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Online MBA Vs. Traditional MBA: A Comparison

June 19, 2015 1:17 pm

Thankfully, we are long past the days where a graduate student was forced to put their career and commitments on hold for two years in order to earn an MBA. Many colleges and universities with graduate business schools now offer a plethora of different options for aspiring MBA students, from the traditional two-year MBA and accelerated one-year programs, to part-time/Executive and online MBA offerings. Earning an MBA is an immensely satisfying and valuable achievement for most students, and it is often a stepping-stone to long-term success in the business world. But with so many opportunities available in so many different forms, how do you know which program is best suited for you? Choosing between and online and traditional MBA program requires a detailed assessment of your unique situation, as you need to decide which benefits from a particular program will contribute to your future success the most. Full-time MBA programs still offer many unique advantages and provide an unforgettable experience, but that doesn’t mean that they are the right option for all students. These questions can help put you on the right track to making an exceedingly important decision that will have a significant and lasting impact on your life.

At what stage do you find yourself in your career?

Most online MBA programs boast that they provide similar experiences to their school’s traditional counterparts. They will note that the same qualified faculty are teaching the courses, the same high-quality texts and case studies are being utilized, and the same rigorous and challenging assignments are being evaluated. This is a great selling point for prospective online students, but one function of the traditional MBA experience that is difficult for a distance-based program to replicate is the bond of a cohort of students progressing through the program simultaneously. It’s certainly possible to develop effective relationships through an online program, but nothing can quite replicate the distinctiveness of the on-campus experience.

For many MBA students who haven’t yet gained a significant amount of real-world experience, this is one of the key benefits to entering a traditional program of study. Many MBA graduates cite the closeness of their cohort as one of the enduring advantages to their degree, and they find unique value in the dividends and opportunities to which these relationships can lead throughout their careers.

For potential MBA students who have spent more time working before going back to school, this issue may hold less prominence in their decision. Perhaps you have already developed a key stable of business relationships which will serve you for decades to come, or you are earning your MBA to gain a specific set of knowledge for your job. Many students with more years of professional experience generally find this asset less crucial to the graduate school experience.

What commitments do you have?

While all MBA programs require a significant investment in time, traditional, full-time experiences are less flexible regarding time constraints and require students to be available for long stretches. For many, this means leaving a full-time job or spending long hours away from their family. Obviously, this option is going to appeal mostly to those who are unmarried and childless, and those who can afford to take a few years off work and return, or switch careers upon completing their MBA.

Meanwhile, students enrolled in an online program usually have many fewer specific, scheduled events. You’ll likely have to remotely attend live classes, participate in group presentation planning sessions, and correspond with your colleagues in a timely fashion, but in online settings these requirements are usually fairly flexible, and are often coordinated around normal business hours to accommodate working professionals. Like traditional students, online students will probably find themselves staying up all night to finish a presentation at some point during their journey, but if you can’t afford to be stuck on-campus for hours at a time due to your job or family, online may be the right choice for you.

What kind of MBA experience are you looking for?

There’s no way to sidestep the fact that online MBA students miss out on some of the unique experiences that are part of a traditional MBA program. Due to the long hours spent on campus and the difficulty for students to work full-time during the program, a traditional MBA is sometimes described as a sequel to the undergraduate experience. It’s not uncommon to see on-campus MBA students frequently attending theme parties and galas, and forming clubs akin to those which populate the lives of bachelor’s degree students. MBA students love to unwind from the stresses and rigors of their program, and the traditional MBA experience generally makes it easy to share a beer or coffee after a long day with a group of friends who know exactly what you’re going through.

In addition, being on-campus and physically in a classroom can make it easier for some people to form bonds with faculty members and develop a mentorship relationship. Again, with the simplicity and ubiquity of modern communication, it’s more possible than ever for distance-based students to engage their faculty members with a similar frequency to their traditional counterparts, however it generally takes more initiative on the part of the student.

What is your financial situation?

Whatever combination of loans, scholarships, and personal funds you are using to pay for your degree, embarking on an MBA program can put a serious strain on your finances. Studies have shown that MBA degrees have a high likelihood of resulting in a positive return-on-investment over time, but the initial upfront investment on your end can’t be overlooked.

Many students are definitively unable to survive without the income from their job, and will thusly be drawn to an online program which will allow them to continue earning a salary and gaining experience while scheduling their academic responsibilities around their professional lives. Also, if a student has been admitted to a program which would require moving, investigating the school’s distance-learning options may be worthwhile in order to avoid expensive relocation costs.

The other factor that needs to be considered is the availability of scholarships. Each college and university has their own unique allotment of scholarship money for MBA students. Some awards are reserved for full-time students only, some are held for part-time and online students, or they can be open and available to all. Weighing the cost of the tuition against the amount of scholarship money you need in order to attend is a fundamental step in the process, and it’s important to investigate the various scholarship options at your desired institution to confirm that those for which your chosen program will make you eligible will work with your financial needs.

Take the First Step

In an increasingly global, competitive marketplace, having MBA-level management and leadership skills are absolutely critical to your career progression. With a top level, online MBA degree, you will become a business leader who can run a leaner, more efficient business, create a better business dynamic in your company, and also discover new, better paying business opportunities to expand your career.

Use our website to learn about all of the online MBA options available to you today.