Growing up, did your parents ever tell you that you can’t have your cake and eat it too? On your next FaceTime call home, be prepared to do some serious finger-wagging, because online MBA programs might be putting that proverb to rest for good.
Unlike traditional on-campus MBA programs, which require candidates to take time off from their jobs and attend class full-time, online programs offer the flexibility to continue working in your current position while pursuing your MBA degree on a schedule that works for you. For a working professional, that means keeping your day-to-day life – and your salary – in tact, an attractive option for candidates who are balancing financial obligations with family and other life commitments.
This flexibility may explain why online MBA programs are growing in popularity each year, with more schools offering online options each admissions season. In its most recent rankings, U.S. News rated over 270 online MBA programs, up from 180 in 2017. And these aren’t no-name schools whose return on investment statistics read like a joke. The top-ranked online MBA programs comprise schools like Carnegie Mellon (Tepper), Indiana University-Bloomington (Kelley) and UNC (Kennan-Flagler), ranked #17, #27 and #19 for best MBA schools, respectively.
In addition to the ability to do your classwork and assignments anywhere with a decent WiFi connection (case studies on the beach, anyone?), online MBA programs offer the added benefit of accelerated study. Most can be completed in as little as 18 months, allowing you to jump to the next phase of your career that much more quickly. On the flip side, if you need to pause your studies for a period of time, online MBA programs offer the flexibility to do so (and to spread your work out over a number of years, if necessary).
Maximum flexibility = minimal stress.
But, but, but …
Some in-person MBA hopefuls might still ask: what about a part-time MBA program? Well, if you were always lowkey looking forward to forming a highkey coffee addiction, commuting to class after work and struggling to stay alert might be your thing. But if it’s not, you should know that part-time and online MBA programs suffer from the same major disadvantages, the most important of which is sacrificing job opportunities.
The whole goal of getting an MBA is getting an awesome post-MBA job, right? Full-time MBA programs offer a plethora of career resources, including on-campus presentations from recruiters, on-campus interviews with employers, and dedicated career counselors that are just a building away. These resources, which are either non-existent or less robust in online programs, may be the reason why the average salary three months after graduation is $127,000 for full-time MBA students and only $97,000 for their online counterparts.
Another downside of both the part-time and online MBA is missing out on the opportunity to live and learn with a bonded cohort of classmates for two years. The connections you make with your fellow students in a full-time MBA program will lay the foundation for a global network of professionals who can help open doors and grease wheels for you in the future – and who could even end up becoming the b-school Beyoncé to your Jay-Z, or vice versa (power couples unite!).
>>>> Recommended Reading: 10 Undeniably Awesome Ways And MBA Can Change Your Life.
However, while an online MBA may not skyrocket your earnings or provide you with the expansive professional network of a full-time program, you can mitigate these downsides by choosing a program that offers a hybrid learning option, which is a combination of online and traditional in-class learning. This usually translates into a mix of online assignments with a few on-site classes or residencies per semester, giving you both the face-time and the flexibility that you need to maximize your career options post-MBA.
Despite its disadvantages, it’s important to remember that an online MBA can still give you what every MBA candidate is looking for: the in-depth knowledge and industry expertise necessary to propel you to greatness in your chosen field. No matter how you receive it, this expertise translates into confidence. For many candidates, that confidence may be the difference between staying button-lipped at a staff meeting or piping up with an innovative idea that turns you into the rock star of your department and gets you noticed by the higher-ups.
One last thing …
In short, while there is no perfect answer to the question of whether an online MBA is right for you, one factor may make all the difference: money. An MBA is a worthwhile investment no matter what kind of program you enter, but online MBA programs are likely best for candidates with large financial burdens and/or significant family commitments who can’t afford to leave their jobs to pursue an advanced degree.
One thing that candidates with financial obligations should consider is the possibility of tuition reimbursement or assistance from their employers. More than one-third of online MBA students on average have an employer pay for either some or all of their tuition. While some employers still haven’t warmed up to the idea of online learning, presenting a solid value proposition for your online degree is the best way to get employer buy-in. Be prepared to explain exactly how your degree will translate into dollar signs for your company.
If you’re interested in going the online route, do your research. There is still a widespread stigma against virtual learning, though many admissions experts are predicting that online programs will become a viable alternative to traditional full-time programs in the future. Make sure that you 1) choose the most reputable online program you can get into and 2) talk to your current employer and others in your field to get a better sense of what your options will be post-MBA.
Once you’ve made your decision, take some time to sit back and enjoy that slice of cake – and think about how much better it’s going to taste with an MBA degree in hand.