drive a prospective school's online MBA course delivery system before you enroll. Is the interface easy to use? Does the school provide streaming lectures and round-the-clock access to courses? If you intend to fit coursework around your work and family commitments, 24-hour access to class materials will be critical to your success. In the event of a system crash, who will you call for technical support? The school should provide dedicated staff to keep things running smoothly. Easy communication with your instructors and fellow students is also a critical factor in online learning. Does the school's system offer chat, email, voice, or video conferencing? Investigate thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.
  • 6. Other Students
    Since you'll be spending a lot of virtual time over the next months—or years—with your professors and fellow students, make sure that the school you choose is a good cultural fit. U.S. News and World Report suggests joining online clubs and organizations that cater to students interested in your MBA focus, such as health care administration or marketing, in order to network and create connections. Collaborating with students who have a solid grounding in business and are prepared to share it will add richness and depth to your online MBA experience.

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No-GMAT Online MBA


Universities and colleges offering the MBA degree have traditionally required that prospective students include GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) scores with their applications. The GMAT is a four-part standardized test that measures analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative and verbal skills.

These days, many accredited schools are dispensing with the GMAT requirement. Aware that students arrive with years of practical work experience under their belts, schools are realizing that the GMAT may not offer a clear predictor of academic success. Instead, they're evaluating candidates' career track records and previous education.

Even if your top-choice school still requires the GMAT, ask to petition for a waiver. Schools may consider this option for students with extensive work histories and strong undergraduate GPAs. Also, ask how scores are weighted. Some schools require a tip-top GMAT score, but at others, middling scores are completely acceptable.

No-GMAT MBA Program Admissions

Even without the GMAT or GRE requirement, you'll still be expected to prove your mettle in the admissions process. These no-GMAT MBA program admissions requirements may typically include:

  • official undergraduate transcripts showing a minimum GPA
  • proof of completion of a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution
  • documentation of continuing education credits earned in your field
  • a professional résumé that documents two or more years of career experience
  • letters of recommendation
  • a personal statement that includes your professional goals

You'll have a leg up in applying to no-GMAT programs if you earned your bachelor's degrees in business, finance or accounting.

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What Does an Online MBA Cost?


As an online MBA student, you won't be saddled with relocation or commuting costs, and there's no lost income if you keep your job while earning your degree. But when it comes to tuition, costs are all over the map. For example:

1. Texas residents can earn an online MBA from West Texas A&M University for less than $15,000.

2. One American woman, studying from her home base in Kigali, Rwanda, earned an equivalent MBA entirely through low- or no-cost MOOCs.

3. Meanwhile, students in the University of North Carolina's top-ranked distance MBA program shell out almost $97,000 for their degrees.

The researchers at peg the average online MBA tuition costs at $14,486 for students attending regionally accredited universities and $27,644 for those enrolled in AACSB-approved business schools.

In some cases, a university will charge lower tuition for an online MBA program than it does for a traditional one. But at other schools, the opposite is true. And at still others, the online MBA program costs exactly the same as the on-campus version.

Bottom line? Do your research. Each B-school should clearly list tuition and fees on its website. When planning your finances, also keep in mind the costs you'll incur beyond tuition: books, journal subscriptions and technology fees, for example.

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Calculating the ROI of an MBA

Whether you study part-time or full, online or on-campus, an MBA is a big investment of time and money. Is it worth it?

The nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council puts the question straight to business school alumni in its annual survey. In fact, a full 90 percent of alumni reported that, yes, their graduate business education boosted their earning power. Even more (95%) rated their education a good to outstanding value, and a whopping 93% would recommend their graduate business program to others.

Besides the likely bump in pay, also keep in mind the intangible benefits of earning an online MBA: far-reaching alumni connections, an edge when competing for promotions, and the undeniable prestige of a well-established, highly regarded degree.

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Paying for the Online MBA


Wondering how you'll foot the bill for your online business degree? Millions of working adults find themselves in the same boat. Happily, there are a variety of options to fund your education.

Federal Student Aid for Graduate Students

Got 17 minutes? Start exploring the financial aid options by filling out the FAFSA form. Never pay to complete this application—it's a free tool provided by the U.S. Department of Education. To receive federal aid, you must:

  • be enrolled (or accepted) at least half time in an eligible program
  • be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • demonstrate financial need

Why a federal student loan? These government-backed loans, as opposed to those offered by private lenders, offer a variety of repayment plans, including an option to tie payments to your income.

There are a couple of federal aid programs for which you might qualify:

  1. Direct Loan Program: In this program, the Department of Education, and not a bank or other financial institution, is your lender. There DE offers two types of Direct Loans for graduate and professional degree students:
    • Direct Unsubsidized Loans – Upon approval, students may borrow up to $20,500 per school year.
    • Direct PLUS Loans – If your needs exceed $20,500 annually, you may apply for a PLUS loan.
  2. Perkins Loan Program: This school-based loan program is designed for eligible students who can demonstrate exceptional financial need.If you're offered financial aid through your school, remember you don't have to accept the entire amount. Borrow only what you need and keep your repayment terms manageable. Find more information on federal student aid at

Scholarships and Grants

Financial aid comes in many forms besides loans. Scholarships and grants are the "free money" of financial aid because they don't have to be repaid. Grants are typically need-based, whereas scholarships are targeted to academics or specific fields of study.

Professional organizations, community groups and nonprofit agencies are just a few sources for scholarship opportunities. Start your search with the U.S. Department of Labor's massive database, which lists more than 1,000 scholarships available for graduate students.

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Take the Next Step

One of the most convenient, flexible and effective graduate degrees you can earn, an online MBA combines rigorous coursework and rich networking opportunities to fling open the door to career advancement. Armed with the facts, you're ready to start looking at options and find the program that's just right for you.


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