Many consider the Master of Business Administration (MBA) one of the most valuable degrees available to students and professionals today. In addition to serving as an advanced academic credential, the MBA gives graduates a wider range of career options and much greater earning potential. Graduates of MBA programs enjoy a higher level of job security, and the degree can help fast track already-working professionals into upper management positions in their fields. Read on to explore online MBA basics, see which colleges offer stand-out programs and discover which advanced degree option is the right fit for you.
Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors
Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
Each college must have at least one online program 1
Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000
Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.
1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.
Earning an MBA online has become an increasingly popular option for those looking to advance their careers, and with good reason: online degree programs offer the flexibility needed to maintain busy work and home lives while still balancing a full class schedule. Schools have seen this increased need for such programs, and have answered; there are now hundreds of online MBA programs in which prospective students may enroll. To help narrow the field, we’ve analyzed every online MBA program in the nation by cost, supportive services, student teacher ratio and accreditation to determine which schools stand on top. Discover the Best Online MBA Programs for 2016-2017 below.
MBA Degree Search Tool
Earning an MBA is a large investment in time and money. Finding the best online program matching your career-building goals is worth the due diligence. The range of degree types and options is extensive. But you can save time by using the search tool below to target schools by their kind of online MBA program, tuition, and curriculum. Make a wise and informed choice.
MBA programs require significant time, energy, and commitment. Traditional MBA candidates can spend up to 24 months learning management communication, strategic thinking, decision analysis, and other foundational business skills. But what about non-traditional students? The single parent with two kids and a mortgage, or the young professional who wants an MBA but also an advanced degree in engineering? The good news is, business schools across the U.S. continue to expand program options to meet these diverse needs. Let’s take a look at some of today’s up-and-coming online MBA programs, and then see which one might work best for you.
Accelerated programs often run 12 months and involve larger course loads and shorter times between semesters. Group projects and other assignments may also have tighter deadlines to help squeeze more coursework into the shorter program.
Great for… Young professionals looking for a flexible way to fast track their degree.
Dual MBAs give professionals the chance to increase knowledge and skills in a specific field while learning key management techniques. Graduates have deeper understanding of their subjects (e.g. marketing) and the ability to turn that understanding into a leadership role.
Great for… Those looking for in-depth knowledge and a leadership track in a specific field.
Executive Online MBA
Executive MBAs cater to more experienced professionals who need to earn their degree while they work. EMBA programs tend to have flexible timeframes (between 12 and 24 months) and may require candidates to have a minimum of five years of work experience.
Great for… Professionals who want (or need) flexibility to pursue a degree while raising a family or focusing on work.
More and more business schools are dropping the GMAT requirement for certain applicants – usually professionals with more than 10 years of experience or who possess advanced degrees or specific credentials already. This can be great for program seekers who haven’t seen a standardized test in over a decade.
Great for… Managers, leaders, executives who can stand out from the rest of the applicant pool without a stellar test score. MBA seekers far removed from standardized testing and who qualify under the business schools no GMAT guidelines.
Part-time online MBA programs are designed for ultimate flexibility. Courses often occur year-round and students can take one or two each semester. Business schools usually schedule classes outside of work hours.
Great for… Students who need ultimate flexibility with the combination of online and part-time learning. Some programs allow students to complete their online MBA over the course of 3 – 4 years.
Online MBAs for Veterans
Some online MBAs actively seek veteran students due to their teamwork and natural leadership skills. Many of these programs dedicate some or all of their curriculum to translating their students’ military experience into civilian business and management skills.
Great for… Military veterans, active duty, and reserve personnel with business leadership aspirations and the flexibility to learn online.
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.
Students working towards their online MBA in healthcare are usually looking to build on their experience in fields such as nursing, medicine, biotechnology and health information systems. Students should expect to gain skills in branding, information systems management, entrepreneurship and more.
An online MBA in finance typically takes between two and five years to complete, depending on the type of program. Common careers for those with an MBA in finance are financial manager, broker, financial analyst or chief financial officer (CFO).
An online MBA in marketing typically takes between one and three years to complete and students can expect to take courses on topics like marketing management, consumer behavior, and digital marketing and advertising. Graduates often find success in manager-level positions, such as marketing manager, advertising manager or public relations manager.
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:
The Certified Business Manager (CBM): The Association of Professionals in Business Management (APBM)offers this credential, which validates business management knowledge based on practices worldwide. The CBM examination may be taken by professionals with three years of full-time work experience (for those with existing master’s degrees) or four years’ experience for applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree.
Project Management Professional (PMP): The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers this certificate, which evaluates each manager’s education, experience and competency in directing projects from inception to completion. It is one of the most highly sought certifications for professional managers. Applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree and have accrued 4,000 hours of professional project management experience.
Certified Management Consultant (CMC): Applicants must be a member of the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI) to qualify for a CMC certification. To sit for the examination, professionals must have accrued at least three years of consulting experience and either work for, or own, a consulting firm.
Other certifications sought by management professionals can be industry specific and include:
Certified Benefits Professional (CBP)
Certified Compensation Professional (CCP)
Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS)
Certified Energy Manager (CEM)
Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM)
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
Certified Marketing Executive (CME)
Certified MBA (CMBA)
Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager (CRCM)
Certified Treasury Professional (CTP)
Financial Risk Manager (FRM)
Global Remuneration Professional (GRP)
Professional in Human Resources (PHR)
Courses and Curriculum
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:
Accounting for Managers: Students explore accounting concepts, principles and audits relating to economic measurement and management choices.
Entrepreneurship: A study of factors contributing to the success of new business ventures with a focus on venture capital, human assets, business regulations and competitive analysis.
Information Systems: A comprehensive overview of essential business software, data security practices, database management and enterprise-wide systems development.
Supply Chain Management: A detailed examination of key concepts and processes in strategic planning operations, project management, logistics, production, delivery methods and quantitative assessments.
The Online MBA Timeline
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.
Year 0: Application
Year One: Acclimation
Year Two: Completion
Prepare for and Take the GMAT
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. Read our GMAT prep guide to learn more about how you can prepare for and perform your best on the exam.
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.
Community Service and Leadership
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.
Get Your References Ready
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.
Identify Target Schools
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.
Polish Your Resume
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.
Start Writing Your Essays
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.
Submit All Application Materials
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.
Accept an Offer
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.
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:
Building relationships with your team or pod
Taking the first courses that make up the core curriculum
Participating in program-sponsored community service
Attending conferences or forums
Going to social events with fellow students
Joining various clubs or advisory boards
Applying for summer internships
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:
Finishing up required coursework
Carving out a niche/specialization
Networking, networking, networking
Visiting target companies to learn and meet
Finish up advanced student projects
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.
EXPLORE MASTER’S DEGREE PROGRAMS FOR BUSINESS ADMINISTRATIONsearch programs
Meet an Online MBA Graduate
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.
What’s the best thing about your online MBA program? The toughest?
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.