Complete Guide to Online MBA Degrees

Usmann Farooqui

Written By: Usmaan Farooqui

Published: 3/17/2022

One of the oldest graduate degrees available, a masters of business administration (MBA) is designed to equip students with in-depth knowledge of fundamental business concepts and help them develop advanced skills in management, negotiation, and strategic thinking. Online MBA degrees are a popular choice for individuals hoping to become effective business leaders, change professions, or embark on an entrepreneurial career.

MBAs are in high demand, and earning this degree can significantly increase a graduate's employability. Aside from helping applicants land a job, this credential may also provide working professionals with opportunities to advance their careers. According to Heather Morgan, an MBA graduate who frequently writes about  topics in leadership and self-development, "MBA holders are the type of leaders that top organizations are looking to promote to positions of greater authority and responsibility." It's, therefore, no surprise that MBA graduates can go on to hold high-level positions, such as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and project manager.

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Admission Requirements for an Online MBA

Students need to complete 36-60 credit hours to achieve an online MBA. Admission requirements vary by program, but are typically similar for traditional and online degrees. In general, students need the following prerequisites and materials to apply:

  • A bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA
  • 2-3 years of relevant work experience
  • GRE or GMAT scores that meet specific program requirements
  • A resume and personal statement describing a student's interest in earning an MBA
  • Letters of recommendation from mentors or teachers

MBA Program Courses and Curriculum

Students enrolled in an online MBA degree program study business concepts in marketing, finance, information technology, and supply chain management, to name a few. Coursework in an MBA curriculum typically covers foundational business principles by integrating assignments and lectures with practical exercises, such as presentations and team projects. These are meant to give individuals hands-on experience of what it's like to work in a real-world setting. While classes vary by program, below is a list of common courses students may take.

Fundamentals of Business

This foundational, interdisciplinary course introduces business management's core functions. It may cover macroeconomic theories as well as key concepts in accounting, management, and finance. Some versions of this class also emphasize how to effectively build and lead teams.

Business Environment and Leadership

In this core course, students strive to understand how they can foster a healthy business. Specifically, they seek to develop the kind of strategic analysis skills that can be used to project profits, take advantage of market opportunities, and identify potential short- and long-term challenges.

Managing Performance With Data

With data becoming indispensable for business analytics, students enroll in this course to learn how to use information when making strategic decisions. They should gain familiarity with statistical concepts and software. Most classes require students to complete a team project toward the end of the semester.

Managing Risk

Faculty typically introduce learners to the concept of uncertainty in business as well as how to manage different kinds of risk. They may describe the difference between external and internal sources of uncertainty, teaching students how to use specific tools and techniques for addressing each.

Leveraging Global Opportunities

Given the increasing interconnectedness of the world economy, this elective class emphasizes the importance of international business. Covered topics include how to build diverse partnerships, manage large supply chains, and work with individuals from different cultural backgrounds.

If you are most interested in studying global business relations and strategy, consider an MBA in international business.

Concentrations

Many online MBAs allow students to focus on a particular area of business administration. Concentrations build on core coursework, offering the chance to delve deeper into a subject in order to gain specific knowledge and expertise. Below are some common tracks that may be especially beneficial for students with career goals in a particular business field.

Online MBA students who choose this concentration want to learn how they can manage a business or an organization's cash flow. This concentration involves completing coursework in various accounting subjects, including auditing, taxation, and cost management. Graduates are typically prepared to take on accounting roles in many different industries.

Like accounting, finance is a business field that focuses on managing costs. In addition, however, students who study this subject learn how to identify investment opportunities, manage risk, and increase profits for clients. With this training, they are well-positioned to work in the banking industry as hedge fund managers, financial planners, or risk analysts.

Students electing to concentrate on HR would like to be trained in identifying, recruiting, and retaining employees. By taking classes in areas such as conflict management, negotiation, and cultural intelligence, these students prepare to work as mid- to senior-level HR managers.

Marketing is essential for all kinds of businesses, whether it involves advertising a new product, planning future growth, or attracting partners. Students in this concentration should gain an understanding of human behavior and learn how to conduct market research using various strategies. Graduates may go on to work as marketing managers or advertising executives.

Individuals electing an organizational leadership track in an online MBA program typically gain an interdisciplinary education by taking courses in data analytics, communication, and ethics. Students also focus on developing strong interpersonal and leadership skills. Gaining diverse expertise helps prepare those in graduate school to pursue a wide range of business careers after earning their degree.

You can also explore full, graduate-level programs in accounting, finance, human resources, marketing, and organizational leadership.

Is an Online MBA Worth It?

The value of any higher education will depend, in part, on an individual's financial circumstances, personal goals, and other commitments. Overall, an online MBA can be a suitable choice for individuals hoping to advance their careers or gain job security. As Morgan continues, "In today's uncertain business environment where cutbacks and lay-offs can be necessary, it is crucial to have every edge available to market yourself." However, in addition to a brighter job outlook, students may also want to consider the following potential benefits and disadvantages of enrolling in an online MBA program:

Potential Advantages

An MBA may yield a high salary. Based on the 2021 Graduate Management Admission Council's Corporate Recruiters Survey, MBA holders earn a median annual salary of $115,000 per year, which is 77% higher than those with a bachelor's degree.

This is a versatile credential that can open employment opportunities in multiple sectors. Employers in a range of industries — such as tech, healthcare, energy, and government — rely on business operations, making the job outlook for MBA holders quite favorable.

An online MBA offers students flexibility and the chance to complete coursework at their own pace. Online learning is ideal for non-traditional students, such as working professionals, who need to fit classes around a busy schedule.

Potential Drawbacks

This degree can take longer to complete than other graduate programs. Many MBAs require students to have 2-3 years of work experience before enrolling. With an additional two years to finish coursework, it could take up to five years to earn this credential.

An online master's may not offer the same networking opportunities as a campus program. Given their limited interaction with peers and faculty, distance learners in an online MBA may be less likely to develop the kind of relationships that can help land a competitive job.  

Is an MBA a Good Fit for Me?

Individuals who enjoy solving complex logistical problems, collaborating with others, and taking on leadership positions may find an MBA program to be both rewarding and fulfilling. In addition to providing advanced training in various business fields,this degree pushes students to build a professional network while also refining their own managerial style. Indeed, the data analytics firm, Burning Glass Technologies, identifies communication, building relationships, and planning as baseline skills that can help individuals succeed in business professions. Given that these are precisely the skills that an MBA aims to develop, students with a natural ability to excel in these areas or those confident enough to challenge themselves to grow into a leadership role are likely to be a good fit for an MBA program.


Beyond one's personality, an MBA may also suit students who come from diverse educational backgrounds. For instance, individuals who hold degrees in social science or STEM fields typically have the necessary training to pursue an MBA program.


Careers You Can Pursue With an MBA

Given that MBAs vary considerably from program to program, not all students graduate with the same job opportunities in terms of employers, starting salaries, or industries. For instance, certain programs can lead to careers with prestigious consulting firms, while others can lead to high salaries or a chance to work in the non-profit or tech sectors. Below is a list of potential career opportunities for graduates, along with job outlook and salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While it is possible to land these careers with a bachelor's, an MBA can improve a candidate's competitiveness and may even be required by some employers.

Financial Managers
Median Annual Salary: $134,180
Job Outlook: 17%

Financial managers oversee the fiscal state of an organization. In addition to gathering and communicating financial information, they also identify new investment opportunities to increase profits and lay out budgeting plans. These professionals can work for large firms, private hedge funds, or individual clients.

Human Resources Managers
Median Annual Salary: $121,220
Job Outlook: 9%

Human resources managers are responsible for developing and implementing employee programs. Their work involves supervising recruitment, managing compensation programs, and ensuring a business meets state and federal employment standards.

Top Executives
Median Annual Salary: $107,680
Job Outlook: 8%

Top executives can take on many roles, such as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, or chief operating officer. In these positions, they manage high-level operational affairs and help direct a firm's vision, future strategy, and partnership. Their day-to-day work can involve analyzing detailed reports and meeting with shareholders.

Scholarships for an MBA Program

Students interested in a graduate business degree can use university scholarships and private grants to help pay for their degree. The first step to apply for financial aid involves filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form requests an applicant's personal and financial information to determine how much aid they're eligible for. While the FAFSA can also be used to apply for financial aid in the form of federal loans, scholarships are often a better option as students don't have to repay them. Below is a list of scholarship opportunities for individuals enrolled in or planning to enroll in an online MBA program.

ACIP awards four students $2,000 annually to help fund their degree in a business-related field. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least two years of completed college coursework.

Black, minority, and female students in the first year of their MBA program can apply for this award of up to $35,000. To be eligible, applicants must also apply for a summer associate program in one of three Goldman Sachs divisions.

Individuals who demonstrate a passion for investing can receive $15,000 cash through this merit-based award. This scholarship is open to students regardless of their demographic background.

Students pursuing or planning to pursue an MBA can apply for this award worth $5,000. Applicants need to be current SHRM members and have an undergraduate degree that reflects a 3.0 GPA or a graduate degree with a 3.5 GPA.

How Do I Choose an MBA Program?

As mentioned above, MBAs can differ in terms of employment outcomes. But they may also vary based on curriculum, specialization tracks, and costs. Those interested in this degree should consider the following factors before deciding which program to enroll in.

Accreditation

Students should choose a program at a regionally accredited school as well as one that is recognized by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, or International Accreditation Council for Business Education. These stamps of approval will ensure students receive a quality online education and qualify for the same employment opportunities as graduates from traditional, on-campus programs.

Return on Investment

While it's important to enroll in an affordable program, students may also want to consider future return on investment. An MBA can yield a high starting salary as well as an increase in earnings over time, allowing students to pay for the degree's upfront costs in the long-term.

Specialized vs. Generalized MBAs

A generalized MBA covers concepts in various business disciplines and may be useful for those who are interested in exploring career options after they graduate. By contrast, students who want to secure a job in a specific area — such as healthcare management — can enroll in a specialized program that includes advanced coursework in a particular area of study.

Online Learning Support and Resources

Distance programs can be difficult to complete, so students should check whether an online MBA offers sufficient learning support. This can include 24/7 access to lectures and assignments, regular check-ins with advisors, and peer learning opportunities.

Networking

Pursuing an MBA may be an effective way to build a professional network and increase the chances of getting hired. While online programs don't allow the same level of interaction with faculty and peers as traditional MBAs, students should nevertheless explore whether their chosen program offers opportunities to meet in person or otherwise build connections.

FAQs

How Long Does It Take To Earn an MBA?

An online MBA typically takes two years of full-time study to complete, while part-time learners can take up to four years. On the other hand, accelerated programs can be completed in as little as one year.

How Much Does an MBA Cost?

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of an MBA is $66,300 per year. Fees can vary significantly, however, with programs at prestigious institutions costing more. Online programs can allow students to save on costs such as room and board, while also offering the flexibility needed to continue to work and help finance their education. In some cases, an employer may even cover part or all of the cost of an MBA through a tuition reimbursement program.

How Much Money Can I Make With an MBA?

With an MBA, graduates can secure management positions that have a median annual wage of $109,760 — the highest across all significant occupational groups. The highest earning top executives can earn over $208,000 per year.

Are Online MBAs Respected?

Online degrees are increasingly respected by hiring managers. What's more, many prestigious institutions offer a distance learning option for their MBA programs. While some employers may prefer those with a traditional degree, an online credential is unlikely to reduce a graduate's ability to secure a job.

Additional Resources

Individuals interested in an MBA program can explore the following resources for more information on education and employment trends in the business world:

  • American Management Association offers training, certification, and resources to business professionals. MBA students can become members and use these resources to develop their skills and build a corporate network.
  • Association of MBAs advocates raising educational standards in postgraduate business programs. This organization has been active since 1967, publishing research and insights to aid students, business schools, and employers.
  • Graduate Management Admission Council publishes annual reports on business school trends, such as application demographics and employment outcomes. It also provides students with resources to complete the GMAT exam and other assessments.
  • Society of Human Resource Management focuses on improving HR practices and promoting better workplaces. To achieve its mission, this organization produces research, holds conferences, and offers certification to professionals. They also regularly publish research on hiring trends.
  • United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship is a professional organization of teachers, scholars, and practitioners that seeks to advance entrepreneurship education.This organization offers a platform for members to take part in professional development exercises, conferences, and knowledge sharing.

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