For many of today’s leadership positions, employers prefer candidates with an MBA. Completed either on campus or online, and MBA demonstrates a mastery of business, teaching important skills like leadership, communication, and management.
Not only does an MBA lead to higher-level positions, but completing the degree can quickly boost salaries. A recent report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers projects an average 2020 salary of $75,197 for MBA graduates, compared to just $57,939 for those with a bachelor’s in business. However, earnings and potential positions depend on where individuals earn their degree and what specialty they choose. This guide explores the best online MBA programs and includes information on potential courses, MBA requirements, and different types of MBAs.
While each MBA program offers a unique advantage, these rankings focus on selecting the highest-quality online MBA programs available, taking into account factors such as prestige, degree outcomes, and affordability.
Online MBA programs cover an array of business topics, ranging from strategic finance to interdepartmental communication. Those looking to gain new skills and advance their career into leadership roles pursue this degree. Depending on your goals, you may benefit from a specific type of MBA, an online MBA over a traditional MBA, and a specific specialization.
The Different Types of MBA Programs
Many schools offer MBA programs, and each creates a unique program structure to attract different types of students. One student might benefit most from an accelerated program that fast tracks their route to a promotion. Another learner might continue working while earning their degree, focusing on affordability over fast learning. Spend time comparing the different types of MBA programs to select the option that’s best for you.
Accelerated Online MBA Programs
Most full-time MBA programs estimate that students graduate in two years. Accelerated online MBA programs speed up the process by utilizing year-round education and shorter, more intensive courses. The best accelerated online MBA degrees see students graduate in as little as one year. Consider this option if you can commit to a quick yet intensive program.
Ideal Match for: Recent baccalaureate graduates, those transitioning fields, those looking for a quick promotion.
Affordable and Low-Cost Online MBA Programs
Colleges and universities that offer MBAs online tend to charge a lower tuition cost than for on-campus programs. Some institutions go even further, offering an online MBA at an exceptionally low cost. These programs usually offer more flexibility, too, great for anyone with a busy work schedule or home life.
Ideal Match for: Busy professionals, adult learners.
Free Online MBA Programs:
Some schools, such as Quanticand New York University of Business and Technologies, offer MBAs free of charge. These institutions work with businesses to develop talent, and students benefit by earning a tuition-free MBA. Other universities, such as Stanford University, MIT, and Yale University, offer some MBA course sessions for free. These not-for-credit course sessions don’t lead to an MBA, but they do teach introductory skills and provide prospective MBA students with an idea of what a full-time MBA program might look like.
Dual MBA Programs Online: Instead of completing just an MBA, some students earn two degrees at one through an online dual MBA program. These programs combine a traditional MBA with a complementary field, such as healthcare, international studies, or public administration. A dual MBA typically takes three years to complete and benefits those working in a specific industry.
Ideal Match for: Industry-specific professionals, those looking to transition into a specific role.
Executive Online MBA and Part-Time Online MBA: Executive and part-time online MBA provide the most flexibility to students. An executive MBA is intended for current business professionals, teaching actionable skills from the beginning of the program. A part-time MBA follows the structure of a normal MBA, only with added flexibility to work around individuals’ schedules. Both options usually take 2-3 years to complete.
Ideal Match for: Working business professionals, thos unable to commit to full-time study.
Online MBA Programs with No GMAT Requirement:Every college and university that offers an MBA sets its own admissions requirements. Most programs require applicants to submit GMAT scores, scores that reflect a student’s readiness for an MBA program. However, the GMAT requires intensive study, and test-takers must complete four separate sections. Schools that set no GMAT requirements make it easier to meet admission requirements.
Ideal Match for: Busy learners, applicants who want to avoid taking standardized tests.
Online MBA Master’s with an Unrelated Undergraduate Degree: Although many online MBA programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s in business and some professional business experience, not all programs set these requirements. Those with no previous business experience can earn an MBA, and some professionals find an MBA fits their long term goals better than a graduate degree in their current field.
Ideal Match for: Professionals looking to develop leadership skills, those looking to transition into a business role.
Veteran-Friendly MBA Programs Online: Created for those who served the country, veteran-friendly MBA programs offer incredible flexibility, significant tuition discounts, and waivers during the admissions process. Those that hold Veteran status can earn their MBA online through one of these programs, only with many more benefits than a traditional student might receive.
Ideal Match for: Veterans interested in business, veterans looking to develop new skills.
Online MBA vs Traditional MBA
MBA students need to select between an online or a traditional MBA. While both options lead to the same outcome, students might prefer the benefits of one type of degree over the other. Here are factors to consider when comparing the two.
Completed at a distance
May use asynchronous classes, allowing students to study at their own pace
Often comes at a lower tuition cost
Can live anywhere with internet access
Save time not commuting to and from courses
Must be self-motivated to learn
Benefit from face-to-face education
A rigid structure that’s ideal for students requiring a set schedule
Less flexibility than an online MBA
Must live near or on a college campus
Learn while surrounded by peers
Network in-person with faculty, staff, and other students
Common Specializations for an Online MBA
An MBA teaches the broad skills required to succeed in leadership roles and management-level positions. However, most online MBA programs also allow students to select a specialization. Depending on your current or desired field, one of the following common specializations could be an excellent fit for your MBA.
Area of Focus
Careers This Concentration Prepares For
MBA in Accounting
Created to handle modern accounting needs, and MBA in accounting teaches students to analyze data with computer-based programs, look over and create financial reports, and cover topics required to pass the CPA exam. Many programs teach both managerial and financial accounting.
Great for anyone looking to get involved in small businesses and startups, an entrepreneurship specialization includes introductions to venture lifecycles, the conception of a business plan, and funding endeavors. Some programs emphasize hands-on learning and have students pursue their own enterprise while completing an MBA.
Business managerGeneral managerOwner/FounderExecutive
Among the most popular MBA specializations, finance focuses on practical managerial skills. Learners gain hands-on experience with securities, investments, financial statements, real estate finance, and mergers. More specific topics covered include international finance, banking, and financial institutions.
Breaking away from traditional business focuses, a specialization in healthcare management blends the management and leadership with the legal and ethical issues of healthcare. Students extensively study different types of healthcare plans, collaborate with healthcare providers, and review financial best practices with regards to healthcare.
Health services managerMedical services manager
MBA in Human Resources
A specialization in human resources includes topics such as staffing, planning, developing talent, and retaining talent. Students also learn to communicate with all levels of an organization, serving as an important point of contact within an organization. This specialization focuses heavily on theory, regulations, law, and ethics.
Human resources managerEmployee compensation specialistLabor relations specialist
MBA in Information Systems/Technology
As information systems continue to grow and become more complex, skilled individuals must communicate IT issues with non-versed employees across an organization. This specialization teaches computer network implementation, network maintenance, and new technology integration. Students also learn to work closely with IT professionals and other management-level workers.
Database managerInformation systems managerInformation systems analystChief technology officer
MBA in International Business
A specialization in international businesses includes a variety of business topics, running from supply chain management to sales. However, students must also learn different global accounting and financial practices, international business laws, and communication with international businesses. Some programs require or promote students attending a residency abroad to learn in-person for a short period of time.
Human resources managerFinancial managerMarketing managerExecutive
An MBA in marketing combines traditional marketing strategies with modern practices. Due to the growth of digital marketing, many marketing specialization students focus on digital analytics, market segmentation, and cross-platform marketing strategies. These programs also teach students to conduct market research, analyze consumer behavior, and collaborate with other students.
Digital marketing managerMarketing managerAdvertising managerBrand managerMarketing research analyst
MBA in Nonprofit Management
Instead of focusing on cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and maximizing profits, non-profit organizations focus on raising funds, building a sustainable business model, and remaining compliant with federal regulations. This specialization teaches students to become leaders for non-profits and includes an array of topics including finances, information systems, strategic management, and marketing.
Financial plannerConsulting managerDirector of operationsOwner/founderExecutive
MBA in Project Management
Best for those that yearn for a leadership position, the project management specialization teaches learners to communicate with others, build team chemistry, and lead a team toward short and long term goals. This specialization usually combines theoretical practices with analytics and focuses on the strategic distribution of resources, personnel, and energy.
The fast-growing field of supply chains requires skilled managers to maintain, scale, and improve existing supply chains. A supply chain management specialization introduces different operating systems for managing supply chains, teaches students to communicate with other supply chain professionals, and develops students’ abilities to create new strategies for procurement and distribution.
Before selecting an online MBA program, note that each school sets its own requirements for admission. Spend time gathering your application materials and be prepared to submit items including the following:
As graduate-level programs, MBA degrees require applicants to first earn a bachelor’s degree. While schools prefer applicants with a background in business, students may hold any degree so long as it was earned from a regionally accredited institution.
MBA admissions typically require a 3.0 GPA or higher on previous college transcripts. Some might require a GPA of 3.5, and others may prefer to see a 3.0 GPA on all courses related to business.
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a standardized test that determines an applicant’s readiness to begin an MBA program. Minimum score requirements vary, though most schools require a 650 or higher.
Many MBA programs created their curricula for seasoned professionals looking to learn new skills. Admissions may require you to first complete 1-2 years of business experience, with some elite programs requiring more than five years.
Letters of Recommendation
To determine your commitment to an MBA program, schools ask applicants to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation. These can come from previous college professors, managers/employers, or superior officers in the military.
Curriculum for an Online Master of MBA Program
Leading and Managing
All MBA programs include some elements of leading and managing, two skills necessary for many MBA career outcomes. Usually taken toward the beginning of an MBA program, leading and management teaches different theories for leading teams, communicating with employees, and utilizing teamwork to accomplish goals.
Financial Decision Making
This course covers high-level financial decision making for firms, small businesses, or large organizations. Most financial decision-making courses introduce problems to students, and students develop financial solutions. Students typically complete a large case study toward the end of this course.
Required for those specializing in marketing and often taken by all MBA students, marketing management provides an overview of effective marketing strategies. Course topics covered typically include strategic planning, consumer behavior analysis, competitive positioning, advertising, digital marketing, and social media marketing.
Business analytics introduces the various statistical tools used by analytics professionals to determine risk, forecast, and make evidence-based decisions. This course sometimes includes high-level topics like data mining and simulations. Students then learn to incorporate the analytic tools they learned into spreadsheets and communicate their findings to others within the organization.
his course teaches students to communicate with all types of professionals over different mediums, including memos, letters, emails, chats, video chats, and face-to-face discussion. Students also learn to use different tones and styles in different situations. Finally, learners cover different communication strategies used by business leaders when working with clients and customers.
FAQs about Online MBA
Q: How long does it take to get an MBA online?
A: The timeline varies by several factors such as full time/part-time, your background, the program, how many credits you sign up, etc. But most students finish online MBA programs around two years.
Q: How much does an online MBA cost?
A: The cost varies significantly from various factors such as full time/part-time, the university, etc. According to Investopedia, an MBA might cost up to $140,000. However, there are cheaper options available. Check the affordable online MBA program rankings
Q: Will, an online MBA, help my career?
A: Most likely, yes. The answer depends on your particular situation but generally speaking, MBAs help in career.
Q: Is an online MBA worth it?
A: Yes. Online MBAs are increasingly becoming popular because of the flexibility they provide. A lot of universities offer the same curriculum and faculty for both online and on-campus MBA formats.
Q: Are online MBA programs easier to get into?
A: It depends on the university. The admission requirements for an online MBA and on-campus MBA is very similar.
Unlike more technical degrees, an MBA teaches many theories and skills that must be learned beyond the classroom. As a result, many online MBAs draw from each students’ background in business and teach skills through coursework, exercises, discussions, hands-on practice, and internships. Important skills learned include:
Leadership: Because most students use an MBA to advance within their field and become leaders and managers, graduates must demonstrate leadership skills. Effective leaders manage teams well, distribute responsibilities effectively, and ensure teams hit target goals.
Teamwork: Although MBA graduates typically find management-level roles, they must work with other managers and higher-ups to create achievable goals. MBA graduates must then work with their teams to reach these goals.
Communication: MBA graduates must communicate to team members, coworkers, and higher-ups. In some cases, the MBA graduate communicates complex ideas and topics to customers or coworkers without experience in the field.
Decision Making: MBA students assume a large amount of responsibility after graduating and finding a new position. The degree teaches students to make high-level decisions based on various types of analyses.
Problem Solving: As leaders in the workplace, MBA graduates must develop strategies to solve problems. Most MBA courses focus on specific problems and introduce numerous strategies to solve them.
Accreditation for Online MBA Degrees
When comparing potential online MBA programs, look for Accreditation. Accreditation means that school and/or program meets academic standards set by an accrediting organization, and accrediting organizations are backed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). In turn, CHEA is backed by the US Department of Education. Only apply to colleges and universities that hold regional Accreditation over national Accreditation. If you do not choose a regionally accredited school, you may not qualify for federal financial aid and employers may select other candidates.
If you want to learn more about accrediting organizations, how to find out whether a program is accredited, and the different types of Accreditation, our Accreditation Guide answers the most common questions associated with Accreditation.
Career and Salary Outlook for Online MBA Graduates
Due to a large number of specialties available to students, an MBA leads graduates down various career paths. Regardless of the field a graduate works in, most MBA graduates end up in management roles, using their new skills and experience to lead teams. Specific job titles depend on the student’s interests, specialization, and previous experience. The following roles include many popular outcomes, including salary expectations and job growth projections. However, while an MBA prepares individuals for the following positions, note that no amount of education guarantees a specific career or salary.
Median Annual Salary
Job Growth (2018-2028)
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers
Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers work to promote products and services for businesses. Duties include planning promotional campaigns, negotiating advertising contracts, and analyzing markets to find target customers.
Medical and Health Services Managers
Also known as healthcare executives or administrators, these professionals coordinate health services. These professionals manage entire departments or facilities and work to improve the efficiency of healthcare services delivery.
Management analysts, or management consultants, gather information about organizations and make them more efficient. Daily tasks include analyzing data, finding solutions, and recommending solutions to management.
A financial analyst looks at financial records and historical data to determine business trends. They also recommend investment strategies, determine the valuation of businesses, and prepare reports for executives and public investors.
Human Resources Manager
Human resource managers perform a variety of tasks, from recruiting new hires to consulting with executives on strategic planning. HR managers handle staffing, employee pay and benefits, and internal office issues between coworkers.
One of the most important factors, when choosing a higher education degree like MBAs, is how to pay the cost of the program. There are several ways students fund their online MBAs. Here are some of them:
Tuition reimbursements from employers: A lot of organizations have tuition assistance or programs through which they reimburse a certain capped amount each year for their employees. Check with your employer if they have such a program. It may not fully fund your MBA, but it will reduce the overall cost for you
Fellowships, grants and other forms of financial assistance
Scholarships are another way to pay for your online MBA program. Many organizations offer scholarship awards to students pursuing MBAs or other business degrees. These scholarships may not fully fund your online MBA program, but they will certainly help. Here are some scholarships that online MBA students can apply for:
Career Certifications and Licensing for MBA Professionals
MBA graduates can choose from a variety of career certifications. Depending on your future career choice, a certification could even be required. Stay notified and up-to-date on relevant certifications and licenses.
Why is it important to have relevant certifications as an MBA professional? Certification proves to businesses, clients, and customers that a professional meets the rigorous standards set to attain certification. Some fields may even require certification to work.
How can I stay up-to-date on my MBA certifications? Certifying agencies openly release information on how to earn and renew certifications. This typically requires continuing education, proof of continued work, and a renewal fee.
How do I receive licensure and certification? Certifications come from independent organizations, and many certifications exist. Licenses come from the government. In some instances, the two go hand in hand, such as the CPA certification and license for accountants.
What are some examples of certifications and licenses I should consider? The certification you should consider depends on your MBA specialization and field of work. Popular certifications for MBA graduates include:
Financial Risk Manager: Offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals, the Financial Risk Manager certification is an internationally-recognized certification for risk managers who work in banks and firms.
Project Management Professional: The Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional certification demonstrates excellent project management. Professionals in the high-growth field of project management stand out with this certification.
Certified Information Systems Auditor: Ideal for anyone looking for a career in auditing and controlling, the CISA certification blends IT and information systems with business operations and data security.
Resources for Online MBA Students
Students planning on or currently pursuing an online MBA have plenty of resources available to them. Professional societies, certifying organizations, and networking sites all help MBA students prepare for their future careers.
AACSB: As one of the main accrediting bodies for business schools, AACSB provides future MBA students with a database of high-quality MBA programs. The organization also releases industry data and distributes a publication.
Association of MBAs: Founded in 1967, AMBA hosts a range of online e-courses for current and future MBA students. Members receive invitations to events, a career development center, and various benefits with the association’s partners.
GMAC: GMAC organizes and offers the GMAT, the most important standardized test for MBA applicants. The organization also releases industry data, research from past test-takers, and notes on how to succeed on the GMAT.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the leading networking social media site. Aside from connecting with industry professionals and finding potential jobs, LinkedIn’s members regularly share industry updates with their extensive networks.
Net Impact: An organization composed mainly of students, Net Impact seeks to connect driven learners to become leaders in their industries. Net Impact has over 430 chapters across the world.
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