Are Online MBAs Worth It?

Will B

MBAs are a graduate degree, which have become very high value in todays world. Business schools offering MBA courses have been receptive to society’s needs and advancement. They offer a variety of courses on ‘soft’ skills, and new technology such as business and data analytics. This is a key reason why many companies, in sectors from technology to consulting, are hiring more MBA graduates. Taking an online MBA will help you transition your career to on you really desire.

What are online MBAs?

An online MBA is exactly the same as your traditional, on-campus in-person course, except it is done online. Over the last 5 years they have seen a huge increase in availability, and popularity; there has been an over 80% rise of AACSB Accredited Business Schools offering online MBA courses. There are a range of benefits to opting to take an MBA online, which will be discussed in this article. It is likely that online MBAs will become even more available due to the virtualisation Covid-19 has brought about. 

Choosing to do an MBA online will give you much more flexibility; you are free of the rigid time-tabling which occurs with on-campus courses. You can work from wherever, whenever, you want. Notably, online MBAs are common with people in full-time employment. People who are looking develop their skills and knowledge to, perhaps, advance their career with the education an MBA provides. This is the beauty of online MBAs. With traditional courses, you simply won’t have a full-time job, as more often than not the classes will clash with your job. This means that you will no longer have to weigh up the opportunity-cost of attending a course like this. Moreover, these online versions are recognised as the same qualification as an in-person MBA, as the provider of the course would still be a well-respected institution. Great universities such as UCL, in London, or John Hopkins University, in Baltimore, USA, offer online MBAs. Another important benefit, is that taking an MBA online will save a lot of money associated with staying and studying on-campus. Accommodation, commuting, and other expenses will not be encountered online.

Similarity to a normal course?

Generally speaking, the content is very similar, if not the same. Both online and in-person courses focus on the core curriculum of accounting, finance, strategy, marketing and operations, online courses lack the in-person feel for truly developing ones’ soft skills, such as leadership and teamwork. Of course, these skills can be emulated online, however this is a vastly different environment to collaborating in person. Hence, this is where online courses are lacking, in comparison with their in-person counterparts. 

Moreover, it can be critiqued that online courses disadvantage you from truly fostering connections and life-long friendships with like-minded peers, which is the case during on-campus course. This factor is obviously a bad one, as your network will not be as strong in the future, having missed out on the chance to make real-life friendships.

Lastly, a point for debate is that the admissions standards of online MBAs are, likely, to be lower. This is due to the fact that business schools admit hundreds, if not thousands, more students to their course. And, paired with the fact that an online course limits your exposure to one-on-one discussions and training, online MBAs could be viewed by some as sub-par and worse quality than the in-person MBA. There are, of course, still a number of benefits from taking this course online. A strong business education and experiences; the comparability of the two types is hotly contested.

Changes during COVID-19?

With COVID, a significant proportion of business schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, have moved all classes online. An article in the Financial Times highlighted the market-size for online education is large and growing, with business schools seeing more and more students enrolling year-on-year for online courses, and a years of decline for on-campus applications. Markedly, as discussed in another article, there is a growing conception that the standard MBA model ought to go through changes; digitalisation of courses has caused petitions demanding refunds of tuition from leading schools such as Wharton and Stanford. Hence, the coronavirus has accelerated the need for MBAs to move to this digital space, and do it well. Being plunged into online classes is certainly going to mean a larger proportion of in-person MBAs will have online elements, signifying the change to a more digital future. Despite this, the social element of in-person courses, so crucial to MBAs, will not be going anywhere, and so this might mean future innovation in the delivery of these courses; Warwick Business School runs a distance-learning MBA, which incorporates both online and in-person learning.

Online MBAs and Employers

However, an interesting article in ‘Poets and Quants’ emphasises that there is no better time to do an MBA. This is because, even despite the global recession caused by the pandemic, MBA graduates undoubtedly command a higher salary. In addition, the education an MBA provides is current and stands you in good stead for the future. Having a grasp of topics taught in an MBA such as machine learning increases your value as an employee. With a lot of companies turning to big-data to direct their approach and strategy, this is another important reason why large consulting firms like McKinsey & Co, Bain & Co and BCG employ over 500 MBA graduates per year. The article goes on to discuss how people enrolling in an MBA now, will graduate into a fully-recovered economy.

Employers also value the professional and personal development gained from an MBA. This makes their employees more rounded and experienced, translating into the working environment. The maturity that MBA graduates have, is also welcome in the workplace, just as much as the top-class business education. However, this is where online MBAs differ; employers do not hold these degrees in as high regard as in-person ones, for many reasons, as talked about above.

Final word

Having said this, online MBAs are still valuable, and it is wise to enrol on a course if you wish to enhance your career. With technology advancing, online learning and experiences are becoming more involved and adaptive. And, as jobs become increasingly competitive, it is worth debating if an online MBA would be suitable given the education they provide.

This article was written by Zac Tiller, an Engineering undergraduate student at Cambridge University and aspiring consultant.

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