Online MBA vs. On-Campus MBA: Which is Right for You?

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By Maria Upson

Reviewed by Krystal Covington, MBA

Published on August 19, 2021

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Graduating from an on-campus or online MBA program can lead to more job opportunities, career advancement, and increased earning potential. According to a recent Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey, companies looking to hire new MBA-holders expect to offer recruits starting salaries of about $105,000 — considerably more than the median wage for undergraduate degree-holders.

Students find that both in-person and online learning formats offer unique benefits and challenges. Read on to learn about an online MBA vs. in-person MBA and the pros and cons of each learning format.

What's the Difference Between Online and On-Campus MBA Programs?

In-person and online MBA programs provide similar academic and career opportunities. On-campus and online programs go through the same rigorous accreditation process, presenting students with equivalent coursework and educational requirements. In many schools, the same faculty teach both programs.

Online programs may consist of asynchronous classes, meaning students can access online class materials at their convenience, submitting materials by a specific deadline. Synchronous courses may require weekly meetings, often in live online classes. Many schools use both learning formats in their online MBA program.

In-person and online MBA programs provide similar academic and career opportunities.

Worldwide, over 880 business schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) offer MBA programs, and 310 offer online options. While applications for campus-based MBAs decreased in 2019, 2020 shows renewed student interest, with 72% of full-time two-year programs and 84% of online programs reporting increased applications. According to the GMAC, online MBA programs also reported growth in applications from underrepresented populations and female candidates.

In-person MBA programs tend to attract younger students with less work experience looking for the campus experience. On the other hand, online programs appeal to older working professionals looking to advance in their current position or industry.

Another GMAC survey revealed that only 42% of full-time MBA students declared getting a raise as their postgraduate career goal, whereas 63% of online students reported a salary increase as their top priority.

Cost

Tuition fees for on-campus and online MBA programs tend to fall within similar ranges, though some schools offer significant savings for their online programs. However, while many online programs do not charge out-of-state residency fees, some online programs could cost more.

Online students do save in other ways. According to the College Board, average annual room and board costs for students pursuing a master's are $11,520. These same fees at top-ranked schools can easily exceed $20,000 per year. There are also significant savings in opportunity cost, which refers to the lost wages and employment opportunities for those quitting their job to attend a full-time MBA program.

Admission Requirements

Most schools request the same application materials for their on-campus and online MBA programs. Online programs generally waive GMAT score requirements more readily because online applicants often possess many years of experience. By waiving the standardized test scores, schools hope to attract a diverse student population with varied work experience.

Typical admission requirements include a bachelor's degree, official transcripts, 2-3 letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume. Many MBA programs require 2-4 years of work experience.

Accreditation

Schools and programs accredited by third-party, independent agencies meet the highest academic standards and provide students with a comprehensive, quality education. Regional accreditation is the gold standard for universities.

Both online and on-campus MBA programs may also earn accreditation. The AACSB is the oldest and most prestigious MBA accrediting agency. Accreditation from the AACSB demonstrates that a program has passed rigorous quality standards. Most school's websites display institutional and program accreditation.

What Are the Pros and Cons of an Online MBA vs. an In-Person MBA?

Both in-person and online programs include advantages and disadvantages. Online MBA programs provide the greatest flexibility, enabling students to work while completing coursework at their convenience. An on-campus program allows for more peer and teacher interaction and networking opportunities.

Online Mba

Pros:

  • Flexibility: Many online programs allow students to complete coursework around their schedule.
  • Save Money: Online programs offer reduced opportunity costs, fees, and living expenses.
  • Prestigious Top-Ranked School: Distance learners can attend a top-ranked school without having to relocate.
  • Reduced Completion Time: Students can complete some online accelerated programs in 18 months.
  • Online Network and Collaboration: Many programs require in-person residencies or global immersive experiences. Virtual group projects and online networking may also be offered, providing connection opportunities.
  • Cons:

  • Fewer Networking Opportunities: Distance learners are unable to attend as many networking events.
  • Limited In-Person Connection: Online programs often lack regular peer and faculty connection.
  • On-Campus Activities: Students find it challenging to attend athletic functions and other school events.
  • Digital Setup: Students require reliable high-speed internet and a personal computer.
  • Experience: Some schools require more work experience for admission to their online programs.
  • In-Person MBA

    Pros:

  • Networking: It may be easier to attend networking events.
  • On-Campus Activities: It is often easier to engage in activities and take advantage of facilities and clubs if you're already traveling to campus.
  • Structured Learning: Some students learn better in structured class settings.
  • Internship: Some schools partner with local businesses to offer internship opportunities; these may be easier to access for local students attending class in person.
  • Changing Careers: Students looking to change careers benefit from internships and networking opportunities.
  • Cons:

  • Lack of Flexibility: On-campus courses take place at specific times.
  • Demographic Diversity: Online students are usually more culturally and demographically diverse.
  • Time to Completion: Full-time MBA programs typically take two years to complete.
  • GMAT Scores: More on-campus programs require applicants to submit standardized test scores than online programs.
  • Opportunity Cost: Many in-person MBA programs follow a full-time schedule. If students can't work while pursuing their degree, they may miss out on earning wages or receiving tuition refunds from their employer.
  • Consider Earning Your MBA Online If...

    You work full-time, would like to remain in your current position, or have family commitments. An online MBA offers greater flexibility, with students completing coursework after work or on the weekends.

    Many online students pursue an MBA degree to increase opportunities within their current company or industry. Some employers also consider paying for part or all of their employee's tuition if they commit to staying with the company for a set number of years after graduation.

    Prospective MBA students often find that many of the top-ranked prestigious programs offer online and on-campus options

    An online MBA may also be a good fit if you want to earn your degree from a specific school but don't have the time or means to relocate. Prospective MBA students often find that many of the top-ranked prestigious programs offer online and on-campus options.

    Earning your MBA degree online does not diminish its worth. Some employers may appreciate the time management skills and discipline it takes to succeed in an online environment.

    Consider Earning Your MBA In Person If...

    You value the structured, on-campus learning environment of the traditional MBA. In addition to in-person discussions with professors and peers, this format allows you to take advantage of on-campus resources, such as the library, athletic facilities, and extracurricular activities.

    An in-person MBA may also be a good fit if you want to build your professional network. While many online programs strive to provide students with opportunities to develop relationships with students and faculty, they cannot compare to regular on-campus interaction. This regular interaction factors heavily for students entering the job market or changing careers.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Online vs. On-Campus MBA Programs

    Is an online MBA as good as an in-person MBA? true

    It depends on the school and the program's accreditation status. Many in-person and online MBA programs offer the same curriculum and have similar academic expectations. The biggest difference is that an asynchronous online MBA typically offers greater flexibility, while an in-person MBA may provide more networking opportunities.

    Are online MBAs respected? true

    Yes. Many employers appreciate the diversity found in an online MBA pool and the discipline required to earn an MBA online. Employers also place greater emphasis on school recognition, accreditation, and the specific area of study.

    Do employers care if your MBA is online? true

    Many employers do not even ask about how a student earned their degree. Most companies' top concerns include accreditation and the reputation of the school and program. As more top-rated schools develop online programs, employer hesitancy continues to diminish.

    Is an online MBA easy?

    No. Just like an on-campus MBA, making it through an online MBA program requires perseverance, analytical thinking, discipline, and motivation.

    What is the easiest MBA to get?

    Students may find getting into an online MBA program a little easier than an on-campus program. Full-time MBA programs reported a 52% acceptance rate in 2020, while professional MBA programs, which consist of part-time and online learning formats, noted a 78% acceptance rate, according to the GMAC.

    Reviewed by:

    Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships.

    Krystal founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills, and connect with other high-achieving women. Krystal received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.

    Preferred Pronouns: She/Her

    Deciding to take classes online or on campus is a difficult choice. This article guides you through the decision-making process. Elevate your career with a convenient and affordable online MBA. Browse our ranking of the top online MBA degrees of 2021. Campus closures due to COVID-19 impact students' ability to succeed. With colleges closed, students and schools grapple with logistics and the digital divide.

    BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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