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Guide to Online MBA Programs

Online MBA ProgramsIn the last decade, online MBA programs have gone from being a novelty to being a bonafide alternative to traditional business school. Today, top universities offer well-respected online degrees that have aided graduates in acquiring new skills, seeking promotions and new jobs, and having the flexibility to attend class from anywhere with an Internet connection. If you can't relocate but want to enhance your resume, then an online MBA might be right for you. Here's what you need to know:


How Online MBA Programs Work

Many will still have you apply as you would to a traditional MBA program, and the process is often as rigorous. Once accepted and enrolled, you begin your journey in front of a computer screen. Professors tend to be the same mix of academics and practitioners you'd find on campus. Most of the time, they are teaching the same material. It's the delivery that is different.

They videotape lectures, and you can access the clips online -- along with any corresponding assignments -- at your leisure. In other words, you can "attend class" in the middle of the night, if that's the only time you're free. Occasionally, you must be available for a live, real-time event or lecture that might be delivered via videoconference.

Usually, students have to participate in online forum discussions. Often, there are group projects that require coordinating schedules with teammates and relying on e-mail, phone calls, and videoconferencing. You would use the same tools should you have questions for any of your professors, who usually offer "office hours" for those who need extra help.

Sometimes there are events built into the program that will have you meeting people in person. But that's not always the case. In fact, sometimes your teachers and classmates are spread out all around the world.


Who's the Right Fit for an Online Program?

Someone who needs to stay put or has a hectic schedule and is juggling a job and family responsibilities tends to be the right fit for an online degree. Of course, in the case of an MBA program, you should have a desire to enhance your leadership and management skills. Generally, much like those opting for a part-time MBA program on campus, online students tend to want to stay in their own industry and are aiming to make themselves eligible for promotions.

Having the need for flexibility isn't enough to cut it in an online program. You must also possess certain personal characteristics to succeed. "The online student must also be self-disciplined to get the work done, and have good time management skills," says Abigail H. O'Connor, director of the online MBA program at Longwood University's College of Business and Economics. "It is also important for an online student to have strong interpersonal and communication skills. They will be working with other students and professors in a virtual environment without the benefit of much face-to-face communication."


Benefits of an Online MBA

There is no question that an online degree is among the most flexible of your options. After all, you can keep your job, study part time (mostly at your own leisure), and participate from just about anywhere. Those with families, who can't relocate for school or spend evenings stuck in a classroom, can study from the comfort of home, no matter where that may be. In addition, students can better coordinate school with family obligations. If little Sally's school play is at 5 p.m. on Thursday, you can plan your schoolwork around that. As long as you fulfill deadlines and requirements, it doesn't really matter when you do the work. Even attending class can usually happen according to your hours.

"For professional men and women, the flexibility of an online MBA program means they can study and graduate while maintaining their other real life obligations," says Jean Floten, chancellor at Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. "They don't have a full schedule of classes after a day at work or on the weekend; students in online programs can work on schoolwork at home, during a lunch break, or even while commuting on a bus."

Nowadays, you can usually get that flexibility and still earn the same kind of respect MBAs at bricks-and-mortar institutions receive. Online degrees hold more weight than they once did, and are often no different than their on-campus counterparts in term of curriculum and rigor. WGU Washington, for example, consults experts to ensure the program meets the needs of both students and their potential employers.

"Heads of major corporations and foundations are routinely sought out to provide support and guidance to the university," adds Floten. "Employers, as well as recruiters, are assured graduates have proven knowledge and skills vital to success in the modern business environment."


Career Help for Online StudentsOnline Student

Most online programs offer MBA students help with resume writing, interviewing, career advising, and networking. Often, students are able to access job boards with a listing of available opportunities. The one caveat is that schools are usually more apt to have listings for positions that are local to their region. Students who live outside the area might have to do more legwork to find the right opportunities.

You should ask about the job placement of graduates as you research programs. For example, 75 percent of those in the most recent graduating class of Longwood University's online MBA program either received a job promotion or advancement while attending or as a result of obtaining their MBA, says O'Connor. This kind of information can help you make more informed decisions.


MOOCs: The Wave of the Future?

Massive Open Online Courses, known as MOOCs, are often touted as the future of online learning. These are not degree programs. Rather, students take one course at a time and can participate in any way they'd like. For instance, you might just want to take in a few of the lectures but not do any of the assignments. Or you might want to do it all. Those who complete all the work associated with a particular MOOC usually receive a certificate or some sort of recognition for their participation. Anyone can sign up for a MOOC, and they are free. While they won't replace online degree programs that charge tuition and require serious effort on the part of students to graduate, MOOCs open up the curriculum to more people. They are a way for you to get a taste of online learning before you commit to a full-fledged program.

Once you've thoroughly researched your options, both online and off, you should consider the time and commitment involved in each. Online MBA programs offer flexibility while still allowing you to acquire the necessary skills to improve your resume and management know-how. This makes them a great fit for busy professionals who want to maintain their current work or family obligations as they work towards an advanced degree. Plus, as an added bonus, you can attend class in your PJs.


Why Pursue an Online MBA Program?

MBA programs are increasingly popular because they enable students to accomplish key professional goals. A GMAC survey reports that students enroll in MBA programs for the following reasons:

  1. Developing new skills and abilities
  2. Accessing better career opportunities
  3. Finding more interesting and challenging work

Armed with an MBA degree, you could also achieve higher compensation, and MBA salaries have been robust even during the economic downturn. The median base salary for business school graduates reached $94,500 in 2010--well above the pre-recession salary of $89,000 in 2007, according to a 2010 GMAC survey. The median bonus in 2010 was $17,565, compared with $10,000 in 2007.

"A quality management education positions people well to thrive in today's highly competitive, knowledge-driven job market," says Dave Wilson, president and CEO of GMAC.


Acceptance of Online MBA Programs

The online MBA is becoming increasingly popular. Top-ranked business schools--such as University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School--are adopting the online format to attract executives worldwide who cannot attend traditional MBA programs.

During an online MBA program, students attend classes and meetings online in real time or via forums. Some programs also involve a campus-based component in which students attend lectures, complete cases and take exams.

As MBA programs move online, schools are testing out new technologies and web-based platforms that can enhance the learning experience for students. In addition to making use of technology such as iPads, schools are also test driving programs that may enhance their career-placement capabilities.

For example, Stanford has introduced an online platform where students indicate what fields and companies they are interested in so the school can pursue connections with those firms, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"We are almost able to act like an eHarmony between students, alumni and companies," Pulin Sanghvi, director of Stanford's career management center, told The Wall Street Journal.

And just like the online dating service, MBA programs are reportedly experiencing success online.