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A Master's in Business Administration (MBA) is a popular graduate business degree that develops advanced management and leadership skills. MBA programs often attract professionals looking to advance their career, switch fields, or pursue an entrepreneurial endeavor. Earning an MBA online provides an accelerated, affordable pathway for ambitious professionals.
According to Poets & Quants, completing a full-time MBA on campus at a top school can cost nearly $200,000. Online MBAs are widely available and affordable. Many of the nation's top business schools offer accelerated MBAs online, with set or in-state tuition rates.
Graduates with an online MBA qualify for senior management roles in their choice of fields and a generous return on investment (ROI). The average MBA salary reached nearly $135,000 in 2019.
What Are the Best Online MBA Programs of 2021? Here Are Our Top 10:
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|Rank||School||Cost per Credit|
|1||University of Florida||n/a|
|2||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||$2,025.63|
|3||University of Southern California||$2,090.12|
|6||Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University||$743.00|
|7||Johns Hopkins University||$1,650|
|8||Florida International University||$1,426|
|9||Florida State University||
|10||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||$302|
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What Is an MBA?
Most MBA curricula cover the business skills most desired by high-level employers. Most MBA programs require core coursework in finance, marketing, and management throughout the first year. MBAs also integrate concentration and elective coursework, culminating in a strategic management capstone.
Schools may offer full-time or part-time, executive, flex, or eMBA programs. Each format includes pros and cons depending on learning style and career goals. All MBA programs typically require a practicum and/or summer internship. Some programs feature optional global experiences.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an MBA Online?
MBA degrees typically require 30-60 credits based on factors, such as format, previous experience, and the school's reputation. Online MBA programs can take 2-3 years to complete. While some online programs offer accelerated paths to graduation, they require the same level of dedication as a traditional program and advanced time management skills.
What Can I Expect From an Online MBA Program?
An MBA is the quintessential business degree, regarded by employers as the gold standard for management jobs. While a student could choose an MA or MS in a major like finance or business analytics, these programs lack an MBA's emphasis on comprehensive leadership skills.
Both on-campus and online MBAs are more prestigious than other master's degrees thanks to their core business curriculum, exceptional ROI, and favorable job prospects. Prevalent among top business schools, online MBA programs are considered on par with on-campus programs. Many offer more affordable tuition rates for distance learners.
Example MBA Courses
- Human Resource Management
- The Art and Science of Negotiation
- Global Business and Marketing
- Financial Management
Is an MBA Worth It?
Earning an MBA may be costly, but it's worth it for its extraordinarily high ROI. In a recent survey conducted by Times Higher Education and The Wall Street Journal, MBA graduates reported earning tens of thousands of dollars more annually than they did pre-MBA. Graduates who switched careers post-MBA doubled their salary.
MBAs can also benefit seasoned professionals and career changers. Students aspiring to become entrepreneurs or move up to a corporate executive position, for example, are prime candidates for a general MBA. Others may consider an MBA in a specialized field to switch careers, even if they already hold business experience.
Students should weigh the decision to pursue an MBA before enrolling. Most candidates pursue a mid-career MBA to improve their salary and job prospects. Entry-level workers in lucrative fields, like those in tech careers or IT careers, may forego an MBA for a simpler graduate certificate or management course.
Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.
What Can I Do With a General MBA Degree?
General MBAs are suited to aspiring executives and entrepreneurs. General MBAs emphasize high-level job skills that apply to nearly every industry. Students receive a broad business education, which can provide flexibility in their job search.
- Chief Executive
Chief executives include chief executive officers (CEOs), chief financial officers (CFOs), executive directors, and presidents. Most chief executives need an MBA, especially in large corporations. Learn more in our business management careers guide.
Median Annual Salary: $185,950
- Financial Manager
Financial managers often hold an MBA in finance or accounting and more than five years of experience. Finance officers, treasurers, and controllers are just a few examples of occupations in this category. Some financial managers pursue optional professional certification. Learn more in our business administration careers page.
Median Annual Salary: $134,180
- Computer and Information Systems Manager
This occupational group includes some of the most advanced management positions in IT, including chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO), and IT director. Employers prefer candidates with an MBA, ideally with a specialization in IT management, and 5-15 years of work experience.
Median Annual Salary: $151,150
MBA Program Concentrations
MBAs typically offer a variety of concentrations, accommodating each student's diverse career goals in business administration. Below are some of the most popular MBA concentrations.
Entrepreneurs are attracted to MBA programs for the customizable business education and open-ended career applications. Most aspiring entrepreneurs plan to start their own business or project after earning their MBA.
MBA students who specialize in finance often become accountants, finance managers, and budget analysts. Core coursework may cover financial management, corporate taxation, and economics. Learn more about Finance careers.
- Healthcare Management
Earning a healthcare management MBA prepares graduates for executive roles in healthcare research, manufacturing, and advocacy. Graduates can become hospital administrators, health services managers, and policy analysts.
- Human Resources
Human resources MBAs can lead to prominent executive positions in the field. Potential careers for HR MBAs include vice president of HR, HR manager, and senior HR consultant. Learn more about human resources careers.
- Information Systems Management
Earning an MBA with a concentration in information systems management suits aspiring CTOs, network security managers, software project managers, and software entrepreneurs. Coursework incorporates skills specific to networks and cybersecurity.
- Information Technology
Students pursuing an MBA in IT master the administrative and technical expertise unique to this field. Students may aspire to roles, such as CTO, network architect, and senior research analyst.
- International Business
International business is especially popular among online MBA programs that enroll global student cohorts. An MBA in international business can lead to high-level jobs in international sales, marketing, and trade management.
Many marketing students are experienced professionals looking to enhance their qualifications or switch careers. Marketing MBAs can lead to top marketing manager/director positions in global corporations or organizations.
- Nonprofit Management
Nonprofit management MBAs prepare students for executive leadership roles in fields, such as education, advocacy, philanthropy, and the arts. Graduates can become presidents, CEOs, and executive directors of institutions like museums and rescue organizations.
- Project Management
Graduates with a project management MBA typically possess excellent multitasking and problem-solving skills. This specialization qualifies graduates for positions as project analysts, directors of operations, and general managers.
- Supply Chain Management
Supply chain management MBAs can prepare students for careers involving supply chain forecasting and logistics. Potential occupations include business analyst or consultant, senior logistician, and global supply chain analyst.
Sustainability MBAs are increasingly popular for promoting environmentally friendly business practices. Sustainability specialists can become VPs of eco-friendly corporations, chief sustainability officers, and directors of renewable energy.
Is It Better to Get a Specialized MBA or General MBA?
Students may wonder whether a specialized or general MBA better suits their career goals. Both MBAs build core business skills, but a specialized MBA offers an in-depth education in a particular field, such as finance or entrepreneurship. Students planning to enter or switch careers to a subfield are best suited to a specialized MBA.
Others may prefer the broader business curriculum of a general MBA, with applications in a wider variety of management fields. General MBAs usually take 2-3 years to complete and include minimal work experience requirements, while many specialized MBAs offer accelerated programs and require experience in the student's field of choice for admission.
Online MBA Program vs. On-Campus Program: Which Is Better?
Students may feel conflicted about whether to earn an MBA online or on campus. They may have encountered some common misconceptions about online MBAs when compared to on-campus programs. Top schools now offer MBAs online, increasing the program's authenticity.
Pursuing an MBA online can provide greater flexibility and benefits than an on-campus degree. Students may worry about receiving less one-on-one time with professors in an online MBA. In fact, online MBA graduates surveyed by Poets & Quants cited intensive faculty support among the top benefits of their experience. Online MBAs may offer set tuition rates and full-time or part-time enrollment.
The study also disproved the notion that online MBAs are considered inferior by employers. Employers often appreciate that students can earn extra work experience by completing their MBA online. Many graduates of top schools reported earning a promotion as a direct result of their online MBA.
- Learners can study anywhere that offers an internet connection.
- Many online MBAs feature accelerated paths to graduation.
- Online students may enjoy set or in-state tuition rates.
- Students may miss out on in-person networking opportunities.
- Learners cannot pursue internships close to the school's physical location.
- Degree-seekers cannot join business-oriented student groups on campus.
- Students can enjoy facetime with MBA faculty and staff.
- Learners can attend local, in-person networking activities.
- On-campus MBAs can lead to local and regional employment opportunities.
- Programs may lack the global focus inherent in many online MBAs.
- Students must satisfy in-person residency requirements.
- On-campus programs may not offer accelerated schedules or set tuition rates.
Admission Requirements for Online MBA Programs
MBAs are enduringly popular among college majors and, therefore, especially competitive. While requirements vary, the nation's top MBA programs typically accept under 25% of applicants. MBAs tend to include more rigorous admission requirements than other master's degrees; however, online MBAs generally offer higher acceptance rates than traditional MBAs.
What Do You Need to Apply?
- Test Scores
MBA programs typically require students to take the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), the most commonly accepted graduate placement test for business programs. Most schools accept scores from 650-690 but prefer a score of 700 or higher, especially for highly competitive programs. A perfect score is 800.
Though less common, some MBA programs accept scores from the more generalized Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Most MBA programs accept minimum GRE scores around 310 but prefer a score of 325 or higher.
- Letters of Recommendation
MBA programs prefer letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors, student advisors, employers, and/or mentors. Students should consider writers who can provide insight into their professional and academic progress and potential. Six weeks ahead of the application mailing date is a reasonable time to ask for a recommendation.
A student's resume should highlight their management and leadership experience. Their professional background should also reflect experience in their desired specialization, potentially including volunteer, community service, and interning events.
Essays help students explain their intentions for pursuing an MBA. Additionally, students can showcase their written communication skills. Applicants should always use correct grammar and spelling in their essay.
- Official Transcripts
Applicants should arrange for official transcripts to be sent from their undergraduate institution directly to their prospective school. Official transcripts verify the authenticity of a student's bachelor's degree. Most MBA programs do not accept transfer credits, though some do in limited quantities.
How Do I Choose an MBA Program?
The cost of earning an MBA is among students' top admission considerations. Many factors, such as reputation and location affect the price of tuition for MBA candidates. The National Center for Education Statistics calculated the average graduate tuition at $11,617 at public institutions and $24,712 for private institutions, as of 2016-2017.
Online MBAs offer the same ROI as on-campus programs, but many feature set or in-state tuition.
- Program Format
Schools may offer MBA programs on campus, online, or in a hybrid format. Programs often feature customizable options, enabling students to choose whether to enroll full-time or part-time or study entirely online.
Many online MBA programs admit cohort groups and offer accelerated schedules. Schools may deliver online coursework synchronously or asynchronously, live or without scheduled class times.
While online MBA programs offer the benefit of learning remotely, some may still include on-campus residency requirements. Additionally, schools may offer exclusive career benefits to learners who reside nearby, such as on-campus networking, internships, or placement opportunities after graduation with local employers.
- Career Opportunities
Whether delivered on campus or online, the best MBA programs help students maximize their career opportunities after graduation. Before applying, students should consider a school's available career resources, including whether the school works directly with corporate recruiters and boasts a high post-MBA employment rate.
- Programmatic Accreditation
In addition to institutional accreditation, many MBA programs receive programmatic accreditation to demonstrate that they meet the highest standards of business education and career preparation. In this especially competitive field, job-seekers with a business-accredited MBA can distinguish themselves from other candidates.
2021 Best Accredited Online MBA Programs
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University of Florida
Based in Gainesville, UF's Warrington College of Business offers a quick route to an MBA degree with a 16-month, 32-credit accelerated online program. The university also provides a flexible 24-month, 48-credit option.
UF's program consists of an experiential learning course that may include an on-campus elective, online global business concept, or global immersion experience abroad. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously, except for an in-person orientation.
UF holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The Warrington College of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
University of Florida is accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
|Chapel Hill, NC||
UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School's cohort-based online MBA program allows students to interact with classmates and includes weekly synchronous class sessions. Students can complete the flexible 62-credit program in 18-36 months while choosing from four start dates.
Learners may select from over 25 electives and five concentrations, which include entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, strategy and consulting, and data analytics and decision making. The program incorporates six days of in-person immersive experiences.
UNC-Chapel Hill holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The Kenan-Flagler Business School holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
University of Southern California
|Los Angeles, CA||
Located close to downtown Los Angeles, USC's Marshall School of Business offers a 51-credit online MBA that delivers coursework both synchronously and asynchronously. Synchronous activities include weekly class sessions by webcam, virtual activities, and one-on-one faculty sessions.
The program starts with a two-week course that includes an online component and a six-day on-campus intensive. Five courses make up the rest of the degree, which students can complete in 21 months. Graduates leave with a completed e-portfolio.
USC holds regional accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission. Marshall School of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
University of Southern California is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
Villanova, a Catholic university located near Philadelphia, offers a two-year, 48-credit online MBA. Students can choose from five specializations, including finance, marketing, analytics, strategic management, and international business. All learners must complete a three-day residency weekend within the first two semesters.
Once a week synchronous sessions offer classroom-like learning. The program also incorporates three capstone projects, including a global practicum, which typically involves a seven-day trip to an emerging or developing economy. Students unable to participate may complete a domestic equivalent.
Villanova holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The business school holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Villanova University is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Based in Houston, Texas, Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business offers a 54-credit online MBA. Students choose from five focus areas, including corporate strategy, corporate finance, investment management, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Learners can also gear their studies toward energy or healthcare through electives.
Students learn through self-paced study and a weekly webcam class and can complete the program in 24-36 months. Participants must complete a capstone project, one intensive residency course, and a global field experience, which consists of one week abroad.
Rice holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Jones Graduate School of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Rice University is accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
|Daytona Beach, FL||
Among the top universities in aviation and aerospace, ERAU offers an online MBA in aviation. Students can choose from five specializations within the aviation industry, including accounting, finance, information technology, marketing, and international business.
Most students complete the 33-credit curriculum in three years. The program offers courses in strategic marketing management in aviation and advanced aviation economics and culminates in a capstone project.
ERAU holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The MBA in Aviation holds accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins's Carey Business School offers a 54-credit flexible online MBA that allows students to choose between online or hybrid courses. Online concentrations include financial businesses, healthcare management, leading organizations, and marketing. Students can complete the program in less than three years by taking two courses per term.
The program delivers most coursework asynchronously, although some courses involve synchronous elements. The program also requires three 2-3 day in-person residencies at the Carey Business School's Baltimore campus.
Johns Hopkins holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Carey Business School holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Johns Hopkins University is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Florida International University
Based in Miami, FIU's professional MBA online program offers five start dates and three tracks that allow students to complete the program in 18-33 months. Learners choose from eight specializations, which make up two of the 14 courses. Options include international business, strategic negotiations, business data analytics, and real estate.
This 42-credit degree requires three professional development seminars. FIU also provides several optional immersive in-person opportunities for online students, including a two-day residency and industry nights.
FIU holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The business school holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Florida International University is accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Florida State University
Based in Tallahassee, FSU's College of Business's part-time online MBA program offers maximum flexibility for working students. Learners complete the fully online 39-credit curriculum in seven semesters. The core curriculum comprises nine courses with classes in information and technology management and marketing strategy in the global environment.
Students may also choose from six specializations, including risk management, financial planning, real estate, management information systems, business analytics, and marketing.
FSU holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The College of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Florida State University is accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
U of I's Gies College of Business offers an entirely online, affordable 72-credit iMBA program. The program's self-paced and cohort-based learning includes weekly interactive live courses with students from around the globe and three team-based capstone projects.
The program consists of six specializations, including entrepreneurship and strategic innovation, digital marketing, and business analytics. The iMBA program also offers several optional in-person experiences on campus, at U.S. companies and abroad.
U of I holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. Gies College of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is accredited by Higher Learning Commission.
Pepperdine's Graziadio Business School offers a 52-credit online MBA program. Students can enroll full time or part time and complete the degree in two years. Degree-seekers learn through live weekly classes and self-paced coursework.
Students choose from six concentrations, including business analytics, digital innovation and information systems, entrepreneurship, finance, leadership and managing organizational change, and marketing. The innovative program also incorporates professional assignments that enable students to pitch their ideas to California companies. All learners complete a weekend workshop at the Malibu campus.
Pepperdine holds regional accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The Graziadio Business School holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Pepperdine University is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
Located in Babson Park, Massachusetts, Babson offers a flexible 45-credit MBA program. Part-time students can choose between a combination of online, in-person, and hybrid blended learning formats. Most learners graduate in 18-36 months.
The program offers seven concentrations, including business analytics and machine learning, global management, and quantitative finance. Students can further tailor their degree through the electives that make up two-thirds of the curriculum. Babson's consulting experiences enable students to create practical solutions for an organization.
Babson holds regional accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education. The business school holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Babson College is accredited by New England Commission on Higher Education.
George Washington University
Located in Washington, D.C., the GW School of Business offers a 46.5-credit, fully online MBA program. Students learn through a weekly live classroom session and self-paced digital courses. Learners usually take six credits per semester, allowing for completion in approximately three years.
GW also offers optional in-person international and domestic experiential educational opportunities. The program's optional four-day immersive residency course allows students to experience the District of Columbia and the professional relationships the area provides.
GW holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The business school holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
George Washington University is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
University of Maryland - College Park
|College Park, MD||
UMD's Robert H. Smith School of Business offers a 54-credit online MBA program. Students opt for a general broad-based educational track or one of five specializations. These focused tracks include accounting, finance, information systems and business analytics, marketing, and supply chain.
The program begins with a three-day on-campus orientation and ends with a residency capstone integrative business simulation. Both asynchronous and synchronous learning formats provide interactive opportunities and weekly live classes. Students may complete the program in as little as 24 months.
UMD holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Robert H. Smith School of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
University of Maryland - College Park is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Pennsylvania State University
|University Park, PA||
Penn State World Campus offers a 48-credit online MBA program that allows students to choose from more than 20 unique concentrations, including cybersecurity intelligence leadership, human resource management, and engineering leadership and innovation management.
The program starts with a virtual or on-campus three-day residency and the first core course. The university offers all courses in an asynchronous learning format with optional synchronous discussions and local leadership and global immersion experiences.
Penn State holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Smeal College of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Pennsylvania State University is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Frequently Asked Questions About MBA Programs
- Is an MBA program hard to get into?
MBA programs are highly competitive; however, admission requirements vary by school and program. For example, a nationally renowned business school may accept a much smaller percentage of applicants than a school with a lower rating.
- What can I do with an MBA?
MBA degrees can qualify students for executive-level management jobs and entrepreneurial careers. Employers prefer MBA graduates with advanced professional skills for senior leadership roles in finance, healthcare, and IT.
- Is business administration a good career?
Business administration careers are often lucrative. Graduates with an MBA develop sought-after communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills for a variety of management positions.
- How much money can I make with an MBA?
While the cost of earning an MBA can be steep, MBA graduates enjoy a handsome ROI, with perks like sign-on bonuses. MBA graduates earned an average salary of $134,990 in 2019.
- What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with an MBA?
MBA graduates qualify for chief executive positions, earning a median annual wage of nearly $186,000. Chief executives in manufacturing or professional, scientific, and technical services can earn upwards of $208,000 per year.