Online MBA vs. Traditional MBA: What’s the Difference?

What are the differences between an online MBA program vs traditional program?MBAs are in high demand–for good reason. These graduate-level business degrees can lead to tens of thousands of dollars per year in additional income, open up all kinds of new career opportunities, and position graduates for success at some of the nation’s top companies and firms. Unfortunately, many people find themselves in a conundrum: Obtaining an MBA could be a big boon for their career, but balancing life, family, work, and getting a degree is stressful or may even be impossible. And what’s the difference between an online MBA program vs traditional MBA program?

Rising Online MBA Programs

One thing that’s great about technology is that it’s helped to solve many of these issues. Namely, the rise of the online MBA has made it possible for students to obtain a graduate degree at their own pace, taking classes in the evenings or on weekends, from the comfort of their own home.

An online MBA program isn’t right for everyone, to be sure. But, these programs have gotten increasingly sophisticated and are more similar to traditional MBA programs than one might expect.

In this article, we’ll examine some of the differences and similarities between on-campus MBA programs and online degrees.

What Content Will Be Covered

There is no doubt that all of the content you can learn in a traditional MBA program can be learned through online courses.

Online learning offers studies, analyses, and discussions necessary for learning and understanding material related to business management. Just as more businesses are encouraging employees to work from home or remotely, effective business management generally does not require in-person interaction.

Online programs offer the same content and coursework as what one would expect from any traditional track.

Hands-On Experience

meeting photo

Photo by ibm4381

One of the first concerns that many people have about online MBA programs is the hands-on experience aspect. Can you learn to deal with real business situations by simply watching lectures and taking quizzes online? (Note: there are much more-interactive discussion features in modern on online courses.)

The truth is that in a fully-online program it can be difficult to get the real-world experience you need to really prepare for a new job or career.

But, many online programs offer short residency programs that allow you to get a hands-on, collaborative learning experience in a condensed time frame.

University of North Carolina’s MBA@UNC online program offers immersive in-person learning experiences that don’t require students to be on campus. Global Immersions are offered at cities worldwide and can help provide the real-world experience you need to round out an MBA program.

Equal Accreditation (Usually)

One of the most looming fears for those looking to enter into an online MBA program is–will this degree actually hold weight? Or, is it just an expensive piece of paper that won’t matter to any employer at all?

The answer is: It depends on which program you enroll in.

Generally, you’re able to find online MBA programs offered by reputable schools and colleges from around the country. These programs can earn the same accreditation–usually from theĀ Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)–as on-campus programs.

However, it is important for you to look not just for accreditation, but to make sure that the accreditation is reputable. Take the time to do a bit of research and see how things add up.

Employer Perceptions

Okay, you’ve done your homework, found an online MBA program with reputable accreditation. And you’ve worked hard to earn your degree.

But, will employers laugh you out the door when they find out that you took online courses rather than an in-person program? It’s not very likely.

Studies show that employers tend to trust and value online MBAs pretty much equally with traditional courses. Generally, your institution of choice may still matter. But, whether you pursue it online or in-class likely won’t make a big difference.

Networking and Connections

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Photo by reynermedia

The connections to other prominent/rising business executives are generally seen as one of the pillars of an MBA program. It’s perhaps even the main reason for pursuing a degree in the first place.

There’s less networking and making connections in your MBA program in an online course. You won’t be sitting next to classmates every day. Nor will you be able to join in online activities or clubs.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make the same kind of connections online. Many programs offer integrated online learning. There’s in-person residency opportunities, interactive online discussions, and plenty of ways to connect and meet your fellow classmates–even if just virtually.

It’s certainly debatable whether these connections hold the same value as they might in a traditional program. But, the opportunities are still there. As with most things in life, it’s up to you to put in the effort to meet and network with your classmates to maximize the value of your degree.

The Bottom Line

All told, an online MBA program vs traditional program can offer essentially the same opportunities for students. However, online options offer more flexibility and convenience.

As is generally the case with online learning, the responsibility to derive the maximum possible value is placed much more on the student enrolled in an online program rather than an in-person experience. This means that students pursuing an online MBA can achieve an equal level of education and open the same opportunities. But, they will likely need to demonstrate a higher level of organization, discipline, and effort to make it happen.

There are fewer forces keeping you on track, meaning that your success largely hinges on your own commitment. Regardless, when it comes to an online MBA program vs traditional program, the biggest factor is your commitment.