College of Business and Economics

Seven questions to ask when comparing online MBA programs

November 22, 2019

(Originally published November 22, 2017)

Written by Dana Krems 

With hundreds of online Master of Business Administration programs to choose from, selecting the program that's right for you can be daunting. You may also have concerns about whether you can get a high-quality graduate education from an online program and whether a future employer will respect that degree. The following questions will help you evaluate online MBA programs and make your choice with confidence.

Is the program AACSB-accredited?
As the premier, internationally-recognized standard for business schools, AACSB accreditation can quickly narrow your field of choices. Only about five percent of business schools worldwide and 30 percent of business schools in the United States can boast this credential. Compared to similar-sounding accreditations, AACSB accreditation is at the institution level — as opposed to the program level. It's about much more than institutional prestige, however. Holding the curriculum and faculty to the highest standards of quality and making certain the appropriate resources are available, AACSB accreditation helps ensure the return on your education investment. In fact, if you plan to advance in a Fortune 500 company or to someday work in academia, an AACSB-accredited degree might be a necessity.

Does the institution have a brick and mortar presence?
The presence of a brick and mortar institution with traditional classroom programs can elevate the credibility of your degree. Most employers now recognize the value of degrees earned online, but there is a lingering stigma among some. If a business school offers both on-campus and online MBA programs that utilize the same high-quality curriculum and faculty, your diploma and transcript shouldn't indicate whether you earned your degree online or on-campus.

What will the program cost, and what is the return on investment?
Online tuition costs vary widely by school and specialization  — from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars per credit. The total cost of your degree can also depend on your transcript, transfer credits, and work experience, as well as the program's admission and credit requirements. In addition, some online programs offer extra value with flat-rate tuition for in-state, out-of-state, and international students.

Whether your MBA degree will cost less than $20,000 or upwards of $100,000, it's important to define your goals and expected return on investment. Future earnings potential is usually considered; however, your goals may be more personal or aspirational. Articulating your goals and expectations before selecting an MBA program will help you find the right fit and will help ensure your satisfaction.

How flexible is the program?
One of the key benefits of online learning is that you can learn from anywhere in the world you have an Internet connection, which can help you fit graduate studies into your busy life. However, some online programs require limited on-campus attendance. Others offer a streamed synchronous experience, allowing you to virtually attend and engage with a live classroom but requiring you to be available on a specific day and time.

Clarify whether classes are offered 100 percent online and whether they are completely asynchronous  — meaning you are not required to be online on a specific day or time for lectures, discussions, or other activities. Also determine whether the graduate program uses a cohort format or has a set course load or schedule. Many working adult students take three to seven credits per semester, but you may need to adjust your course load to fit your schedule. In addition, you may desire the flexibility to pause for a semester due to accommodate life events and then return to your studies.

Can you specialize?
The Master of Business Administration is a breadth degree covering a range of business skills. However, some programs allow you to specialize in an area of interest, which can add greater value to your educational experience. There are also programs that allow you to customize your emphasis, allowing you to personalize your degree even more.

Does the program have external validations?
External review and ranking can help corroborate an institution's claims of excellence. Ranking surveys are often quite lengthy and data-driven, covering numerous categories considered markers of quality and value when taken as a whole. As with any information source, credibility can vary; however, validation from respected sources can help you choose a program with greater confidence.

What's holding you back? 
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater College of Business and Economics is ready to answer the questions above and respond to any other questions or concerns.  Contact one of our graduate education experts today for more information. We're here to help you decide if the UW-Whitewater online MBA is right for you, develop your degree plan, and keep on track through graduation. You can also learn more about our  online master's degree  programs on our website or watch a  brief video on our MBA program.

New MBA classes start six times per year at UW-Whitewater.