Is an Online MBA Worth the Time & Money?
Updated 12 October 2020
The MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a postgraduate master’s degree level qualification. Studying for an MBA will provide you with a sound knowledge of important business practices.
Although an MBA provides the same level of education as many other master’s degrees, most people choose to study for an MBA after they have gained several years’ experience within a professional workplace. It would be unusual to move straight onto an MBA course following the completion of your undergraduate studies.
Many business schools now offer online study programs to enable students to work towards an MBA degree with more flexibility. Sometimes referred to as a distance-learning MBA, this option may appeal if you are unable to attend university full-time, or you would prefer to fit your studies around your other professional and personal commitments.
In this article, we will explore whether the online MBA qualification offers students the same value as the full-time traditional MBA study route.
Although still referred to as ‘online’, some distance-learning MBA programs require some level of in-person attendance. These can range from short periods where you are expected to attend lectures and seminars in person, to longer-term internships or placements.
If you live a long way from your chosen learning provider’s campus or have other work or family commitments, it is important to consider whether you will be able to make the necessary arrangements to attend on-campus events.
As an online MBA student, you will still receive dedicated support from teaching staff and professors.
Before committing to a particular online MBA course, check the university’s website to find out information about the faculty and staff who will be supporting you in your studies.
Important points to consider are whether the faculty’s business interests align or complement your own, and whether your advisors will have experience that is relevant to your own career goals.
You should also find out what resources will be made available to you; for example, whether you will have access to an online or electronic library facility. If a learning provider does not offer this, you may find that it is costly to gain access to all of the relevant textbooks and business journals.
Timescales for Course Completion
The MBA is a challenging qualification to achieve and your studies will take a significant amount of time and energy. Prospective online MBA students should be wary of any online course that claims the qualification can be completed quickly.
Before committing to a course, find out how your chosen school runs its terms or semesters, and whether this will fit in with your lifestyle and study goals. This should also help you to evaluate how long it is likely to take you to complete the course.
To make sure that learning providers, MBA programs and teaching staff are offered at a high standard, many learning establishments choose to seek accreditation from an independent organization.
When choosing an online MBA program, it is important to find one that holds such accreditation, ideally from the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) in the US.
Courses with this accreditation have had to undergo rigorous testing to ensure they meet the required quality standards, so they are highly valued by employers.
Other accreditations to look for include AMBA (Association of MBAs) and EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System).
Course costs vary enormously – you can expect to pay anything between $12,000 and $30,000 for an online MBA.
A standard MBA course (with on-campus attendance) will probably cost around $60,000 on average. MBA programs at prestigious business schools can cost as much as $100,000.
Therefore, an online MBA is likely to be a lot cheaper than a standard full-time MBA. Whichever study option you choose, however, gaining an MBA degree is likely to be expensive, so it is important to find an option that will provide you with a good return on your investment.
Be sure to compare the cost of each program, but don’t automatically choose the cheapest one.
If you are planning to study for an online MBA while working, you could consider asking your employer to contribute to the costs of your study. In some cases, employers may ask their staff to sign a waiver that says they will repay some or all of the costs if they leave employment within a specified timeframe.
Loans and funding are not normally available to online MBA students in the US but some universities offer their students the chance to apply for scholarships; these are not always offered to online MBA students, but it is worth investigating with your chosen provider.
- Greater flexibility – Studying for an online MBA offers the chance to study flexibly, working around your other commitments such as employment, family and caring responsibilities.
- Access to the best courses – Choosing an online course means that you will be able to access the highest quality courses, no matter where you live.
- Affordability – Often, studying for an online MBA is more affordable – tuition fees tend to be lower and your living costs are already accounted for.
- Time management – Depending on your personal preferences, you will have the option to complete the course more quickly when studying for an online MBA. Similarly, if you wish to take longer, you will have greater flexibility to do so.
- Recognition from employers – The online version may not be viewed as positively as the traditional study option by some employers. This could mean that you are statistically less likely to enjoy such significant increases in your future salary. To address this, make sure your online course has the relevant accreditations.
- Fewer networking opportunities – Some learning providers will offer access to online forums and chat facilities to enable you to engage with other students, but studying online will offer fewer opportunities for networking face-to-face. Make sure you take steps to tackle this by attending as many relevant local industry networking opportunities as possible.
- Less likely to receive financial assistance – Although you could explore the possibility of student funding and scholarships, you are less likely to be eligible for these if you have chosen to pursue an online MBA.
If you are already employed in your chosen industry, choosing to study for an MBA could be an effective way to move your career forward. As an online student, you will not need to resign from your current post, since this study route offers you the flexibility to achieve your qualification while working around your existing commitments.
Your employer may even agree to fund all or part of your study costs. You can study anywhere you like, so it is easy to work on-the-go if you travel a lot in your current job role.
You can complete the online MBA program as fast or as slow as you like. Some people manage to finish it in 18 months, while others prefer to take their time and spend several years completing it. This flexibility will allow you to adjust your study commitments around other things that are happening in your life.
For example, if you have a tight deadline to meet within the workplace, you may wish to ease off on your studies for a few weeks. Equally, if you have young children, you may need to take some time off from studying over the school summer holidays.
When studying online, you won’t usually need to physically attend classes (although it is important to make sure your chosen course doesn’t have any attendance commitments before applying). This means that you can study at times that best suit you. If you are an early riser, you might prefer to spend a couple of hours studying before leaving for work each morning, whereas night owls may work more productively during the evening.
While there are many benefits to studying for an online MBA, there are a few downsides to mention too. Independent study can be isolating at times, as you will miss out on creating bonds with other students in person. These working relationships often lead on to be important business connections in the future, so studying online as opposed to an attendance-based course is likely to leave you with fewer business networking opportunities.
Furthermore, you may find that you have access to fewer job opportunities in the future. As you will not be attending on-site classes or lectures, you won’t have the chance to attend presentations from potential recruiters or presentations from business organizations, opportunities that are offered in abundance to full-time MBA students.
If you are considering taking the online MBA route, it is important to do plenty of research. Online MBA costs vary greatly, as do the resources you have access to.
Ultimately, if you are not in a position to leave your current job role but still wish to gain an MBA qualification, the online MBA route is certainly one that is worth exploring.