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How to Choose an Online Program

There’s a lot that goes into deciding whether an on-campus or online MBA program format is right for you. As you think about your ideal program, you may be considering if an online program can offer the same quality, support and opportunities as an on-campus one. While traditional on-campus programs are more well-known and may carry the cachet of a big-name school, online programs are still a viable alternative for those looking to advance in their career.

Even though you may be used to a traditional classroom experience, you can still get the same quality education in an online setting thanks to the latest developments in technology and easily accessible resources. By now, you’ve probably heard that online programs offer convenience and flexibility, but how do you choose which one is best for you?

It’s smart to start by evaluating the different types of online MBAs available. Some are 100 percent online, others offer an accelerated pace and some use a hybrid approach, which means you’ll be required to attend class on campus part of the time.

Don’t forget to see if your employer will cover the cost of your tuition, and, if so, if the for- or not-for-profit standing of the institution makes a difference to them. Once you’ve thought about a general timeframe and model of instruction that works for you, consider the other factors of how to choose an online program.

What Are Your Goals?

The next step when you’re choosing between programs is to consider your goals. These should be multi-tiered. Think not only about your career aspirations for the future, but also of your learning objectives while you’re in school.

Here’s a breakdown of questions to ask yourself.

What’s the value?

goals-valueThink about your cost-benefit ratio. If you pay more money for a more reputable name, will that prestige help you in your current company or your desired company? Give those prospective organizations a call to ask what they think of online MBAs and if they prefer some schools over others.

Remember, while many online MBA programs are affordable, some may cost more than others because of the school’s name, faculty or hybrid approach.

What do you need to succeed?

goals-successWhile everyone has a different learning style, each student should have access to resources that contribute to their success. Consider if a prospective MBA program has the services you’d like to have while you’re in school.

You may also be looking for specific kinds of guidance. Some things to look for in a program include:

  • Career services
  • Networking opportunities
  • Internships
  • Job fairs

What are your priorities?

goals-priorityIf you have family or other responsibilities outside of work and school, what kind of time management tools will you need to fulfill them? Online programs offer schedule flexibility so you can complete your studies and tend to your family.

If you’re like many MBA students, you’ll also need to work while in school. Consider programs that don’t have specific login times so you can complete your course work on your schedule.

As you discern which programs offer what’s best for you—teaching, specializations, job opportunities, technological resources—always keep in mind whether they fit in to your day-to-day routine and lifestyle.

Faculty Quality

facultyJust because your program is online doesn’t mean the faculty quality is inferior to an on-campus counterpart. In fact, many of today’s online programs have the same standards of excellence for the professors and subject-matter experts they employ to guide their students. Here’s what you can expect from faculty at a respected business school:

  • MBA programs almost always require their faculty to have graduate-level degrees, a specialization in the area that they are teaching and/or professional experience in business.
  • Online instructors are required to be tech-savvy, as they will be dealing with specialty learning platforms equipped with tools for lectures, video, chat, email and material sharing.

If you’re curious if a school’s program meets these standards, check out the school’s website to read faculty bios and qualifications. They should list what types of courses they’ve taught in the past too. If this information isn’t available online, you can always call the department and request faculty credentials and an outline of their professional experience.

In many cases, if a school has both an online and brick-and-mortar presence, their faculty will teach in both settings. This means that, while you may not have the traditional classroom experience, you will often receive an education from the same professors as on-campus students.

Classroom Technology

Quality online MBA programs strive to give students the same outcomes as they would receive on campus. In order to deliver these results, an online program utilizes the latest technology to create a virtual classroom that gives students the same, if not more, opportunities to access material, review it, ask questions and participate in discussions.

Let’s take a look at some of the different tools schools use in order to have the most technologically advanced learning platform for its users.


  • MP4 video
  • MP3 audio
  • Live-streaming video
  • Virtual whiteboards

  • Live chat rooms
  • Instant message
  • Discussion boards
  • Email

  • Dropbox
  • Real-time quizzes
  • Gradebook

In addition to these tools, you should have access to external resources that will make studying and researching easy. Most programs offer online libraries with access to thousands of articles, journals, books and other database material. Most of these online libraries should include inter-library loan, which allows you to request material from another institution if yours does not have it at the moment you request it.

You might be thinking, what happens if I come across technology issues? A reputable MBA program will offer 24/7 tech support through email, phone or instant message. To get you accustomed to the online platform, many programs require students to go through an orientation to get used to the dashboard and ensure that everything on their computers is updated and compatible with the necessary technology.

Pro Tip

Take a look at the school’s website to see if they offer sample online course lectures. You’ll be able to find out quickly if you’re comfortable using this learning format as the samples are set up like a real online class.

Online Learning Schedule


Did you know that there are two ways your online classes can run? If you plan to work on your MBA around your work and family schedule, you might choose an asynchronous learning environment. This means that you have no specific log-in times so this type of learning environment allows you to learn the material when it suits you. A good program will have 24/7 access to email, technical support and discussion boards.

Alternatively, synchronous learning platforms require students to log in at a specific time and the professor will present material. Students will be able to ask questions or post in group discussions in real time. If you need a little help being held accountable for studying, this may be a better setup for you.


One of the most important factors in considering which online MBA degree program to choose is accreditation. When a program or school is accredited, it means its curriculum, learning outcomes, resources and other such important factors have been evaluated and given the seal of approval by an appropriate outside agency. Having a degree from an accredited school or program means that your coursework is guaranteed to meet quality standards and undergoes monitoring by a third party. Besides the fact that accreditation means your degree came from an institution that upholds academic quality, it has a big effect on your wallet too. If you’re a student seeking financial aid, you are only eligible for federal student loans and grants if you are studying at an accredited school. Some examples of accrediting agencies include:

AACSB Accreditation

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is a non-governmental agency which admits only 30 percent of U.S. business schools into its ranks.

DEAC Accreditation

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission is a private, non-profit organization that accredits distance education institutions, meaning institutions that provide online or hybrid programs.

For a deeper look at how accreditation works and what types of accreditation are available, go to the next section of our online MBA guide.

The Students

studentsOne thing you may find helpful is to find out more about the students at a respective school by getting to know them. Most schools will have social media outreach, an alumni network or student testimonials available to give you an inside look. Use these platforms to do some research on the student body. What does a successful student look like at that school? What kinds of connections can you make while you’re there? Are there opportunities to get to know people outside of the classroom? How many students would recommend this program to a friend? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re strongly considering a school that has a brick-and mortar-presence, scheduling a tour of the campus may help you make your decision as well.

MBA Program Rankings

Every year, several reputable websites and institutions rank colleges and programs across the nation and the world. Due to the increased interest in online learning, traditional and online MBA programs are sometimes ranked separately given the differences in course setup, delivery and schedule. While rankings can offer insight and guidance into a program’s effectiveness, it’s important to remember that every ranking system is different and may or may not include something you deem to be important in a program or school. Here are some renowned ranking organizations and the criteria they use to measure a school’s program:

Bloomberg Businessweek

rankings-bloombergHeadquartered in New York City, Businessweek has a watchful eye on the American business scene. With a biannual ranking of business schools, they measure their choices with three tools:

Student survey (45%) – covers the quality of academic and career development offerings and allows students to evaluate their own skills sets.

Employer survey (45%) – asks recruiters to rate graduates on specific qualities important to them.

Intellectual capital (10%) – counts articles published by faculty in 20 top business journals over a five-year period.

The Economist

rankings-economistBased in London, this high-profile magazine ranks business schools using data collected over a three-year period. To do so, they use two surveys, one completed by schools (weighted at 80%) and the other completed by current students and recent grads (weighted at 20%). The surveys measure such criteria as:

The schools’ ability to open new career opportunities (35%) – including employment data on recent graduates.

Personal development/educational experience (35%) – encompassing faculty quality, student diversity and student quality.

Increase in salary (20%) – a straight-up measurement of how much graduates’ pay jumped after completing their degrees.

Potential to network (10%) – including the effectiveness of alumni connections.

U.S. News & World Report

rankings-us-newsStarting in 2015, this famous go-to list-maker started ranking online MBA programs separately from their traditional counterparts. While the online list is shorter, this list bases its rankings on factors such as reputation and selectivity. Criteria include:

Student engagement (28%) – covers best practices such as accreditation, graduation rate and one-year retention rates.

Admissions selectivity (25%) – examines GMAT/GRE scores, student work experience and the overall acceptance rate.

Peer reputation (25%) – based on a survey of “high-ranking academic officials.”

Faculty credentials and training (11%) – compares the credentials of the online MBA faculty to those in on-campus programs.

Student services and technology (11%) – evaluates online learning technology, career guidance services, financial aid resources, student indebtedness.

Looking at rankings and the criteria used to complete these lists is a great way for you to reflect on what your goals and values are for your education and life. What’s important to you in a program? Consider faculty, selectivity, specialization options, graduate job placement, research funding, student satisfaction and student population diversity. Also remember that every ranking list will be based on different criteria, so there is not necessarily one correct list. Overall, what’s important to you should be your ultimate deciding factor.


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