Online MBA programs continue to expand in the graduate management education marketplace. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council's Application Trends Survey Report, 47 percent of online MBA programs reported application growth in 2017. But some stereotypes persist regarding the kind of experience you'll receive compared with a traditional MBA format.
Many wonder about the faculty for online programs, whether the instruction really rivals that of students learning on campus and whether such programs offer the types of scholarships or financial assistance found at full-time MBA programs.
The good news for prospective online MBA applicants – particularly women, whose interest in this format option has outpaced men in recent years – is that a number of these programs deliver an evermore competitive educational experience.
[Ask these questions before choosing an online MBA program.]
Here are three aspects many online MBA programs offer that you may not be aware of; keep these in mind as you consider where to enroll.
• They offer top-notch faculty and instruction. The mark of a high-quality online MBA program lies in who is providing the instruction.
"Students take the same classes from the same faculty as they would in our on-campus programs," Amy Hillman, dean of Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business, said via email.
"We began offering online degrees in the early 2000s, long before it was as widely accepted as it is now. So, we know from experience how to deliver great content to students and offer a flexible degree that will ultimately help them take that next step in their careers."
[Discover what to look for in online MBA faculty.]
At Temple University's Fox School of Business, on-campus faculty create and deliver all course content. The part-time online MBA at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business offers flexibility to working students as well as the same faculty, curriculum, career planning resources and degree that on-campus students receive. Plus, candidates can switch to the full-time format at any time.
When it comes to instruction, the University of Southern California's Marshall Online MBA takes an innovative approach, with faculty teams rather than individual professors often teaching courses.
"Each course is interdisciplinary, so rather than offering a series of courses on discrete topics such as economics or statistics, OMBA courses are structured around a particular topic such as Managing Inside the Firm," Miriam Burgos, academic director of the online MBA program and associate professor of clinical marketing, explained via email.
"Faculty members, each an expert in a different discipline, teach the course together, providing students with multiple perspectives that may include, for example, marketing, accounting, data analytics and communication. This holistic approach to learning mirrors 21st century global business practices," Burgos said.
Online MBA faculty often welcome questions from prospective students, so if you would like more information about a particular course or to learn more about the research interests of a certain faculty member, Burgos suggests contacting the admissions team to ask about setting up a one-on-one conversation with that professor before applying.
• They include experiential learning. While experiential learning is now the norm at most traditional business school programs, online MBA programs also recognize the value of bringing real business courses to life, and some have introduced similar opportunities for their students as well.
Immersion courses at Indiana University—Bloomington's Kelley Direct Online focus on particular business areas, such as advertising and branding in New York or a Washington Campus immersion program to navigate the gap between business and politics.
Kelley Direct also offers international business experiences through its AGILE or Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education, curriculum. Students help solve thorny business problems in emerging markets, often in conjunction with students from other top global business schools.
Another example is MBA@UNC at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School. UNC offers the Student Teams Achieving Results program, or STAR, where students take on the role of consultants to real companies.
Previous corporate clients have included GE Healthcare, Krispy Kreme and Lowe's Companies Inc. Teams of five to seven students, guided by a faculty adviser and an executive from the client organization, assess real business problems and recommend actionable solutions to the client.
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• They offer scholarships and financial assistance. According to GMAC's 2017 Application Trends Report, 38 percent of online MBA students expect to receive employer support for their studies.
For prospective students who plan to apply for an online MBA at an AACSB International-accredited school, you'll find that the financial aid process is much the same as for traditional programs. Your first stop for information and assistance should be the online MBA program's finance department.
Many schools also have specific scholarships for online MBA applicants. For instance, Babson College offers the Blended Learning MBA Diversity and Women's Leadership Scholarship, a $5,000 one-time award. MBA@UNC also awards some partial tuition fellowships to outstanding admitted applicants.
Whether a program offers grants, scholarships and loans specific to the school or special scholarship resources, the online MBA program administrators can point you in the right direction to financial assistance.
For many busy professionals, an online MBA program makes perfect sense as a way to achieve their career goals through a flexible format that adapts to their schedule. As you consider programs, choose one that is a fit with your goals and lifestyle to ensure the best results from application to graduation.