What you need to know about an online MBA degree


Heading back to school after years in the workforce means your life will shift dramatically. Getting a master’s degree is a demanding experience, especially if you plan to study business administration. You might find you need a set strategy to make the most of your studies, both in terms of how you plan to succeed while in school and what you hope to gain after graduation. Here’s what you need to know about obtaining your Master of Business Administration (MBA) online:

An MBA helps you switch careers

If you have doubts that an MBA can help you achieve an exciting new career, you may be inspired by the number of people who managed to switch industries after obtaining theirs. The Graduate Management Admission Council, makers of the GMAT, surveyed 14,651 graduate school alumni of all ages regarding their post-college careers. The council found 52 percent of them had moved to a new industry. Furthermore, many of these transfers – 39 percent of everyone surveyed – ended up in a profession they never considered before enrolling in school. Their MBA experience opened them up to opportunities they might not have considered or been able to achieve otherwise.

This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a job in your chosen field, however. Many respondents, particularly those in finance, energy and health care, found new careers in the exact industries in which they wanted to work.

Additionally, it wasn’t just younger graduates – that is, millennials – who saw such great job opportunities. In fact, 49 percent of the survey’s respondents were in Generation X, while 19 percent were baby boomers. Despite the negative outlook toward the job market and the state of older employees, getting a degree after years in the workplace can show employers you can be a great asset to their businesses.

Furthermore, 88 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their post-graduation jobs and employers. Compare this figure to data from Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace report, which found only 33 percent of all U.S. employees are engaged at work. The more satisfied you are with your career, the more likely you are to be engaged.

An MBA can be a helpful tool should you wish to change industries; it’s actually one of the most versatile degrees available. While becoming a manager or executive is certainly a reliable option, you can also work as a financial advisor, a business consultant or head of a marketing department.

Should you choose to attend The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and have a set career in mind, you can choose from five specializations to direct your online graduate school experience:

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Information Systems and Business Analytics
  • Marketing
  • Supply Chain Management


You may also choose the General Track if that fits more in line with your educational goals.
However, you may still need to work in your current position while attending graduate school before you can switch to the career of your dreams. Obtaining your degree online may make it easier for you to attend school if you are also currently employed.

A newspaper clipping that reads Job opportunities.
Many MBA graduates find careers that are more fulfilling.

Your work experience is an asset, not a hindrance

If you’re worried about returning to school years after acquiring your undergraduate degree, you can rest easy. Spending time in the workforce can help prepare you for a master’s program and allows you to apply your personal experiences to the concepts you’ll study. In fact, many MBA programs recommend prospective students have a few years of work experience before applying for graduate school.

Spending time in the workforce before earning your MBA helps ensure you have the background in basic business concepts that’s necessary for advanced study. In addition, a collection of students with work experience provides a richer learning environment for everyone. Your peers will likely become close collaborators and networking resources throughout your time at school; their individual business-related backgrounds can augment your own knowledge and vice versa.

You will be required to make certain time commitments

While an online program affords more flexibility than a traditional classroom setting, it’s not something you can pursue completely at your own place. There’s still a specific curriculum for you to follow, and each class has its own syllabus and timeline. Many, if not all, of your assignments will have deadlines, and a set exam schedule means you’ll have to be available for tests at specific times.

Flexibility is one of the main selling points of obtaining an online MBA, but there are still many benefits to set schedules and in-classroom attendance. The Smith School of Business understands that making in-person and real-time connections are invaluable experiences and therefore require weekly synchronous live sessions delivered via Adobe Connect. Additionally, the program features two residencies in College Park, Maryland. You’ll get to meet your peers and professors in person, develop live conversation and networking skills, and experience the beautiful University of Maryland campus. With the Smith Online MBA, you’ll have greater scheduling freedom than a traditional MBA course but won’t miss out on the advantages of a standard college environment.

You are still eligible for many financial assistance programs

The FAFSA is available regardless of your age, education level or enrollment status and should be the first resource you pursue when you enroll in graduate school. Keep in mind that this year’s dates have been revised and are likely different from what you are used to. FAFSA submissions opened Oct. 1, 2016, instead of Jan. 1, 2017. This means your 2017-2018 FAFSA will use information from your 2015 tax returns, not 2016.

A paper student loan application
You can apply for federal aid, but keep in mind the date change.

You can apply for federal aid, but keep in mind the date change.

You may also qualify for one or more scholarships, although the specifics of each of these vary. Use CareerOneStop, a tool sponsored by the Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, to search for scholarships, grants, fellowships and other forms of financial aid.

Don’t forget to look into your tax options. There are many credits and deductions designed to make paying for school a little easier:

  • A 529 college savings plan allows you to set up a tax-friendly savings account for college expenses.
  • The lifetime learning credit can reduce your income tax statement by up to $2,000.
  • The tuition and fees deduction can reduce your taxable income by up to $4,000.
  • The business deduction for work-related education can allow you to write off certain college fees as business expenses, assuming you meet the requirements.
  • The student loan interest deduction can decrease your taxable income by up to $2,500 based on interest paid toward your student loans.


Your chosen program provides a better experience than before

As for-profit colleges were some of the first to offer distance education programs, online learning arose with a poor reputation. These schools, which were often unaccredited and provided lacking services, promised students a degree but didn’t adequately train them for the workplace. Soon, an online degree became synonymous with an insufficient education, and potential employers looked at graduates of online learning programs with a skeptical eye.

Thankfully the environment is now changing, partially due to the fact that an increasing number of accredited, reputable schools like the Robert H. Smith School of Business have created online degree programs. As a result, employers have begun to realize these programs can provide the same outcomes as traditional MBAs.

Additionally, the number of students enrolling in private and public online programs is on the rise, while distance education enrollments at for-profit schools are falling. According to a report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Educational Technologies, the number of students enrolled in online-only graduate programs rose 17 percent between 2012 and 2014. Enrollments at private, nonprofit schools rose 26 percent. Meanwhile, the number of online graduate students enrolled at private, for-profit colleges fell by 1 percent. These statistics indicate more students are choosing online MBA programs from quality institutions.

The actual numbers of enrolled students paint an even more encouraging picture of this shift. In 2012, for-profit colleges saw nearly 298,000 more distance education enrollments than private, non-profit schools. That lead fell to 422 in 2014. While the number of students enrolled in online programs at for-profit schools still outnumbers the other categories, the fact that this difference narrowed so quickly is a promising sign for the outlook of online education. Over time, more students and employers should see the benefits of online MBA programs.

Getting an online MBA is an experience that requires hard work, commitment and effective time management. By budgeting, setting schedules, relying on your previous work experience and staying focused yet flexible regarding your career goals, you can make the most of your online experience.