Online vs. On-Campus MBA Admission Differences


Are you interested in earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA)? Both online learning and traditional campus MBA programs are ideal for individuals interested in applying for management and leadership positions within the business field. They also offer a lot of flexibility so that graduates can attend college courses when they are able, even part-time, and become qualified to secure work in a wide variety of disciplines including accounting, management, human resources, operations, IT, international business, and administration. An MBA is also a good choice for those who intend to skip working for someone else and instead start and run their own businesses.

MBA Basics

Is an MBA right for you? There are numerous reasons that people decide to apply for this type of degree, but most are interested in advancing or find greater success in their careers in some way. Some industries require employees to have an MBA in order to be considered for promotion; most, at least, give preference to individuals who have proven themselves effective by earning an MBA. While earning an advanced degree will not guarantee your career improves, the additional knowledge you'll gain from the curriculum will likely give you an edge.

Another reason many individuals want to earn an MBA is to make more money. In general, those who complete an advanced degree earn higher salaries throughout their life than those with an undergraduate degree or no formal education at all.

Other main reasons people consider earning an MBA from a university include wanting to meet the challenge of taking on a leadership role, having a real interest in studying business, and to support a plan to change careers. MBA course content covers general business and management techniques that can be utilized in almost any industry, effectively making graduates marketable regardless of their other career goals. And that is without taking into consideration the connections students can make through social events when they attend a physical business school each week or even if they make the effort to embed themselves in their MBA online community while taking classes - through email, social media such as Facebook or Twitter, and other available tools.


Just as there are many reasons to consider pursuing an MBA, there are also numerous benefits to completing a program, even if it takes a year or more. MBAs have a lot to offer current and aspiring professionals, including:

  • Improved credibility with current and potential employers
  • An overview of helpful skills that can be seamlessly transferred to any industry
  • A fostered sense of curiosity about new industry developments, technologies, and trends
  • Strategic thinking skills that can be applied to career and personal goals alike
  • Honed communication and team skills that can be used at work with colleagues, bosses, and employees, as well as at home with family and friends
  • A high level of self-discipline, even when faced with rigorous or complex tasks
  • Better time management skills that help ensure work is completed in a timely manner according to a calendar of tasks, work hours are spent productively, and burnout is avoided
  • A broader worldview once you leave the classroom, especially regarding global business issues, policies, trends, and potential changes
  • Access to a network of like-minded colleagues, such as fellow students, faculty, and alumni
  • Accessibility for more potential job opportunities within the business industry and outside of it
  • Differentiation when you request consideration for a new job or promotional opportunity
  • Improved financial management skills that can be applied to personal finance situations
  • Sharpened creative thinking skills and the ability to think outside the box in business and real life terms
  • Higher income potential

Job Prospects

Overall, job prospects for individuals in the business industry are quite promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, business and financial operations professionals should expect to see employment growth of 10% between 2016 and 2026. This rate of job growth is faster than the average of all other occupations. It’s likely this increase is due to the continued growth of the economy, complex tax regulations, demand for data and market search, and evolving marketing strategies.

Professionals with an MBA have significantly more employment opportunities than those with undergraduate degrees. While there are certainly entry-level business and management positions available, most employers in the field prefer that candidates have a master’s degree. An MBA is designed to give professionals access to upper-level management and executive positions in a wide variety of areas. While MBA graduates can usually find work in almost any industry, common employment opportunities include:

  • Healthcare Administrator
  • Information Systems Manager
  • Operations Research Analyst
  • Business Operations Manager
  • Management Analyst
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Accountant
  • Financial Analyst
  • Marketing Manager
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Top Executive
  • Product Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Information Technology Director
  • Budget Analyst
  • Finance Manager
  • Operations Manager
  • Securities Analyst
  • Health Information Manager
  • Health Policy Analyst
  • Logistics Manager
  • Purchasing Manager
  • Revenue Manager
  • Sports Manager


According to information provided by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics site, more business students and professionals sought to attend school and earn a master’s degree in the 2012-2013 school years than any other field. Additionally, those working in business, finance, and sales earned more money after earning a business degree. In fact, some occupations earned wages that were almost 90% higher than those who only had a bachelor’s degree.

While exact salaries will depend on a number of factors, including job title and location, the average wage for business and financial occupations in 2017 was $67,710. That said, some positions pay a lot more. Top executives, for example, made a average salary of $104,700 in 2017 and human resource manages made a average salary of $110,120. Financial managers made even more, with a average salary of $125,080.

Wages vary wildly based on job type, but those who earn an MBA will receive job offers that will allow them to earn more than those without an advanced degree.

Course Content

MBA programs differ from institution to institution, but generally consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework. Most programs can be completed by full-time students within two years for those who start in a regular Fall semester and attend continuously. There are, however, some expedited options available that may take less time, as well as programs intended for full-time employees who plan to work and earn their degree simultaneously.

Specific course titles will vary, but some of the most common topics include:

  • Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership
  • Marketing Management
  • Microeconomic Foundations
  • Managerial Economics
  • Regression Analysis for Managers
  • Public Speaking and Writing
  • Business Analytics
  • Information Technology and Business Transformation
  • Operations Strategy
  • Financial and Managerial Accounting
  • Corporate Finance
  • Microeconomic Foundations
  • Managing the Emerging Enterprise
  • Responsibility in Global Management
  • Business Ethics

Program Differences: On-Campus vs. Online

Now that you have a clearer understanding of why MBA degrees are so prominent, it’s important to decide which type of program is right for you. Many colleges and universities offer MBAs, but no two programs are alike. There are on-campus MBAs and online MBAs. Each option is unique and has something to offer. The following will help you determine which will suit your personal and career goals most.


Generally speaking, on-campus and online MBA programs cover the same content. There is very little information that can’t be learned through an online program. Students in both settings will be provided with the same materials to study and will be provided an opportunity to explore those materials via analysis and live discussions with classmates. In fact, one might argue that those interested in creating an online business or working from home remotely might find an online program more beneficial than the on-campus alternative.


Many potential students worry that an online MBA program will not adequately prepare them for real-world business situations. While reading assignments, video lectures, online forums, and quizzes may be a sufficient way to learn and retain the content, do they actually provide the skills and info necessary to aid you in the workplace?

The answer to this question isn’t straight forward. First, it greatly depends greatly upon the field you intend to enter. Some positions require very little hands-on experience, while others are difficult to prepare for without it. An administrator who is in charge of managing a large staff, for example, needs experience working and communicating directly with others. An accountant, on the other hand, works more with numbers than with people and would do fine without an in-person education.

That said, students enrolled in an online program will not receive the same hands-on learning experience that on-campus MBA students do. Inherently, there are some elements that a virtual education simply can’t recreate. To make up for this, many online MBA programs include short residencies or internships, during which students visit the school, as part of their graduation requirements. These help to bridge the gap between online and traditional learning by providing students a condensed and accelerated hands-on educational opportunity. If you're more worried about the experience in terms of joining an intermural athletics team rather than the academics, you'll likely want to attend in person.


As you look for an MBA program, online or otherwise, it’s important to keep accreditation in mind. To ensure your program meets certain quality standards, it should be accredited by a reputable organization. Proper accreditation also adds value and credibility to your degree. While there are many accreditation organizations for MBA programs, the most prominent international ones are:

  • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • The Association of MBAs (AMBA)
  • European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS)
  • The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)

The AACSB is the most reputable accrediting agency, but it primarily accredits traditional, on-campus MBA programs. They do, however, provide accreditation to a select few online programs.

There are also several regional accreditation organizations. These are not as prestigious, but do show that the MBA program meets the standards expected of most potential employers within the region specified. Regional accreditation agencies include:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

In general, there is very little difference between the accreditation of on-campus and online MBA programs. You’re likely to find some of each that are and are not accredited. It’s your responsibility to sort through which is which. Whether you’re interested in an on-campus or online MBA program, take the time to ensure it is properly assured by either an international or regional agency.


Another common concern online MBA students have is that their degree will not be perceived the same way as an on-campus one. This is a valid worry, as online education is a relatively new academic development. It makes sense that some employers may be skeptical of its validity, especially at first.

Fortunately, there has been a shift in the way people look at online MBA degrees. A recent qualitative study indicates that the overall acceptance of online degrees is improving. In general, they are recognized as credible by most employers. Truthfully, accreditation plays a much more important role in perception, especially as many schools with high rankings now provide online MBAs, and this should be a bigger deciding factor when choosing your MBA program.


Networking is a part of the business world that is front and center when you attend a business program, certainly more so than many science or liberal arts focused degree programs, so it’s no surprise that many students expect to graduate with an assortment of like-minded professionals they can count on. Unfortunately, online MBA programs don’t always provide opportunities to connect with others in person. While on-campus degrees allow students to interact with classmates and faculty much more freely, this isn’t as easy for those enrolled in online programs. This doesn’t, however, mean that building a network is impossible. As previously mentioned, many online MBA programs require short residencies or internships in order to graduate. These do provide a way to connect with others within the field.

On-Campus Admission Requirements

Traditional on-campus colleges and universities will have varying admissions criteria, but candidates interested in applying for an MBA program should be prepared to provide the following:

  • Official transcript(s) confirming the completion of a four-year bachelor’s degree of its equivalent
  • GMAT and/or GRE test scores
  • Proof of prior, full-time, professional work experience (timeframe varies)
  • A professional resume that highlights educational background
  • Admission essay(s) and or a personal statement
  • Letters of recommendations from past or current professors and/or professional supervisors
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores, if applicable
  • A FAFSA will be required if you want to receive financial aid

Online Admission Requirements

For the most part, online MBA admission requirements are the same as on-campus ones. There are, however, some notable differences you should be aware of before making your final decision.

A major difference in admission requirements is that online MBA programs are more likely to waive the need for candidates to submit GMAT and GRE test scores. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. News, over 54 percent of the 238 online MBA programs involved reported that they did not require test scores be submitted as long as the candidate had sufficient professional work experience. Conversely, over 95 percent of the 121 on-campus MBA programs in a similar study reported that they required test scores regardless of prior professional work experience.

Additionally, Poets & Quants found a stark difference between the average GMAT scores of students admitted into online MBA programs versus on-campus MBA programs. In almost every case, the average GMAT scores of students enrolled in online programs were lower, sometimes by as much as 94 points. This was even true of institutions that offered both an online and on-campus MBA degree option. It’s speculated that this difference could result because the majority of online MBA candidates value their past and current work experience more than they do the need to prepare for the GMAT.

Poets & Quants also found that acceptance rates for online MBA programs were higher than those for traditional on-campus MBA programs. This could be, in part, due to the fact that test score averages are lower and/or not required at all for admittance.

Cost Differences

Another important difference between online MBA programs and on-campus MBA programs is the cost. While tuition rates vary quite drastically from institution to institution, online programs tend to cost less than traditional ones. According to U.S. News, traditional full-time MBA students enrolled in one of the top 15 2019 Best Business Schools paid between $50,000 and $70,000 annually.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, online MBA programs offered by public schools cost between $2,000 and $96,000 in 2015, but the average cost was only $25,525. It’s also possible to pay significantly less. In fact, some colleges and universities charge as little as a few hundred dollars per credit hour for their online MBA program. U.S. News reported that the average cost of attendance at the 10 most affordable online MBA programs in the United States was only $290 per credit.

Which Is Best?

It’s actually quite difficult to tell whether an on-campus or online MBA program is best. Many people who enroll in online MBA programs are already employed full-time, so there have been very few relevant studies done regarding employment statistics. For the most part, it is personal preference that dictates which type of program is the best fit. There are several reasons why you may prefer one over the other.

A traditional on-campus MBA program is likely the optimal choice for students who:

  • Thrive in structured environments with clear-cut expectations regarding course selection, attendance, and assignment due dates.
  • Learn best from in-person instruction, one-on-one sessions, and group projects.
  • Want the opportunity to create a large professional network.
  • Would benefit from access to academic facilities, business resources, and extracurricular activities.
  • Plan to take advantage of on-campus student services, such as advising and career counseling.

An online MBA program, on the other hand, is a better fit for students who:

  • Have other non-academic commitments, such as a family and a job, and require a more flexible class schedule.
  • Are interested in a school located in another city or state but are unable to move.
  • Possess great self-discipline and are extremely self-motivated.
  • Thrive in an academic setting without distractions and the presence of others.
  • Own or have access to a reliable computer with a fast internet connection.
  • Demonstrate superior written communication skills.