Is an Online MBA Worth it?


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A graduate degree is becoming more and more necessary in today's working world. If you have your sights set on the corporate suites, it truly is a necessity. In the past, a graduate degree was chiefly the domain of doctors, lawyers, and college professors. These days there's a master's degree for nearly every career path you can think of, and the Master of Business Administration has certainly led the way in the business world.

What is an Online MBA?

An online MBA is a master's level degree in business. There are traditional programs on college campuses in towns from coast to coast. The degree enjoyed an explosion in popularity during the 1990's, and many small colleges suddenly became universities when they added an MBA program.

During this MBA explosion many people decided they wanted the extra credential but couldn't afford to take a few years off from work to complete it. In these pre-Internet days, it was possible to enroll in weekend programs or programs with some other non-traditional scheduling. Once the Internet matured and online education evolved, online universities offered MBA degrees as quickly as they could.

These days, traditional universities are catching up with the online-only institutions and are now offering MBA programs online. Some institutions offer hybrid experiences where students must attend a certain percentage of their classes in a traditional setting, but others are allowing students to do their full master's degree online.

Schools such as University of Michigan, Rice University, and UC-Davis have added an online feature to their course catalog. These expansions have been facilitated by online education corporations that provide technological infrastructure that allows schools to do little more than hire a team of instructors who then fill in course content. When universities make this transition, their enrollments swell. The Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, for instance, saw its MBA rosters swell by 151 percent in the span of a year after implementing an online option.

Naturally, these institutions maintain their academic integrity by hiring top-quality instructors who meet high standards. The instructors likewise see a boon in that they don't need to commute to a camps for work. They, too, can carry on work in the business world or teaching for other institutions.

This is a boon to students who are working full-time or who simply don't wish to move all the way across the nation to attend a top MBA program. Now, all you need to do is qualify for enrollment, log-in, and begin learning. You can complete assignments at night or on your lunch hour and your papers and projects won't be expected until a time that works for you. No longer will you have trouble handing in your homework due to a traffic jam or some other unfortunate circumstance.

What is the difference between online and ‘normal’ MBA

When you decide to enroll in higher education, you want to know that the institution is fully-accredited and that you are going to get the most out of your time. The world of online education has received lots of skepticism as the early days of online education saw many hucksters taking advantage of students. Some were found guilty of fraud.

As the industry progressed and matured, the differences between online and "normal" MBA programs has dissipated. That is, you can receive the same quality education online that you can in a traditional classroom. Naturally, that also means that sometimes the quality can be low, but also very, very high indeed. In fact, some of the top MBA programs in the USA are now available online.

The key difference between a campus and an online MBA seems to boil down to convenience. A traditional MBA involves travel to a physical campus and attendance in classes that start and end at set times. The instructor may offer a lecture and might be able to answer a few questions, but a consequence of a very interesting topic might mean that some student questions go unanswered. In more open discussions, shyer students are always able to hide in the back and avoid participation.

Online MBA courses are often not structured according to any set schedule. You can log on and read all of the materials you need. Some courses might involve lots of multimedia aspects, so you might be able to watch your instructor lecture and then view her PowerPoint presentation as she speaks. If you miss a word or need to review a section, it's easy to move the video's slider left to back up and review the material you need.

Online courses also insist upon student interaction. Unlike traditional campus courses, no one gets to drop out of the discussion. Courses might involve live chatroom sessions, but more often you'll find a message-board style interface. You'll be able to see everyone's input and insights, and you can respond to them as you like. If the discussion builds, you might banter with a fellow student via private email or some other online media. Likewise, you can engage you instructor directly through email. In fact, this is recommended.

Traditional campuses allow you to approach instructors after class or in their offices, but they are frequently on their way to some other class or appointment. When you send a detailed email question, your instructor can take her time to review your query and respond in detail. Not only will you get her thoughts, but you might also receive a few helpful links to websites or other resources that add to the discussion.

While some portray online learning as cold and distant, that does not have to be the case. In fact, it's possible to receive more knowledge from online communication than in a brick-and-mortar class. As for the shyer students who might not receive, or elicit, much attention in a "real world" class, an online learning experience offers them the ability to ask their questions and express their thoughts in ways that were not comfortable for them in a real class.

If you're working full-time, an online course looks all the more appealing. Imagine if you tried going to graduate school while trying to pull off a huge deal at work. Your term paper might be due at the same time you're in an airport thousands of miles away. If you were studying online, all you would need would be your laptop and a wifi connection. An extended layover could turn into an educational opportunity rather than a total hassle.

Since some online courses are also mobile-friendly, you can use odd bits of downtime to access your courses from a phone or tablet. You could take care of required discussion-board posts without even opening your laptop, and you might even arrange a video chat with a study group. As long as you were all able to decide on a suitable time to join the chat, you wouldn't miss a beat. How many real-world study groups are interrupted by someone getting stuck in traffic or having to work late, etc?

On the other hand, real-world MBA education offers a closer sense of camaraderie. When you enter a 2-year program with a set cohort of students, it's likely that you'll gain friendships and professional contacts that will enhance your life. Online programs are seeking to bridge this gap, too, with week-long residencies or other real-world interactions that are designed to help students foster a sense of collegiality.

While traditional campuses still very much have their place, and some students seem to naturally gravitate to that experience, the online medium has so much to offer. When you add up all the positives and negatives, the online experience seems to come out ahead. This is particularly true for busy business people whose schedules aren't always so static.

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Benefits of earning an MBA

The benefits of earning an MBA are numerous. The intangible benefit is the intellectual boost you receive from being involved in higher learning. When you are immersed in graduate courses, your mind will be working full-time. You will constantly be learning new facts and learning to handle new concepts. Your problem-solving abilities will increase, and you will be trained to look at problems from multiple perspectives.

In terms of the payoff that everyone seems to expect from an MBA, that's there, too. Graduates of online MBA programs have reported income boosts of up to 29 percent, and some studies have found 79 percent of online MBA students receiving a promotion or a new job even before they completed their studies.

Traditional students are often recruited directly from campus. Job fairs for MBA programs are common and students are familiar with suiting up and presenting their resumes directly to top corporations. If you are an online student with a program that has a traditional component, you might query the department and find out what companies are represented in the job fair. You can then send them a resume from your iPad while you walk into a London board meeting. The recruiter might not receive the benefit of your gleaming smile, but they will surely be impressed with your initiative and drive to succeed.

Another benefit of an MBA is the contacts and friendships you develop while studying. It is not unheard of for MBA students to put their brilliant heads together and create new businesses before they've even graduated. Others are able to tip off their friends to job openings with their companies. With a helpful referral from a fellow student, your next big career move could all be thanks to the person who sat next to you in an accounting class.

This is one area where a traditional campus program really shines. However, you can also find great contacts and friendships, too. While the online model somewhat puts up a barrier between you and your fellow students, this does not have to stand in your way. That is, when students take the extra initiative to connect with others online, they might find that they are able to meet and connect with others in their cohort. If, for instance, you are working full-time and traveling a lot, you might be able to meet up with fellow students when you pass through their town on business. With enough student input, you might even be able to orchestrate a social mixer that allows online and traditional students to meet for a weekend retreat, for example.

There are limitations to the online learning format, but the intrinsic freedom of that educational approach also opens up so many opportunities. Those opportunities must be sought through personal initiative, however. Where a traditional campus organically opens up opportunities for social bonding, online students must seek it out and then follow up. However, once those bonds are created they will be as strong as any other.

Do Your Homework

Online programs are proliferating like mushrooms after a storm. They are nearly as diversified, too. You can spend anywhere from $16,800 to $128,000 for an online MBA. The higher-priced programs may offer more prestige or other perks like residencies and foreign travel. The lower-cost programs might offer similar curriculum just not the add-ons of their more expensive peers.

Further, you will want to know more about the specific curriculum of each program. Some may offer a healthcare focus, while others will primarily feature finance. Still others may put you on a track to work in entertainment. At the graduate level, your special focus will often determine exactly what sorts of companies offer you an opportunity. Undergraduates have the luxury of being malleable generalists, but master's-level grads are expected to have specific expertise that doesn't translate to other fields.

Though the online MBA universe is still quite new, lists that rank the top programs are sprouting up. These rankings aren't the end-all for your research, but they can offer an educated perspective on the programs that are available. You can take the information from those rankings as a way to create a list of possible programs. From there you can assess each program's individual attributes for yourself.

The world of online MBA programs is still growing and developing. If you find that your career is at somewhat of a standstill, start researching the online opportunities for graduate school. When you study online you can choose to take your time and prolong the degree for, say, five years. You can also cut back at work and complete your MBA in as few as 18 months.

Your future starts today!