Doug Jones earned his MBA online from Arizona State University in 2004, graduating with a specialization in entrepreneurship. He utilized the knowledge and skills acquired during his program to forge a successful career in technology and management. Doug works in the tech industry and contributes his expertise occasionally to Affordable Colleges Online.
Hybrid and online MBA programs offer students the most flexible learning options. Some or all of coursework and group projects take place remotely, allowing participants to schedule study time around work and family commitments. But how do they really work? Can a student earn an MBA entirely online without meeting anyone face-to-face? Yes and no. Here’s a detailed look at hybrid and online MBA programs, whom they benefit and how they fit into the business education landscape.
Nearly all MBA programs thrive on collaboration. Groups of various sizes work on projects together, drawing from each others past education and experience to create a quality, well-rounded product. Of course, such collaboration necessitates regular communication that goes beyond the surface, which usually takes place in coffee shops, conference rooms or on-campus offices. Hybrid and online MBA programs also focus on group work, but leverage different modes of communication. For example, in the distance learning environment, peer groups might use video conferencing technology such as Skype or Go To Meeting to kick off a project or coordinate responsibilities. Some online programs, and likely most hybrid programs, also schedule periodic visits to campus, usually at the beginning of each semester. This helps students establish working relationships face-to-face, which they can build upon via both routine and ad hoc follow-up.
Luckily, colleges and universities across the country are recognizing the need for “diversity of delivery”. MBA students come from a wide range of backgrounds and therefore need to find a program that fits their lifestyle. Whether online, accelerated, part-time or full-time, research is the key. Learn as much as you can about your target programs before committing time, money and effort. An MBA can make a resume; the right MBA can make a difference.
Identifying the best MBA program starts with assessing your own personal and professional needs. Family, cost, time, return on investment and current career path make up just a handful of things each future applicant should consider. Before taking first steps down the online MBA path, perform a little due diligence on available options, what they entail and the potential impact of their pros and cons.
Traditional MBA programs work for many people. They involve regular campus visits, group projects, face-to-face interaction and more. Some of these in-person elements, however, may not be ideal for working professionals and/or those with family obligations that extend beyond the classroom. Some potential MBA students may have circumstances that require even more flexibility. For example, the bank manager with ten years of experience yet no time to study for or take the GMAT. Or the junior manager with two years of experience but needs to finish an MBA program fast. See if these types of MBA programs meet your needs.
|Educational Need||Full-Time||Part-Time||Accelerated||No GMAT||Online or Hybrid||Veterans Only|
|An MBA program that looks more heavily at work experience, GPA and letters of recommendation than at test scores. I have a lot to offer but studying for and taking an entrance exam aren’t for me.|
|A program that takes two years (or close) to complete and involves daily time commitments. I plan to earn my MBA in lieu of working.|
|A program with ultimate time and place flexibility, where I can submit work, coordinate with classmates and take exams from just about anywhere.|
|An MBA program that allows me to work full-time while earning my degree. It may require 4 – 5 years, but that’s OK.|
|A program where I can work with and learn from veterans like me. Not only would this make the social aspect of the program more comfortable, but I’d be working with people who are battletested.|
|An MBA program that blends quality with speed, where I can graduate and apply my new skills to a current role (or new role) in less than two years.|
Every student researching MBA programs needs to do their due diligence. While this includes finding the right school, program and setting, it also means considering the financial pros and cons of the different MBA types. For example, a full-time MBA program lasts just two years on average, but makes working while in school a major challenge. A part-time MBA, on the other hand, allows students to work toward a degree without sacrificing the day job. Sure it can take three years or more, but students can keep earning a salary and gain more work experience while hitting the books. Each option has its own merits, but only a closer look at the numbers can help gauge the potential return on investment.
|Annual Costs (est.)*||Full-Time MBA||Part-Time MBA|
|Room & Board||$20,000||$20,000|
|Books & Other Materials||$10,000||$5,000|
|Gross Annual Cost||$70,000||$45,000|
|Net Annual Cost||$130,000||$45,000|
|Program Length (in years)||2||4*|
|TOTAL MBA COST||$260,000||$180,000|
|* All costs used in the table are estimates based figures from the GMAC.|
Many MBA students already have work experience in a specific industry sector. For example, someone with five years working in health care may want an MBA to facilitate a move into management. Yet for that student, a general MBA may not be the best choice. An MBA program focused on health care teaches leadership, management and processes both in general and focused on the field. The latter gives students specialized knowledge they can take back to their jobs and put to immediate use. See which career goals mesh with some of today’s most popular MBA concentrations.
|Career Goal||Consulting||Energy||Finance||Govt. / Non-Profit||Health Care||Technology|
|To work in a leadership position for an organization that makes a difference, either in the community or on a global scale.|
|To work among some of today’s top minds, collecting and analyzing data to discern patterns and craft needle-moving recommendations for a wide range of clients.|
|To work with large companies on issues related to fossil fuels, alternative fuel sources and other areas where physical science and business come together.|
|To manage or lead a team within the health care and medical field, whether clinical, pharmaceutical or related to public health and disease prevention.|
|To work and/or manage on the cutting-edge of tech. This could include running a business or serving as a senior manager or executive for an online-based company. If it involves software, hardware or online solutions, I’m in.|
|To secure a management/leadership role at an investment firm, bank or related institution. To work with stocks, bonds, securities and other investments, either with personal clients, small businesses or large corporations.|
Understanding the various types of online MBA and the numerous specializations available is a great place to start. It establishes basic wants and needs and provides initial direction. However, for the students who may already have first steps down, the researching programs against the following categories should help filter choices down to a relatively short list.
The bottom-line value of an online MBA degree depends on whether the school and its MBA program have proper accreditation. Most schools earn accreditation from one of the six regional organizations recognized by the Department of Education. In addition, MBA programs should also be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
Another key consideration is whether the online MBA program includes opportunities for internships, a critical consideration for students who wish to integrate learning and create life-long business contacts and mentors. MBA students typically complete internships with organizations in the corporate, governmental or non-profit sectors where they intend to hold managerial roles after graduation. Business leaders may also plan on obtaining professional certifications to benchmark their abilities in fields such as project management, consulting or as a Certified MBA. When evaluating a program, students should think about whether courses lead to knowledge necessary for obtaining certifications.
A master’s in business administration degree is often sufficient for managers to take on leadership roles at top companies and organizations. However, in addition to completing an MBA, business management professionals may also prepare and test for certifications that benchmark their skills, mainly for career advancement or specialization. Work experience can be a principal requirement for earning certifications. While certifications and tests are evolving all the time, it’s vital for students to seek certifications from organizations that offer reputable programs. Here are a few types of certifications to consider:
Other certifications sought by management professionals can be industry specific and include:
Online MBA programs typically surround a core curriculum and a series of elective courses that match the educational niche or career goals for each student. Core curriculum focuses on leadership, human resources, strategic planning, information systems, process management and change management. Examples include:
Everyone learns differently, and the variety of programs out there makes establishing a concrete, tried-and-true MBA timeline a tough task. However, it is possible to map out a common pathway from test prep to degree completion so aspiring management professionals can visualize what many students experience.
The year before school starts should be chalk full of organized preparation. And this begins with the GMAT. A typically study period lasts for 6 – 10 weeks, and can be done through an official prep course, with a private tutor or with good old fashioned self-study and determination. Regardless, the earlier a candidate gets ready, the better. Some people opt to take the test more than once.
Even students planning to enroll in an online MBA program should visit their target schools in-person. Why? To meet professors, talk to current students and get a general lay of the tech and resource land. Many online programs require periodic visits to campus anyway, so this will be good practice. The goal here should be to pinpoint what you like, what you don’t and then to start narrowing down to a short list.
When vetting applicants, business schools look for more than just good grades, solid test scores and work experience. They also want to see what each person has done from a leadership perspective, whether professionally or unofficially in the community.
B-school admissions may want to contact past supervisors, professors or other mentors to ask about your work ethic, abilities and intangibles. Make sure to reach out to these people, discuss your desired educational choice and anything else that might be helpful. Connecting with them early also gives them time to think about what they might say, or what they need to write should you require a formal letter of recommendation.
With the GMAT on the horizon and schools releasing essay questions, it’s time to narrow your choices. There’s no minimum or maximum to the number of programs you can target, but the more you consider, the options you have – but also the more materials you’ll need to submit. This is also a great time to think about which type of MBA you’re interested in, including part-time, full-time and specialization.
Many business schools require submission of a resume with the application packet. This includes work history, prior education, experience, references and more. Make sure to highlight achievements, goals accomplished, and other endeavors that stand to make you shine.
Most business schools release unique topics for applicants to reflect on and address in writing. These essays allow potential students to show admissions representatives what they’ve accomplished and/or give them a taste of their problem-solving prowess. In other words, it’s a chance to show them how you stand out from the crowd. Keep in mind that these are not essays that can (or should) be completed in a day or a week. Research, brainstorm, revise and edit until you have a product you’re proud of. Also note that some schools require a second round of essays.
This includes your full packet of materials, final drafts of essays, answer to the short question portion of the application, and letters of recommendation. Different schools may have different submission schedules for all these materials, so make sure you research the requirements thoroughly. The last thing you want to do is miss a deadline…
If the application process goes well, schools may want to interview you for candidacy. Some interviews take place at a campus, others closer to home with a local rep, and others via Skype (especially for online programs). Make sure you know your resume and your essays inside and out.
If the interview process goes well, one or more schools will offer you a place in their program. Hopefully you’ve narrowed down the list to two or three schools and can soon get down to the final choice. You may want to visit the campus again or speak with faculty one more time to be sure.
Some companies sponsor employees and pay for their stint in business school. For students without this luxury, it’s time to secure funding either by scholarship or financial aid. The latter comes in the form of federal loans, private loans or even loans from the institution itself. For detailed information on financial aid options, including for online college opportunities, visit our guide to financial aid.
The first year means getting your feet wet, meeting fellow students and taking many of your core courses. There’s also building relationships with your “pod” or “cluster”, the students you’ll work with on group projects and case studies. For online students this may begin with a remote “meet up” via Skype, or, take place in-person with subsequent meetings online. Although every school is different, here’s a list of activities online MBA students may face in year one:
The second year of a standard online MBA program includes finishing up core classes, diving deeper into electives and establishing an areas of expertise. It’s also a time to hone leadership skills by taking charge of conferences, presentations, networking and other career-focused sessions. Here’s a list of things you might encounter during your second year:
Online MBA programs may tackle these things a bit differently considering their remote nature. For example, networking and expos can take place or be attending locally instead of near a campus. And, students can visit companies nearby to really get a handle of what’s available in their area. To see how an online MBA student navigated such a program, let’s turn to Doug Jones, a graduate of Arizona State’s online master’s of business administration program in 2004.
Degree: Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) with emphasis in entrepreneurship.
College: Arizona State University Online (2002 – 2004)
To MBA or not to MBA… That’s a decision thousands of potential graduate students make each year after pondering certain questions: Is an MBA worth the money? Can I earn my degree online? Will I be able to juggle work and family at the same time?
It’s easy for an outsider to do a little research and answer these questions, but nothing beats the inside scoop from someone whose been there and done that. Meet Doug Jones, the founder and CEO of Affordable Colleges Online, who used distance learning to earn his MBA, build a successful career in tech, and eventually become a web entrepreneur.
A couple things stand out. First, the ability to pursue my MBA while working full-time was huge. I can’t emphasize that enough. Quitting work to earn a degree would’ve meant tremendous opportunity cost in the form of lost salary.
Second, working with classmates globally made case studies more interesting (and more valuable). And because I worked for Intel at the time, an international company, I could apply what I learned to my job rather easily.
The toughest? School + work + family can be challenging. My wife and I didn’t have children yet, but we still had other things to think about that demanded time and effort. However, there’s no way I could’ve juggled everything if I had been in a campus program.Many MBA programs rely on tight collaboration with fellow students, especially for group projects. How did the online nature of the program help or hinder communication with peers?
It helped significantly. Online forums, email, video conferencing – both lectures and meetings – kept us connected. It also helped that we met in-person at the ASU campus one week per semester. Here we met each other and the professors to establish a rapport, and then worked virtually for the remainder of the session.You completed your undergraduate degree on campus. How did your online MBA program compare to your campus-based bachelor’s degree?
They differed in a lot of ways. Obviously, my online MBA had much less face time (although we had plenty of video chats). Also, in MBA programs, most students are professionals already, so the maturity level was higher. Lots of fellow students with a tremendous amount of experience to tap into and learn from.Did you have much interaction with your professors? Did you find it tough to communicate with no face-to-face office hours?
In addition to the week on campus, each professor had weekly office hours where we could email, IM, talk on the phone or video chat. We also had daily forum discussions about course materials and projects. I actually interacted with my professors a lot – far more than I anticipated.Did ASU have a support system in place to help you as you worked toward your degree?
ASU Online had career placement services and guidance counselors, all very accessible. I was also able to bounce ideas off some of my professors because many had significant work experience in the field.Did you receive any form of financial assistance? If so, was it easy to get for an online program?
I was really fortunate when it came to paying for the program. Intel paid for my online MBA. But if you don’t work for Intel, many companies out there have tuition assistance and tuition reimbursement programs to help employees further their education. One thing I’ve learned during my current job is that financial assistance – whether from the government or a company – almost always requires that the target college has the proper accreditation. When applying to MBA programs, make sure it’s accredited by an agency like the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business).Anything that really surprised you as you earned your online MBA?
The caliber of the students and the professors. I knew there would be smart people in the program, but many of the students and profs I worked with blew me away. Probably the most surprising thing, however, was the value of the online experience. ASU’s program challenged me academically and professionally, but also offered tremendous flexibility. The online programs – whether MBA or otherwise – that strike such as balance stand to change the face of higher education.Any words of advice for future online MBA students?
If you can’t afford going to school on campus, don’t be afraid to embrace online learning. This new model comes with so many benefits, and the technology improves year after year. And if you can’t study full-time, explore part-time programs. My program at ASU had more of a real-time schedule, but others can be more self-paced for the super busy.
Over the past few years, online graduate-level business programs have proliferated. Students are now faced with the difficult decision of sorting through a surplus of programs, looking for the one that fits their unique wants and needs. This list should make that task a little easier.
We have combed through nearly 8,000 online MBA programs and highlighted only the very best. We selected these 30 school based on a number of factors, including strict accreditation, faculty quality, student engagement, and admissions selectivity. These online MBAs are an elite class, unsurpassed in quality and affordability.
For the specifics on how we identified the Top 30 Online MBA Programs, please read our methodology page.
Washington State University
|Cost: $750/Credit||Score: 100||Website: http://omba.wsu.edu/|
Arkansas State University–Jonesboro
|Cost: $467/Credit||Score: 96.9||Website: http://www.astate.edu/|
University of Tennessee–Martin
|Cost: $481/Credit||Score: 93.3||Website: http://www.utm.edu/|
University of Texas–Dallas
|Cost: $1,343/Credit||Score: 91.7||Website: http://jindal.utdallas.edu/|
Arizona State University (Carey)
|Cost: $54,600/Full Program||Score: 90.5||Website: http://wpcarey.asu.edu/|
Georgia College & State University (Bunting)
|Cost: $21,650/Full Program||Score: 88.3||Website: http://www.gcsu.edu/|
University of Florida (Hough)
|Cost: $52,500/Full Program||Score: 87.9||Website: http://floridamba.ufl.edu/|
University of Illinois–Springfield
|Cost: $304.75/Credit||Score: 86.1||Website: http://www.uis.edu/|
University of North Texas
|Cost: $291/Credit||Score: 85.7||Website: http://www.cob.unt.edu/|
|Cost: $464/Credit||Score: 84.6||Website: http://www.oswego.edu/|
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
|Cost: $531/Credit||Score: 84.3||Website: http://mba.unl.edu/|
University of Michigan–Dearborn
|Cost: $3,207/Credit Assessment||Score: 84.2||Website: http://www.umd.umich.edu/|
University of South Dakota
|Cost: $400/Credit||Score: 82.1||Website: http://www.usd.edu/|
Missouri State University
|Cost: $6,234/Year||Score: 82.1||Website: http://mba.missouristate.edu/|
West Virginia University
|Cost: $789/Credit||Score: 79.2||Website: http://online.wvu.edu/|
East Carolina University
|Cost: $5,616/Year||Score: 78.6||Website: http://www.ecu.edu/|
University of Massachusetts–Amherst (Isenberg)
|Cost: $825/Credit||Score: 76||Website: http://www.isenberg.umass.edu/|
University of Colorado–Colorado Springs
|Cost: $2,298/3 Credit Hours||Score: 74.7||Website: http://www.uccs.edu/business/index/online-programs/online-mba.html|
Mississippi State University
|Cost: $370/Credit||Score: 74.1||Website: http://www.distance.msstate.edu/|
Oklahoma State University (Spears)
|Cost: $358/Credit||Score: 72.3||Website: http://spears.okstate.edu/|
Columbus State University (Turner)
|Cost: $958/Credit||Score: 72.3||Website: http://gradschool.columbusstate.edu/|
University of Colorado–Denver
|Cost: N/A/N/A||Score: 71.9||Website: http://www.ucdenver.edu/|
University of Baltimore -Towson University
|Cost: $2,996/Semester||Score: 71||Website: http://www.ubalt.edu/|
James Madison University
|Cost: $775/Credit||Score: 70.7||Website: http://www.jmu.edu/|
Michigan Technological University
|Cost: $41,000/Full Program||Score: 70.4||Website: http://www.mtu.edu/|
Southeast Missouri State University (Harrison)
|Cost: $6,853/Year||Score: 70.4||Website: http://www.semo.edu/|
University of Louisiana–Monroe
|Cost: $509/Credit||Score: 70.2||Website: http://www.ulm.edu/|
Tennessee Technological University
|Cost: $542/Credit||Score: 69.8||Website: http://www.tntech.edu/|
North Carolina State University (Jenkins)
|Cost: $32,487/Full Program||Score: 69||Website: http://poole.ncsu.edu/|
University of West Georgia
|Cost: $1,728/9 Credit hours||Score: 68||Website: http://www.westga.edu/|