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Is an Online MBA Worth It? The ROI of B-School

Is an Online MBA Worth It? The ROI of B-School

Online MBAs are becoming more and more popular. But is the return on investment really there? We will explore the value of an online MBA in this guide, so keep reading to see if it’s right for you.

Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or have your eye on a C suite, you may be asking yourself: Is an online MBA worth it? Turns out, earning this degree may be the perfect launchpad for your career ambitions. Pursuing your MBA online offers flexible, affordable opportunities to advance in your field without relocating or quitting your current job. After graduation, you’ll have the skills and credentials you need to take on new and bigger roles, increase your earning potential, and excel in your field.

Sound too good to be true? Well, we came with receipts. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2020 Corporate Recruiters Survey, the median salary for MBA graduates was $115,000 — a full 75% higher than the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree. If the potential for a six-figure salary isn’t inspiration enough, then consider further that a recent study by The Association of MBAs found that nearly 60% of MBA grads landed their “dream job” within six months of graduating.

However, not everyone needs or wants an MBA. We’re here to help you weigh your options. We’ll also explore the potential ROI of business school, different types of MBA programs, and your post-MBA salary potential across different business careers. 

Ready to begin this MBA ROI deep dive? Let’s get to it. 

Analyzing the Value of an Online MBA

You probably already know that the price tag for MBA programs can be steep. So, it’s important to decide if the time and money you’ll be investing will pay off in the long run, making the online MBA worth it for you. We’ve done the research and run some numbers to help you determine if earning an MBA yields a worthwhile ROI.

What Is My Salary Potential with an MBA?

A mountain of factors can influence your salary potential, with or without an MBA. A few major ones include where you live and work experience. That being said, when we look at the data, the job titles that favor MBAs pay much better than the jobs that are accessible with a bachelor’s degree. So, regardless of your location or the length of your resume, you’ll likely have new and better doors open to you after you earn your MBA. 

To give you an idea of how your salary could increase once you earn your master’s, we’ve explored the occupational outlook information from The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the table below, we’ve compared the median wage for MBA jobs and their bachelor’s degree equivalents to better illustrate whether an online MBA may be worth it for you. Across the board, we’re seeing major salary increases that reveal the value of MBAs, regardless of specialty.

MBA SpecializationJobBachelor’s SalaryJobPost-MBA Salary
FinanceFinancialAnalyst$84,300Financial Manager$131,710
MarketingFundraiser$60,660Advertising Manager$133,380
AccountingClaims Adjustor$64,170Budget Analyst$98,030
ManagementTraining and Development Specialist$61,570Management Consultant$93,000
Healthcare AdministrationHealth Information Technologist$55,560Health Services Manager$101,340
Project ManagementMeeting, Event and, Conference Planner$49,470Project Manager$94,500
Human ResourcesHuman Resources Specialist$62,290Human Resources Manager$126,230

What Does it Cost to Earn an MBA Online?

Now let’s talk about your investment. In order to truly understand the ROI of your MBA, we have to factor in the cost of your program. Tuition for online MBA programs can vary widely depending on the program, its format, and your location (some publicly funded schools, for example, extend in-state tuition discounts to online students). So, it’s important to research your options before diving in. While you are evaluating schools, remember that a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean a better education. More important than the prestige of the school is whether you’re attending an accredited program with specialization options, finding a good course format fit, and factoring in other practical considerations. 

While you’ll want to dig into tuition prices more on your own, we’re giving you a head start. Below, we’ve featured good-quality programs in various specializations and laid out the tuition cost. You can use these as a starting point to think about how cost factors into your choice to pursue your degree and whether an online MBA is worth it for you.

MBA SpecializationSchoolMBA Cost
FinanceBowling Green State University$17,850 (in state)
MarketingDavenport University$39,231
AccountingTexas A&M University, Corpus Christi$18,240
ManagementPenn State University$59,328
Healthcare AdministrationWestern Governor’s University$19,820
Project ManagementThe University of New Mexico$34,615
Human ResourcesThe University of Southern Indiana $12,900

What Makes an Online MBA Worth it?

There are two important and related factors to consider when deciding if there’s value in an online MBA for you. The first is your return on investment. We’ve discussed this already, but you need to be reasonably sure that the money you spend on tuition will translate to higher salary after graduation. This math is particularly important if you are planning to finance your tuition by taking out loans. 

The second factor to consider is opportunity cost. If you’re planning on pursuing studies full time or declining extra responsibilities at work during your program, you are putting your career on hold. So, you need to ask yourself if you’ll be in a better position career-wise after earning your MBA than you would be if you focused on pursuing promotions and better positions during that time. Of course, because online MBA programs are designed for working professionals, you may not have to choose at all. 

Is an Online MBA Worth it for You? Ask Yourself These Questions:

Career advancement is one of the primary motivators for pursuing an MBA, and it is indeed a good reason to head back to school. But there’s more to life than money. So, it’s important not to lose sight of other factors that might influence whether you’ll find value in earning an online MBA. Join us for some soul-searching by considering these three big questions.

  • Why do I want to get an MBA?

    If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already asked yourself this question — perhaps many times. But it’s still worth unpacking a bit to ensure you’ve considered all the factors that might influence your decision. These are three of the top reasons that MBA students choose to pursue an advanced degree and some ways to evaluate if they align with your circumstances. Give them a look and see if they resonate.

    • I want to advance my career: It might take a bit of research to decide if an MBA is the right way to advance your career. Start by imagining your dream job, and then work backwards. Look at job postings that fit your end goal and see what credentials they are looking for. Is an MBA required? If not, can you gain the necessary experience by continuing your current career track? Even if an MBA isn’t essential for the role, it can help you develop new and necessary skills for your work aspirations. 
    • I want to increase my salary: We’ve provided some insight on this topic in the previous section, but it’s important to investigate the financial payoff of your MBA in your specific role and location to help decide if pursuing an online MBA is worth it. 
    • I want to gain skills and knowledge: An MBA can definitely help you grow as a businessperson or entrepreneur. If you feel like your skillset is holding you back, returning to school can be a great solution. But it’s important to confirm that an MBA program can give you the tools you need to meet your goals. Spend some time looking at degree maps from various programs to help you identify schools that fit with your long-term goals.

    If you are still struggling with the “why” of earning an MBA, it’s ok to take your time to consider. You might find it helpful to discuss the question with admissions counselors, MBA graduates, and the people closest to you. 

  • Is the timing right for me to pursue an MBA now?

    The answer to this is highly personal. On the one hand, the longer you wait to start your MBA, the longer it will be before you graduate. On the other hand, there are some very real and important reasons that it might make sense to postpone your academic goals. For example, if you’re about to make a big move, vying for a promotion at work, or plan to start a family, adding school to the equation might be putting too much on your plate. 

    However, if you’re working a dead-end job or feel like your career is stagnating, then enrolling in an MBA program might be just the ticket for opening up new options. Before you commit, make sure you can visualize how your studies fit into your daily routine. 

    Money can also be a huge factor when it comes to deciding whether or not the time is right to return to school. Are you in a position to take on debt? Are there scholarships or financial aid programs that can help cover your tuition? Make sure the math works before you commit. Depending on where you work, your employer may offer tuition reimbursement to help you develop professionally. If that’s the case, it may make sense to take advantage of that benefit by beginning coursework ASAP. 

  • How will an MBA help me achieve my career goals?

    Remember that dream job we asked about above? Let’s circle back and examine how that may help you determine if an online MBA is worth it. We’ve already established that looking at job postings that match your goals is a great way to evaluate whether an MBA will put you on the right track, but a diploma isn’t everything. Think about where you are now and what skills you need to reach your goals. For example, maybe you’re a rockstar at financial analysis, but you need leadership experience to get ahead. Does your position or a similar job opportunity offer training or roles to help you develop leadership skills? If not, that is something you can certainly develop in an MBA program. Try making a list of the skills and knowledge you need to reach your goals, using that list to identify how you can earn that experience. If you’re struggling to find opportunities in your current field or position, an MBA can be a great way to learn and demonstrate the essential skillsets you need to advance your career.

Benefits of Getting an MBA Online

By now, you already have a good idea of the ROI on your business degree. So now, the question is how to begin your studies. You may already be familiar with the offerings of traditional, in-person programs. But many students overlook the benefits of pursuing their MBA online. As you assess your options, consider these six benefits underscoring the value of online MBA programs.

  • High Return on Investment

    Online MBA programs can increase your ROI because they are often more affordable, don’t have as many additional expenses like parking and facility fees, and give you the flexibility to work full-time while you study. If you continue to work, your employer might even cover all or part of your tuition. Plus, unlike in-person programs, you can attend a program that fits with your goals without having to incur the expenses of relocating.

  • Ability to Specialize in Your Field

    Online programs provide more options to specialize, because you have a literal world of options from which to choose — not just the program offered in your community. Your local campus might offer an MBA, but it may not offer specialization opportunities that fit with your career goals. For example, not all business schools offer a focus on hospitality management, but there is an abundance of high-quality online programs with this emphasis. Enrolling in an online MBA program means accessing school wherever you are (as long as you have an internet connection) — often from the comfort of your own home.

  • Accelerated Options

    Another way to increase your business school ROI is to finish your program faster. The sooner you have your MBA, the sooner you can benefit from the increased salary and career opportunities that come with it. Many online programs offer condensed courses and accelerated degree tracks to help you get your diploma as soon as possible. Even if you’re working fast, you can still take advantage of the flexibility of online learning. Some schools offer intensive classes that last only a few weeks, while others offer more course options year-round to expedite your studies.

  • Online Learning Flexibility

    If you’re like most prospective MBA students, you have a lot going on. Whether you’re balancing work, family responsibilities, social obligations, other pursuits, or a mix of everything, it can be hard to imagine how studying for your MBA can fit into your already busy schedule. This is where you can find tremendous value in an online MBA program. Many schools offer asynchronous classes that let you study when and where it is most convenient. There are also plenty of schools that offer part-time programs or let you take breaks when necessary.

  • Unique Networking Opportunities

    One of the main reservations many students have about online learning is that it can be harder to build professional connections when studying remotely. And this is an important consideration. In the business field, who you know is as important as what you know. But consider this: When you learn on campus, your networking is limited to the community you live in, your faculty, and campus visitors. Online programs, on the other hand, allow professors to bring in professionals from around the world with whom you can make potential connections. If you’re still concerned about the lack of face-to-face interaction, look for a school that offers in-person summer seminars or funding to attend conferences.

  • Formats to Suit Your Learning Style

    Do you tend to zone out when listening to lectures? Or maybe you have a hard time buckling down to study. No matter your learning style, there is an online course format to help you succeed. If you struggle to pay attention in class, you may enjoy asynchronous video lectures that allow you to pause, rewind, or read captions. If you need extra accountability, synchronous programs require you to be in your seat and ready to learn at specific times. Accelerated courses give you the chance to immerse yourself in a single topic, while longer semesters let you explore a range of ideas simultaneously. Better yet, many programs offer a mix of course formats, so you can customize your learning setting to suit your needs.

Expert Interview with an MBA Graduate Katey Joyce

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Katey Joyce

Our expert, Katey Joyce, earned her MBA in September 2022 through Louisiana State University Shreveport and holds a BFA in Fashion Design from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She currently works at Patagonia as a Repair Operations Specialist. This role includes managing the operations between the Reno Repair Facility and Patagonia’s Authorized Third Party Repair Facilities.
  • Why did you choose to pursue an MBA?

    It was something I had been thinking about for a while. The timing seemed right because I had tuition reimbursement through my job, and things were still locked down because of COVID. So I had a lot of time to focus on school. I had worked in retail management, but coming from an arts background, I was finding myself in a lot of situations where I didn’t totally understand why certain decisions were being made. I wanted to feel more confident making those types of decisions and understand the thinking behind them.

  • How did you decide whether to study online or in-person?

    I didn’t really look into in-person programs because I knew scheduling with work was going to be tough. I saw some programs that were more hybrid and some that were synchronous. But I knew I wanted to be somewhere where I could study completely on my own terms when it comes to scheduling and when I did my coursework. That was a huge priority for me.

  • In what specific ways did your MBA contribute to your professional growth and development?

    The program I did had a lot of group-work opportunities. Although that was sort of a curse sometimes, it gave me the chance to work closely with people who were in more traditional business jobs. I ended up taking a lot of leadership in our group work, which was a surprise for my classmates given my background. That gave me a lot of confidence and helped me find my voice. I left feeling like “I can do this. I’ve done this. So, it doesn’t matter what I’ve done up to this point because I’m equally as prepared for these conversations and responsibilities as my classmates with more work experience.”

  • Did your MBA open doors to new job opportunities or promotions that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

    My experience in school really changed the way I was thinking about certain things about how management works and what is important. So I was able to interview for promotions with this new perspective in mind. I was looking to stay within the company I was already working with, so I didn’t actively pursue other opportunities. But I was able to move into a new more managerial role with more responsibility and decision-making capacities after I graduated. So that was a big step up from my previous job title.

  • What were some of the most valuable courses or experiences during your MBA program that directly impacted your career?

    I really enjoyed a communications class that I took. The professor was very enthusiastic about the material and really made you think about how important it was to communicate verbally, through writing, and even things like body language. That class really changed how I interacted with my classmates, especially in group work. I think communication should be one of the first classes that people take because it teaches you how to treat people with respect and not discredit their ideas. That course helped me feel so much more confident expressing my opinion if I didn’t agree with something or if something needed to change. I use the skills from that class pretty regularly compared to some of the other classes I took. 

    The other really important course for me was one on business philosophy. It really got those wheels turning about what business really is and the big “whys” that come with it. A lot of people have a hard time stepping back and seeing the big picture. That viewpoint was so important for contextualizing my classwork, and I still think about it with the work I’m doing now. 

  • Looking back, what advice would you give to someone considering an MBA program in terms of evaluating the potential return on investment?

    The biggest thing I’d say is think about why you want to do the program. For me, I wanted to further my career, but I wasn’t expecting to come out of it with some six-figure job. I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could. Another thing is thinking really hard about what program makes sense with your time resources and financial resources. 

  • A final question, was it worth it?

    I think it was worth it for me. I don’t know if I’d be in the same place career-wise if I didn’t, but maybe. I’m glad I did the program for the experience and the confidence of knowing that I made it through — especially because it had been something I’d thought about doing for so long, and the timing was never right.