is an online mba worth it

The wave of online courses and degrees has swept into virtually every educational field and discipline. The MBA degree is no different with many online MBA and distance learning MBA options available. But one common question remains… is an online MBA worth it?

Before I researched this article I’ll admit I was pretty biased and thought I would arrive at a resounding no to this question about an online MBA being worth it. After all, my thinking went, those part time MBA’ers were already at a disadvantage to their full time counterparts. An online MBA would isolate you even further from the true MBA experience. For instance, as an online MBA candidate, how can you build a strong network or attend recruiting events? Creating a network and accessing high-paying companies are two of the big reasons people want an MBA in the first place.

After lots of reading and learning I’ve warmed up to online MBAs for certain situations. The business world seems to be warming to online degrees as well. Are you a good candidate for an online MBA? Read on to learn more.

The Short Version | Is An Online MBA Worth It?

The answer: it depends. Okay I know this is an annoying answer but it really true that each person’s individual circumstances In certain circumstances an online MBA absolutely makes sense. Some

Situations where an online MBA might make sense:

  • You need to ‘check the MBA box’ with your current employer; checking the MBA box will unlock new opportunities at your current company
  • You’ve determined an MBA is right for you but can’t forgo two years of income and can’t move your life to another city
  • You expect positive financial or lifestyle ROI relative to your other options

I’ll dig deeper into when and why you someone might want an online MBA below. But first a let’s backup…

What is a MBA?

First let’s cover some basics to make sure we’re all on the same page. MBA stands for Masters of Business Administration. It is an advanced degree for people interested in pursuing or advancing a career in business. Common jobs coming out of business school include consultant, investment banker, brand marketer, corporate finance associate, entrepreneur, operations manager, and much more.

Why get an MBA?

There are countless reasons you may choose to get an MBA but there are common themes that arise when you talk to students.

Common reasons to obtain an MBA:

  • Change your income trajectory (i.e. make more money)
  • Switch careers into something that is more interesting to you
  • Obtain leadership and collaboration skills
  • Acquire the tools and network to become an entrepreneur

For most people an MBA represents an opportunity to increase their earning potential as well as access careers that previously would have been out of reach without the credential.

It is a worthwhile exercise to consider if an MBA in general (either full or part time) is a good decision. Again, this is personal decision and a post for another day. The short version is if the MBA will produce positive ROI (financial AND lifestyle) then it is a compelling option. For example, if you want to be in brand marketing at a large CPG you essentially need the MBA credential to obtain this position. In this case you will likely be upgrading both your financial health and overall happiness by getting an MBA and moving into the brand marketing field.

MBA Tiers?

A common piece of advice you’ll hear about business school is that you should go to the top rated school you get into. In general this is decent advice. The best schools have the strongest networks and greatest access into top companies. Of course there are other factors (your interests, cultural fit at a school, financial/scholarship, and location) to weigh but in general going to the best school you can is a good rule of thumb to follow. So what MBA programs are best? Note these rankings are geared towards full or part time MBA programs.

Tier 1 MBA Programs: The “M7” aka the Magnificent Seven

  • Harvard
  • Stanford
  • Penn (Wharton)
  • Chicago (Booth)
  • Northwestern (Kellogg)
  • MIT (Sloan)
  • Columbia

Tier 2 MBA Programs: The Rest of the “T15” aka the Top Fifteen

  • Berkeley (Haas)
  • Yale
  • Duke (Fuqua)
  • Michigan (Ross)
  • Dartmouth (Tuck)
  • NYU (Stern)
  • Virginia (Darden)
  • Cornell (Johnson)
  • UCLA (Anderson)

Tier 3 MBA Programs: Top Regional Schools

  • Cornell (Johnson)
  • Emory (Goizueta)
  • Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
  • Texas (McCombs)
  • USC (Marshall)
  • U of Washington (Olin)
  • UNC (Kenan Flagler)

This list is by no means set in stone but will give you a general sense of how MBA programs are regarded. Again, all else equal it is prudent to go to the best school you get into given it will give you the greatest opportunities upon graduation. Online MBA rankings can differ a bit and not all schools currently offer an online MBA. Almost all of the above offer a part time MBA.

Online MBA Rankings | Top Online MBA Programs

Ranking online MBA programs is more difficult than full time MBA programs. Why is it more difficult to assess top online MBA programs? Common data points like ‘starting salary’ are less applicable to online MBA students given many students remained employed with their current employer during and after receiving the MBA credential. That said, there are some notable programs that are out to a fast start in the online MBA world. Here are a few we’ve heard good things about:

  • Indiana University
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Washington
  • University of Southern California
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • University of North Carolina

The Difference Between on Online MBA and a Traditional MBA

Let’s break down full time vs online MBA decision criteria across some key attributes:

  • Cost
    • Winner: Tie. Although full time students often can attract more scholarship money online students may have the MBA paid for by an employer
  • Opportunity Cost
    • Winner: Online MBA. Full timers give up two years of income production while distance learners can earn a paycheck while obtaining their MBA
  • Years Invested?
    • Winner: Tie with nod towards Full time. Full timers knock out their studies in two years as compared with two to four for online students.
  • Flexibility
    • Winner: Online MBA
  • Network
    • Winner: Full time MBA
  • Better for singles?:
    • Winner: Full time MBA
  • Better for family man or woman?
    • Winner: Online MBA

What type of person is a good fit for an online MBA or distance learning MBA?

You can probably start to sense a theme here on the type of person that an online MBA or distance learning MBA may best suit.

  • You are currently employed in a career that is generally a good fit
  • Your employer will pay partially or fully for an online MBA which creates strong ROI
  • You have a family and want flexibility
  • You physically can’t access campus but still desire the MBA education and credential
  • You don’t want to sacrifice two years of income by going full time

The Verdict: Is an Online MBA Worth It? Are Distance Learning MBAs Worth the Hype?

In many instances the answer is YES! A distance learning MBA or online MBA can absolutely be worth it. Each person’s situation and goals may differ so there is no one size fits all answer.

The online MBA will continue to grow. We expect more and more of the top tier programs to begin offering online MBAs. Why? Full time MBA applications have been down for the past six years while online MBA or distance MBAs have boomed. The lines will continue to blur between full time, part time, and online MBAs. Employers will continue to warm up to online MBAs as well as they become more popular and understood.

Hopefully this article helps you think through some of the factors to think about when it comes to obtaining an online MBA. If you decide not to pursue an MBA consider using some of the money you were going to allocate to your education to start a business. Check out our popular post about How To Start A Blog… online MBA candidates may find blogging compelling given the huge potential financial upside and the lifestyle flexibility. Another popular post with MBAs is our article detailing 7 Proven Ways to Become Rich. An MBA is great but remember there is more than one way to the top of the mountain! Don’t rule out starting a blog, an Amazon business, opening a Shopify store, or a host of other entrepreneurial options.

Are you currently in an online MBA program? Recently graduated with an MBA? Drop a comment and share your experience or thoughts about online MBAs.