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Should You Get Your MBA Online or In-person?

Should You Get Your MBA Online or In-person?

With so many MBA programs to choose from, the options can feel overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to first determine whether or not an in-person or online program is right for you in order to help narrow down that list. Keep reading as we help you determine which type of MBA program is right for you.

Here’s an interesting statistic. According to AACSB data, just for the 2020-2021 academic year, there were over 150,000 students enrolled in MBA programs in the U.S. That makes the MBA one of the most (if not the most) popular master’s degrees offered. Here’s another interesting fact from the same article: More MBA students in the U.S are earning their degrees online than in person. So, if you’re thinking of going for your MBA, you have an important decision to make: Do you earn your degree online or through a traditional on-campus program?

We’ve put together this guide to help you in making the right decision between online MBA vs. in-person MBA. You’ll find tons of useful information about both on-campus and online MBA programs below – how they differ and what factors to consider to make an informed decision that fits you the best. We’ve included a list of detailed benefits you’ll enjoy by pursuing your MBA online. So, if you’re thinking of pursuing your business administration master’s, keep reading to discover the answer to this very important question: “Should I enroll in an MBA degree online or in-person?”

Key Differences Between an Online MBA and On-Campus

There are plenty of similarities and differences between online and in-person MBA programs. You’ll find a discussion of the most common of these in the table below. The importance of understanding these similarities and differences before deciding between online and in-person MBA programs cannot be overstated. This importance of this decision parallels the importance of the specific MBA type (accelerated, standard, full-time, part-time, specialization, etc.). Regardless of your choice, it’s also very important to remember that an online MBA program is identical, in terms of quality and content, to an on-campus program. An online degree in no way is inferior to one that is earned in-person, especially since neither your college records nor your physical diploma will indicate which format you used to earn your MBA.

Admissions RequirementsMostly the same as those for on-campus programs, but may generally be less restrictive (lower minimum GPA requirement, for example). Online programs commonly accept students with a bachelor’s degree in any major. GMAT/GRE scores are less likely to be required, but if they are, minimum acceptable test scores may be lower than for on-campus programs.Generally, the same as those for online MBA programs, but may be more restrictive, for example, requiring higher undergraduate GPAs and bachelor’s degrees in business or economics related majors. GMAT or GRE test scores are also typically required. On-campus program admissions are often more competitive than online programs, especially when it comes to programs at more prestigious colleges.
AccreditationProgrammatic accreditation of U.S.-based online MBA programs is typically through one of the three major accrediting organizations (AACSB, ACBSP, IACBE). Institutional accreditation is through a DOE-approved regional or national accrediting agency. Some colleges and universities (most often fully-online and/or for-profit schools) may be institutionally accredited by less prestigious national agencies. More on a proper accreditation of online MBA programs below.As with online MBA programs, programmatic accreditation of U.S. campus-based MBA programs is typically through one of the three major accrediting organizations (AACSB, ACBSP, IACBE). Institutional accreditation is typically provided by one of several regional agencies approved by the DOE, although some programs may be institutionally accredited through a less-preferable national accreditor.
CostBoth public and private schools typically charge the same tuition rates for both their online and on-campus MBA programs. Some public schools, however, continue to charge higher tuition rates to out-of-state online students, although many schools now charge in-state rates to all online students, regardless of state residence. Online students also save money over on-campus students in not having to pay the transportation costs associated with traveling to and from campus to attend classes.In most cases, both public and private schools charge the same or similar tuition rates for their online and on-campus MBA programs. The one major exception is for out-of-state residents in public school on-campus MBA programs, who are typically charged a substantially higher tuition rate than in-state resident students. Some on-campus students will bear the additional costs associated with moving to and living near their program’s campus.
Completion TimeCompletion times for online MBA programs vary, sometimes substantially, depending on program format (standard, accelerated, executive) and study pace (full-time, part-time). For example, full-time students in accelerated programs typically complete their studies in 12 to 18 months, while part-time students in standard programs take three years or more to earn their degrees. Some online MBA programs allow students to set their own study pace, allowing them more time to complete their studies.Completion times for on-campus MBA programs closely mirror those of online programs, again varying by format and study pace. Full-time students in standard MBA programs can expect to spend about two years earning their degrees. Part-time students will typically take 2 ½ to three years to complete all program requirements. Self-paced study options are much less common among on-campus programs. 
CurriculumMost colleges and universities offering both online and on-campus MBA programs offer those programs with identical or very similar curriculums (courses, total credit requirements, completion expectations, etc.). However, part-time curriculums, which are more common to online programs, typically do not include a summer internship, which is common to many full-time, on-campus programs.Most colleges and universities offering both online and on-campus MBA programs offer those programs with the same or similar curriculums, with the possible exception of the addition of summer internships in full-time on-campus programs. 
SpecializationsIn terms of specialization or concentration offerings, there’s no major distinction with online MBA vs. in-person MBA programs. Most, but not all, offer specialization options allowing students to tailor their studies to fit their unique academic and career interests. When it comes to specializations, the major advantage with online study is that students have a wider selection of MBA programs since they are not limited by geographic locations. On-campus MBA programs typically offer specializations or concentrations. The total number of specializations offered varies from a few to several depending on the specific program. Areas of specialization available also vary substantially from program to program. Prospective on-campus MBA students will have limited options for their specialization to those offered on nearby campuses unless they’re willing to relocate.
Learning FormatProgram content (lectures, readings, assignments, exams, communications, etc.) is delivered either entirely or primarily online, typically through an online learning platform. Course components may be delivered synchronously (requiring attendance at specifically scheduled times) or asynchronously (accessed and completed at any time). Online programs may still include some on-campus or in-person activities, such as introductory orientation sessions or weekend intensives. Most program content is completed by the student in person, primarily by attending classes on the colleges or university’s campus, or at another physical location. Some course components such as course readings, recorded lectures, and communications with instructors and fellow students, may be delivered online. Full-time standard MBA programs often additionally include in-person summer internships.

Which MBA Is Right for Me?

Now that you have an idea of how online vs. in-person MBA programs work, it’s time to make a detailed account of your own individual career and life goals, academic interests, study preferences, scheduling needs, and personal and professional obligations. You’ll also need to determine your unique strengths and weaknesses of your learning style. Once you’ve done that, keep reading to see how our results best match up with your online vs. in-person MBA options. Start by comparing your interests and preferences to the following:

  • You Should Do Your MBA In-person if…

    • You want the ultimate flexibility
    • You want to study whenever and wherever
    • You like the idea of online networking
    • You don’t need a lot of 1:1 professor support
    • You don’t live near the school or program you want to attend
    • You want to save on gas and transportation
  • You Should Do Your MBA In-person if…

    • You want a more traditional class setting
    •  Your learning style requires more real-time interaction with professors and peers
    • You are near or are willing to move near a campus
    • You want or need 1:1 professor support

Benefits of an Online MBA

Are you still not sure about the benefits of getting an MBA online? Here’s a look at six of the most substantial benefits of online MBA programs. Keep in mind that these benefits are in addition to the fact that accredited online MBA programs offer the same high-quality education as similarly accredited on-campus programs. There is a reason why online MBA programs are so popular.

  • Convenience

    Study convenience is probably the single biggest advantage to an online degree MBA program. That convenience comes in many forms, but the most obvious one is that students can access and complete their coursework at the times that best accommodate their busy schedules. For students with strict work requirements or family obligations, studying online may be more than a convenience, it can be the only possible way to pursue an MBA.

  • Flexibility

    Along with the ability to learn at your convenience, online MBA programs typically offer a wide range of study options, providing you with a great amount of flexibility regarding how you pursue your degree studies. These include full-time, part-time, and self-paced program lengths that allow you to accelerate or extend completion times, synchronous and asynchronous delivery options, multiple channels for interacting with instructors and fellow students (emails, chat rooms, zoom meetings, etc.), and more.

  • Affordability

    In the past, colleges and universities typically charged the same tuition rates to both online and on-campus students, including the higher rates charged by public schools to out-of-state residents. However, there is a major trend toward charging the same low in-state rates to out-of-state residents in online programs. This means there are some great bargains out there for students whose home state public schools charge substantially higher tuition than those in other states. Apart from tuition rates, online MBA students will enjoy big savings over their on-campus counterparts by not having to pay for gas, parking fees, and other transportation costs associated with traveling to and from campus to attend classes.

  • More Options

    And since you won’t have to travel to a physical campus, you won’t be limited to those programs offered at campuses in your local area. In other words, you’ll be able to choose from among literally dozens of high-quality, fully-accredited MBA programs offered by some of the very best colleges and universities throughout the U.S. That’s a benefit for any MBA student, but especially for those whose local college campuses do not provide MBA programs with the specialization or concentration they’re interested in.

  • Online Network

    Online MBA programs offer a major networking advantage that on-campus programs simply can’t provide. In your online program, you’ll be taking classes – and maybe developing life-long relationships – with students from all walks of life living in all areas of your state (and possibly the entire U.S. and beyond), and working in all industries and business sectors. In an ever-greater diversifying global business environment, that’s a huge benefit for any MBA student aiming for long-term career success.

  • Learn from Anywhere

    Finally, there’s a lot to be said for the accessibility to complete your MBA degree from anywhere. That is, as long as you can have a reliable internet connection. For most online MBA students, studying from anywhere means studying at home, where they’re able to tailor their physical environment to best fit their unique learning habits and preferences. And for those students with families, you’ll also enjoy the benefit of being home to tuck your kids into bed at night.

How to Choose an Online MBA Program

Once you’ve decided between the choice of an online and an in-person MBA, the next step is finding the program that’s right for you. Doing so will take a bit of effort because every online MBA program is different, with each offering its own unique combination of curriculum requirements, program lengths, course delivery formats, and methods for interacting with instructors and fellow students. The key is to find the one program that best matches up with your unique combination of academic needs, career goals, and study format preferences. Here are seven questions to answer to help get you started on making the right online MBA program choice:

  • Do I need to be enrolled full or part-time?

    Generally speaking, MBA students who choose a part-time program do so to advance their current careers. Full-time MBA students, on the other hand, have often moved directly from earning their bachelor’s degree into their MBA programs or are looking to make a career change. However, you may have your own reasons for choosing either full-time or part-time enrollment. The good news is that there are plenty of high-quality online MBA programs out there offered with full-time, part-time, and even self-paced options that allow you to adjust your studies to fit your busy work and life schedules.

  • Would I prefer synchronous or asynchronous?

    Online synchronous course formats are those that require students to log in and attend classes or other course-related activities in real time, while asynchronous course formats allow students to access and complete their coursework (including pre-recorded class sessions) at times most convenient to their individual schedules. Programs or individual courses may be delivered entirely synchronously, entirely asynchronously, or as a combination of synchronous and asynchronous components. It’s critical that you understand exactly how each method is employed in any program you consider before you enroll.

  • Do I want an accelerated or standard paced program?

    Accelerated online MBA programs typically allow students to complete all program requirements in as little as 12 months of full-time study or up to two years of part-time study. Accelerated programs often require students to have completed extensive previous college-level business and economics coursework, as well as substantial professional work experience. Standard-paced programs, in comparison, typically require two years full-time to three years or more of part-time study to complete. Therefore, students in accelerated programs should be ready to take on a more intensive study pace than those in standard-formatted MBA programs.

  • Does the program offer the specialization I want?

    Specializations are a great way to accommodate your studies to focus on a particular area or aspect of the business world that best suits your professional goals. A specialization can also help you stand out from the competition in the employment marketplace when looking for a new job or moving up the career ladder with your current employer. Specialization options vary from program to program, so making the time and effort to explore all online MBA programs available is to your great benefit.

  • Can I afford the program?

    This question may seem obvious, but affordability is more than just a binary proposition. Of course, you’ll need to carefully consider your program budget when choosing the right MBA program for you, and that means taking into account all real and potential expenses, including tuition, fees, the cost of books and supplies, travel costs (if your program includes some on-campus or other in-person components), and the even the costs associated with internet access. You also need to factor in any help you can get in paying for your education, such as scholarships, grants, student loans, employer tuition reimbursement, etc. And if the first program on your MBA wish list is out of your price range, don’t forget that there are likely one or more other quality program options out there that you can afford.

  • Does it have the proper accreditation?

    Accreditation really is a binary proposition. If an online MBA program you’re looking at doesn’t have proper accreditation, then you should immediately strike it from your potential program list. There are two types of accreditations you’ll be looking for: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation has to do with the academic quality of a college or university taken as a whole. 

    Institutional accreditation of U.S. colleges and universities is administered by a group of independent regional and national agencies recognized by the Department of Education. Programmatic accreditation (of the U.S. business schools or departments within colleges and universities that offer MBA programs) is handled by a small number of accrediting organizations, most prominently the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), along with the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE).

  • What student support services are offered?

    Many students often overlook the availability of useful student support services when choosing their online MBA program. Don’t make the same mistakes. Start by using the range of student support services offered by your school since they play a tremendously important role in your academic and career success. Specific services to look for include admissions, academic, and career counseling, employer networking services, alumni communities, and continued access to program courses following graduation. Access to quality physical and mental health resources also should not be disregarded.