MBA Alternatives

October 6, 2021

MBA Alternatives

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MBA Alternatives to Business School

Master of business administration programs prepare learners for leadership positions and careers as entrepreneurs. Many MBA programs take two years to complete. However, students often graduate sooner by studying online and full time. Earning an MBA from an accredited institution can lead to additional professional options and higher compensation.

However, an MBA from a top business school can cost as much as $100,000, according to Investopedia. Fortunately, learners can consider more affordable MBA alternatives to advance their career.

This guide explores affordable alternatives to an MBA, which produce similar career and financial benefits.

Is an Alt MBA a Better Choice?

MBA alternatives can be a great choice for students without the time or the financial resources to pay for a traditional MBA. One of the biggest advantages of an MBA alternative is that students can find a more cost-effective program and then enter the job market at a faster pace than a typical two year MBA. 

A survey conducted by AffordableCollegesOnline found that MBA students are concerned with having the finances needed to complete school. In the results, 18.75% (12 of 64) students answered that their biggest challenge to completing an MBA program was paying for higher education while minimizing student debt. Further responses from the survey included concerns such as, "The only challenge I have is financial support because online classes require money and time" and "Paying the tuition fees." An MBA alternative can provide students with shorter time commitments and lower tuition costs overall.

What Are Some Alternatives to Earning an MBA?


Most MBA programs include coursework in business, management, and leadership. Some programs require internship experience, which allows degree-seekers to apply classroom theories and principles to practical scenarios. The following MBA alternatives help students develop leadership and entrepreneurial skills. These credentials indicate that the holder is a knowledgeable and skilled professional.

Starting Your Own Business

By starting a business, individuals learn many of the same lessons as MBA students. Business owners work to acquire and allot resources for maximum profitability and efficiency. These professionals deal with marketing strategies, organizational planning, hiring and training personnel, and production management. While MBA curricula cover these topics, business owners see these factors' immediate implications.

Join a Professional Networking Organization

Members of professional organizations receive online and in-person networking and mentoring opportunities. Membership fees cost far less than even the most affordable MBA program. Professional business organizations also provide access to publications and newsletters. Members stay updated on the latest market research findings and policy changes. Many organizations also maintain job boards and connect members with business and collaboration opportunities.

Leadership Development Programs

Like an MBA, a leadership development program from an accredited institution or recognized provider can lead to advanced career opportunities. However, leadership credentials often apply to a broader variety of professional roles. For example, individuals can complete a leadership development program to qualify for positions in telecommunications, nonprofit administration, and academia. Most leadership development programs require one year to finish. Students can take many programs fully online.

The Mini MBA


Although mini MBA programs do not confer a degree, they provide enrollees with a foundational understanding of the field. Some mini MBA programs comprise one week of intensive informative training. Learners often focus on a specific topic, such as digital marketing or project management.

Other mini MBA programs require weekly four-hour classes that last 12-14 weeks. Mini MBAs cost less than MBA programs, and some are available online for free. Pursuing a mini MBA can help individuals decide whether to enroll in a full MBA program. 

Rutgers Business School offers a mini MBA with an emphasis on business essentials. This MBA is designed to help professionals stay up to date on business practices. Business Intensive also offers an abbreviated MBA program, with students spending six-to-ten hours per week on coursework, and an hour and a half to three hours on weekend courses. Both courses offer rates lower than traditional MBA programs.

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MBA Certificate Programs


Students can often apply credits from an MBA certificate toward an MBA program or another business-related master’s degree. Individuals with an MBA or a master’s degree in another field can pursue an MBA certificate to focus on a specific business topic. MBA certificates cover areas such as finance, project management, accounting, and human resources. Most MBA certificates require only 9-12 months to complete.

Certificate-holders often enjoy improved career options and increased earning potential. Earning a certificate prepares individuals to pursue specialized positions in their subfield. Options for MBA certificates can be found in an online and on-campus format, with many schools offering pre- or post-MBA certificate programs. Colorado State University currently offers an Online Graduate Certificate in Business Management, which students complete in as little as two semesters. While pricing is higher for certificate programs, students can benefit from scholarships and will receive a certificate at the completion of the program.

MOOCs (Open Enrollment Online Courses)

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are a flexible and free alternative to formal MBA programs. Students enroll only in courses that interest them and complete classes at their own pace. MOOCs also allow individuals to explore courses and decide whether to pursue the topic. Because learners can take MOOCs in an asynchronous online format, the courses rarely interfere with professional and personal responsibilities.

MOOCs are great for students working in a career field who want to expand their knowledge, or individuals apprehensive about entering a new field. Options for MOOCs include courses like Introduction to Corporate Finance, which is offered through the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania via Coursera. The course is free to enroll in and offers flexible start dates. Other courses are part of a longer session. The Value Chain Management Specialization offered through The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via Coursera is an eight month course that prepares students for the field of chain management and provides students with a shareable certificate upon completion.

Accelerated MBA Programs


One of the most common MBA alternatives, accelerated MBA programs often follow an online asynchronous format. Many accredited colleges and universities nationwide offer these flexible programs. Most accelerated MBA programs maintain generous transfer credit policies.

Distance learners may take five-week or eight-week classes, rather than following a typical 16-week semester schedule. Students in online MBA programs may also receive credit for related professional experience. Professionals with career, family, and personal responsibilities often pursue online accelerated MBA degrees. Many accelerated MBA programs allow students to complete a full MBA in a year. While an accelerated MBA is quicker, it also has a higher cost than other alternative MBA programs. However, students graduate with an MBA degree and can enter the workforce immediately after graduating. 

MBA Student Testimonials: How an Alt MBA Can Help Students Reach Their Career Goals

The testimonials below speak to the biggest challenges that MBA graduates faced when earning their MBA. Many of the students felt that time and financial commitments, as well as balancing school and work, made it difficult to earn an MBA. Considering an MBA alternative can help students achieve their career goals with shorter time commitments and at a lower cost. 

Age/(Gender)Background/heritageBiggest Challenge to completing an MBA
41 (F)Caucasian or WhiteHaving a husband and child that are loud in the house; trying to juggle working full time.
30 (F)Caucasian or WhiteBalancing family and work with school work.
38 (F)Caucasian or WhiteTime commitment.
31 (F)Caucasian or WhiteBalancing work and school.
44 (F)Caucasian or WhiteIt took so long.
59 (M)Caucasian or WhiteFinding time and scheduling group sessions.
35 (M)Caucasian or WhiteThe only challenge I had is financial support because online classes requires money and time.
40 (M)Caucasian or WhiteFinance has been my biggest challenge.
28 (F)Caucasian or WhiteBalancing everyday life.
29 (F)Caucasian or WhiteWorking full time while going to school full time.
40 (M)Asian, Pacific Islander or Asian IndianJuggling work and school.
36 (M)Caucasian or WhitePaying the tuition fees.
39 (M)Caucasian or WhiteThe lack of time and money.

Why Are Students Seeking an MBA?

Age/(Gender)Background/heritageWhy did you decide to enroll in an MBA program?
30 (M)African American or BlackFor technological and financial advancement.
50 (M)Asian, Pacific Islander or Asian IndianTo further my horizons and advance my career.
78 (F)Caucasian or WhiteI wanted more education.
45 (M)Asian, Pacific Islander or Asian IndianI always wanted to get my masters, and for higher paying jobs.
35 (F)Caucasian or WhiteTo improve my work career and to improve my skills in business.
40 (M)Asian, Pacific Islander or Asian IndianTo get it done during the pandemic in order to get a better paying job.
38 (M)Caucasian or WhiteI need to seek promotions in the next two years.
35 (M)Caucasian or WhiteBy nature I love learning everything new and I think in our current age every person should learn because we are in the age of technology. I must gain experience for a better life.
30 (M)Caucasian or WhiteTo achieve a better education and develop in my career.
30 (M)Caucasian or WhiteTo advance my professional career.
35 (F)Caucasian or WhiteTo improve my life, and my kids' life.

Survey Methodology

All data was collected between 6/14/21 and 7/3/21. Respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. All 343 respondents in the study were screened by multiple quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy. Survey participants include 169 currently enrolled MBA students and 174 graduates from MBA programs within the past 6 years. Respondents are between 21 and 78 years of age and identified as 45% Female, 54% Male, and 1% non-binary.

Student testimonials have generally been obtained with the offer of compensation for completion of a survey (e.g., entrance into a gift card drawing). Such testimonials are the opinions of such students and surveys are designed to avoid influencing such testimonials either positively or negatively. All student respondents were supplied by Lucid LLC.

Questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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