A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the best investments a professional can make. It’s a serious commitment of time, energy and money, but the return can be significant. An MBA can lead to increased salary and leadership opportunities in a company, or, for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, the skills, knowledge and connections to build their own successful business.
Whether prospective students choose an online MBA program or an in-person MBA program, they can gain the technical and management skills necessary to lead in today’s business environment. They can also build relationships with like-minded ambitious professionals — critical to business success.
An MBA can mean the difference between a good job and a vibrant, exciting career.
Online MBA vs. In-Person MBA
Prospective MBA students have many different programs and universities to choose from. However, the first decision they must make is whether to pursue an online MBA or an in-person MBA. Depending on each student’s requirements, both options have advantages.
Benefits of an Online MBA
Most MBA students have been in the workforce for at least a few years, are often currently employed, and are pursuing an MBA while working full time. They may have spouses who are established in their own careers and children who are in school. For these types of students, an online MBA program offers many advantages.
Convenience and Flexibility
Online programs allow students to continue working while getting their degree. Lectures may be a combination of synchronous (real-time instruction) and asynchronous (prerecorded) content. They offer opportunities for students to meet with their professors during office hours, albeit over Zoom or other videoconferencing apps, and work on projects with their peers.
More Options for Desired Faculty and Programs
Without geographic limitations, online students have access to faculty they might have never had the chance to study with. Prospective MBA students can research various programs and teachers and choose a school that has the professors and coursework that fit their interests and needs.
Diverse Student Cohort
The convenience and flexibility of online programs mean they attract a diverse student body. Prospective students will create relationships with MBA candidates from different racial, cultural and business backgrounds. This diverse experience is attractive to companies that have committed to hiring more nontraditional and minority managers.
Benefits of an In-Person MBA
A traditional in-person MBA program may not have the same flexibility and convenience as an online program, but it can be the right choice for a student who can commit to full-time study. An in-person MBA program has many benefits.
Networking and Relationship Building
Both online and in-person programs offer networking and relationship building. For some people, face-to-face and in-person communication may help in building rapport, especially when working on team projects. Although videoconferencing has become a part of school, work and social life, experts agree that interpersonal communication can be more effective at building trust and empathy between people.
However, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has forced many universities to reconfigure their classes for online instruction. While that’ll change as the pandemic wanes, online instruction may continue to be a part of the university curriculum.
Opportunity to Focus on Coursework and Projects
An in-person MBA program allows professionals to step back from work and focus on education. For some, the program is a chance to take what they’ve learned in the first part of their career and understand it in a broader context.
MBA programs also provide in-depth discovery of concepts and business practices that professionals may not have been exposed to in their work experience. This may require extra attention as students gain new skills. While online MBA programs also offer this well-rounded business education, students who know they learn better when they don’t have work and other pressures may find an in-person MBA to be the right choice.
Chance to Relocate
Professionals who choose an in-person MBA may do so because the program is being offered in a city where they’ve always wanted to live. It may be a city that’s the center of their industry or where they need to be for their career. It could be closer to family, have a better cost of living or meet a host of other requirements.
While they attend an MBA program, they’ll also build a network of students, professors and other business professionals.
Picking up stakes is hard enough, especially when one has a family. Relocating for an MBA program can help ease the transition. When students graduate, they’ll already be established in the local market.
How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA Online?
Although programs vary, it generally takes about two years to get an online MBA. Even online MBA classes may be live, and students are expected to attend and participate in the classes. Other lectures may be prerecorded; students are expected to view them on their own time. Other options include the following:
- Part-time MBA. Students who go to school part time while they work full time usually take fewer classes each semester. A part-time MBA program can take three years or even longer to complete.
- Accelerated MBA. An accelerated MBA may take as little as 12 months. Depending on the program, such an option may be the right choice for students who already know the career they want to specialize in. However, it may not offer the same networking or internship opportunities that a two-year online MBA offers.
Students should also consider the daily, weekly and monthly time commitment they must put in to get an MBA. Besides coursework, homework, projects and studying, students should also participate in the following:
- Business community networking events. Business community networking events include job fairs, business association events and workshops.
- Volunteer events. Giving back to the community is another way to network with like-minded professionals.
- Team projects. Most programs include team projects that require getting together with fellow students over a series of days or weeks.
An MBA is a significant commitment. Students who have the proper tools and support will be better prepared to thrive in an online program. To make the most of the time they’ve invested, students should be prepared to do the following:
Research Business Schools and Programs
Students should research MBA programs that the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has accredited. They can review brochures, welcome packets, and other information about the program and compare costs and other features.
Network with Faculty, Alumni and Students
Take advantage of networking opportunities. For example, reach out to professors and alumni. If the school offers online meet and greets, be sure to attend. When enrolled, make sure to continue to communicate with professors and fellow students. One of the most valuable advantages of an MBA program is the network that students are there to build.
Communicate with Current Manager and Employer
Successful students will talk with their employers and let them know that they’re beginning a program and will need flexibility. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement — in part or in whole — which can be a financial advantage.
With time at a premium, setting up a calendar with deadline and meeting notifications and other scheduling aids will be invaluable. Goal setting and task management will go a long way toward making an MBA program a success.
Rely on Family and Friends; Practice Self-Care
Family and friends can be a source of support. They can help students maintain a healthy work-life balance. An online MBA can feel all consuming. Taking time to exercise and eat right can be the difference between a positive experience and an overwhelming one.
What Are MBA Degree Requirements?
Prospective students should review the admissions requirements for each business school they’re interested in. Most MBA degree requirements will be similar. Students will need to provide test scores and transcripts, as well as resumes and letters of recommendation. How admissions committees view the application package varies by school.
To be accepted into an online MBA program, students must put together an application package that typically includes the following:
GMAT or GRE Scores
The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) administers the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), while the Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Many schools require students to submit GMAT or GRE scores when applying to an MBA program, although a growing number of schools are waiving this requirement.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an important part of the application process. Admissions experts advise prospective students to identify recommenders who’ve supervised their work and mentored them professionally. Recommenders who are alumni of the target program may have more influence with the admissions committee.
Most MBA students have at least a few years of experience before going back to get their degree. The admissions committee looks closely at students’ resumes and their accomplishments. A resume should also showcase an applicant’s soft skills (teamwork, problem-solving) and other interests (clubs, volunteer work).
Transcripts are an essential part of an MBA application package. However, the undergraduate GPA is less important than work experience and career accomplishments. Many students are changing their career field, so a bachelor’s degree may not even be relevant to the prospective student’s MBA goals.
The essay gives students a chance to present themselves to the admissions committee. They can use the essay to make their case for entry into a program. It also gives prospective students a way to differentiate themselves from other applicants.
What to Expect from an MBA Curriculum
An MBA curriculum will include coursework, lectures, projects and internships. Both online and in-person MBA programs also require a capstone project: an assignment that’s rather like a dissertation or a thesis project. In a capstone project, students apply everything they’ve learned over their course of study to a specific business problem.
Choose a Specialization
Students can choose to focus on specific tracks, such as marketing, finance or supply chain, or opt for a general business track. The first two semesters cover foundational courses. In the second year, students go into more depth in specific areas and prepare for their residencies and capstone projects.
Prepare for a Career Change
Many students use an MBA to shift careers and even industries. Since the goal of an MBA is a management role, they aren’t just retraining; they’re getting an education in business theory and practice that’ll prepare them for management positions. For example, a tax accountant may get an MBA to prepare for a role in a specific industry, or a marketing professional may get an MBA to prepare for a leadership role in the C-suite.
Learn to Lead
An MBA curriculum will include coursework that covers finance and accounting, data analysis and modeling, operations management, entrepreneurship, supply chain, and marketing. It’ll also cover classes on such topics as negotiation, ethical leadership, teamwork and communications.
What MBA Skills Do Students Learn?
The goal of an MBA program is to prepare professionals for a management or entrepreneurial business career. MBA graduates should choose a program that’ll give them the tools to become well-rounded business executives with the technical, strategic and leadership skills to be successful. Business schools design their MBA programs to deliver practicable results.
An MBA program teaches students financial, organizational, technical and other so-called hard skills. Students who go into an MBA program from a business or accounting background may have an advantage when studying those units. They still have to learn about supply chains, marketing, logistics, operations and other concepts to be well-rounded leaders.
Leadership and Teamwork
The purpose of an MBA program is to develop leaders. Students will gain important knowledge in how to manage employees, peers and executives. They’ll learn how to negotiate, communicate and work in teams. Leadership is more than just giving orders. Students will learn best practices in how to engage and inspire employees and teams. They’ll learn how to present their ideas and sell them to managers or the C-suite.
Strategy and Decision-Making
Leaders set strategy and make decisions. MBA graduates should have the tools to understand strategy and goal setting. Students should learn how to establish the big picture, and then identify and set short- and long-term goals to achieve their vision. MBA programs will teach students the differences in goals, objectives, tactics and strategy.
Networking and Relationship-Building
One of the biggest advantages of an MBA program is the opportunity to network with other ambitious students and inspiring professors. This network can be maintained and expanded upon after students graduate. Relationships formed in MBA programs can lead to job opportunities and business partnerships.
MBA Advantages and Salary
The advantages of an MBA are significant. Professionals with MBAs have a leg up on promotions in an organization. They’ve gained the educational background that can lead to a successful entrepreneurial career. An MBA can be part of a lifelong learning mindset that provides continuous engagement with their company, industry and colleagues.
Salaries for professionals with a master’s degree (not just an MBA) can be significantly higher than for those with only a bachelor’s degree, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For example, BLS data shows that workers with a master’s degree earned a median weekly salary of $1,434, or about $74,500 annually, in 2018. In contrast, the median weekly salary for workers with a bachelor’s degree was $1,198, or about $62,300 annually.
According to PayScale, the median annual salary for an MBA degree holder was approximately $91,000 as of August 2021. The highest paying careers for those with an MBA include chief financial officer ($152,000). The median annual salary for an operations manager with an MBA was about $81,000, and the median annual salary for a human resources manager was about $72,000.
How Can an Online MBA Boost Your Career?
Investing time and money in an MBA program can pay off in knowledge, career skills, financial rewards and business opportunities. Students who put in the time and effort to take advantage of everything an MBA has to offer can expect to be rewarded with the gift of new technical and leadership skills.
An online MBA can be the perfect next step in your career growth. Imagine having the chance to work with top professors and network with other professionals like yourself who want to succeed and grow in their career. Now you can take advantage of the convenience and flexibility of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business Online MBA. Learn more today about how an online MBA can help you succeed as a business leader.