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Is an online MBA worthwhile? The value of your investment

Last Updated on April 18, 2023 by Admin

Online MBAs can be worth it if you’re prioritizing cost and flexibility and are ready to embrace online interaction with your peers and professors. This guide offers information on online MBA, including benefits of an online MBA, employer views of online business degrees, and cost vs. return on investment. So you can decide whether an online MBA program meets your career goals. 


Getting your Master of Business Administration (MBA) can build on your business acumen, enhance your ability to lead, and connect you to a broad network of like-minded people. But will the benefits carry if your MBA is entirely online? It depends on your personal and professional goals, financial outcome, costs, and other factors.

More business schools offer online MBA programs, but do they provide the same value as a traditional, full-time MBA?

Professionals considering an online MBA might wonder if an MBA is worth it, even if it leads to higher salaries. But the value of an MBA depends on individual circumstances and professional goals.


Online MBA salaries: The return on your investment

The benefits of an online MBA are myriad. Graduates can see expanded responsibilities and promotions at work, a boost in confidence, and access to an alumni network that can span the globe. 

Then there’s the financial boost. According to a survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the median base starting salary US companies expected to offer new MBA hires in 2019 was a historically high $115,000. The median base salary for new MBA hires dipped to $105,000 in 2020, after the start of the pandemic, reflecting a widespread dip in pay across many industries

The financial benefits seem to translate to online MBA programs too. According to a 2017 US News survey, the average salary for students three months after graduating from an online MBA program was $96,974. This was a 22 percent increase from the average entering salary for online MBA students, $79,352. Poets&Quants reports that the highest average salary increases for online programs hover around 60 percent.


A survey of 2019 graduates from the iMBA program at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business found similar positive outcomes. Over half reported having received a promotion, job offer, or accepted a new position in the program; graduates saw their pay increase by 20 percent on average.

How much do online MBAs cost?

The price of an online MBA can vary widely depending on whether the school is public or private, in-state or out-of-state, and how much financial aid you receive.

According to a ranking by Poets&Quants, a business school publication, the top ten online business school programs of 2021 in the US cost anywhere from $35,375 to $141,320 for the entirety of the program.

The University of Illinois’ online MBA program costs $21,744 total, and Macquarie University’s Global MBA costs a total of AUD 33,000 (both on Coursera).

In-person programs can have higher price tags. Several creep over the $200,000 threshold; one year of tuition and living expenses can top $100,000 for some schools. 

How are online MBA programs different than traditional MBAs?

In general, they are virtually identical to on-campus programs. All MBA programs, regardless of format, teach business students the skills they need to succeed in executive-level and management positions, launch careers in consulting businesses, or run their own companies. Many of the learning experiences are the same.

Core coursework covers:


Online MBA programs also have the same types of experiential learning requirements as traditional MBA programs.

Benefits of an Online MBA

Prospective business students might ask themselves if an online MBA is worth it? First, for many professionals, an MBA pays off. According to Forbes, graduates with an MBA see a 50% salary increase over their salaries before earning an MBA. An MBA helps professionals pursue career advancement, improve their job prospects and salary potential, and increase their authority and credibility within their industry.

Some students may still wonder if an online MBA makes sense. When considering an online MBA vs. an on-campus business degree, prospective students should weigh the pros and cons of the online format. Some students may prefer the classroom experience of an on-campus program.

For others, the benefits of an online MBA, including the increased flexibility and accessibility, outweigh any potential drawbacks. Consider, for instance, that 91% of online MBA students work while earning their degree, according to U.S. News & World Report. The ability to build work experience, make a paycheck, and complete an MBA appeals to many prospective students.

You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job.

Many traditional MBA programs hold daytime classes that do not offer flexibility for students who want to work while earning a degree. Particularly for professionals who receive MBA funding from their employer, the ability to continue working while earning an MBA makes an online MBA a much better investment.

You Can Pursue a Rare Specialization

MBA concentrations prepare graduates for specialized career paths, with healthcare administration, supply chain management, and human resources management options. But a prospective student’s local university might not offer the student’s top choice specialization. By considering online MBA programs, professionals can choose a discipline that will advance their careers.

You Don’t Have to Relocate

Most MBA students would prefer to attend a top program. But many don’t live within commuting distance of a full schedule. Online programs let students enroll at one of the top programs in the country without having to relocate, quit a job, and potentially uproot a family.

You Can Save Money

An online MBA can help students save money compared to a traditional program. That is because students considering an online MBA can make affordability their top priority without facing limited options in their local area. Online students can also benefit from flat tuition rates for online students at public schools regardless of their state residency.


Is an Online MBA Program Acknowledged?

In the past, some employers saw online MBAs — and online degrees in general — as inferior to on-campus business programs. But with the expansion of online learning options, many employers recognize and respect online learning formats. In fact, employers value students with online MBAs for their self-motivation and independence, both required skills to succeed in an online degree.

As the number of graduates from online MBA programs increases, employers realize the valuable workplace skills to businesses. Today, employers hire professionals who have completed online MBA programs, particularly those who hold degrees from accredited institutions.

While few business schools offer online MBA programs, many well-known and top-ranked schools now offer hybrid or fully online MBA programs, including Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California, and Penn State.

At many business schools, the online MBA program uses the same curriculum as the on-campus MBA. It often shares instructors who provide the same education through a different delivery method. Similarly, some institutions grant the same diploma to online and traditional MBA graduates, indicating the educational equivalency of the degree.


Many students choose an online MBA for its flexibility and convenience. Rather than quit their jobs to attend a full-time day program or relocate to attend a top school, MBA students choose an online option that lets them balance school with work or family responsibilities. In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, 91% of online MBA students work while enrolled in their program.

Employers recognize this need for flexibility and may even reward job applicants who demonstrate an ability to manage work and an MBA program simultaneously. In addition, employers rely on online options for long-term and continual learning, which means more hiring managers understand the value of an online format.

Online MBA programs also attract a different student profile since online programs enroll students from around the world who bring diverse professional and personal backgrounds. Online students often get more professional experience to their schedule, providing a different perspective.

U.S. News & World Report survey found that the average incoming online MBA student outranked on-campus MBA students by several years, with an average age of 33 for online students vs. 27 for on-campus students.

As a result, cohorts of online students benefit from more diverse experiences and points of view. This experience helps business professionals work with various teams, consider multiple perspectives, and bring a global perspective.

While many employers respect online MBA programs, not all programs provide the same high-quality level of education. Prospective students should always check a program’s accreditation status before applying to any business school.

Accredited online programs meet the same educational standards as their on-campus alternatives, meaning students and prospective employers know an online MBA follows the highest standards. 

Online MBA Degree: Master of Business Administration

The Online MBA from Boston University Questrom School of Business is for mid-career professionals looking to advance their careers in the increasingly interconnected, rapidly-changing, global ecosystem of the digital age.

Online vs. in-person MBAs: Pros and cons

Consider the fundamental differences between an online and in-person MBA program.

Flexibility: A large part of the draw of an online MBA is its flexibility. The ability to attend lectures and complete group assignments from behind a computer screen means students don’t have to relocate or even quit their day jobs. This has made online MBAs a strong draw for those with families to take care of or established careers they’re hesitant to pause.

An article published by the US News in 2017 stated that the average online MBA student was 33 years old, compared to the average of 27 who attended on-campus MBA programs. An average of 91 percent of online MBA students also worked full time when they enrolled.

Cost: Online MBA programs are often cheaper than in-person programs. Keep in mind that factors like financial aid availability and being in-state or out-of-state can influence the price tags of both online and on-campus programs.

Face-to-face interactions: In an online MBA, interactions with your instructors or peers will generally occur virtually unless you enroll in a blended program. If the social aspect of business school is something you prioritize, an on-campus program might make more sense.

That said, online programs have been adapting to encourage interactions in their online communities. Students can often participate in group projects, attend online networking sessions, or access office hours. Online networking opportunities might also mean that you’ll be able to meet employers or alumni that wouldn’t come to campus otherwise.

Fataneh Taghaboni-Dutta, a professor at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, says online programs can even be more conducive to meeting people if the student is prepared to do so.

“If a student is comfortable in joining and being fully engaged in an online setting, then an online degree will provide them with more opportunities to establish a connection,” she says. “I say more because in terms of time needed to ‘speak’ or ‘meet’ others in an online environment is less taxing than doing the same for in-person settings.”

How to choose an online MBA program

Like any MBA program, reputation, cost, quality of education, and access to an alumni network can all be factors in determining which online program to apply to. Beyond that, online programs should be accredited and fit what you want out of online education.

In the US, online MBA programs should be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or other accreditation bodies like the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). 

Here are some questions to consider to determine if a school meets what you’re looking for:

  • What opportunities are there to network with peers or alumni?
  • Are classes taught by professors that also teach on campus or by online-specific faculty?
  • Do you have access to student support services like the financial aid office or career center?
  • Are lessons pre-recorded or taught live?
  • What do the school’s graduation rates and employment rates look like?
  • Who grades the assignments?

Online MBA Programs: The Finding

Getting an MBA online can open doors, help you grow professionally, as an individual, and yes—financially as well. Online MBAs can accommodate the obligations of your life while you learn the tools to build and support businesses. 

“The training you receive in an MBA Program prepares you to deal with ambiguity and provides a buffer against uncertainty,” says Hayden Noel, professor at the Gies College of Business. “You would be better equipped to take advantage of changing opportunities post-COVID. You will also become more effective as a leader and better understand the different functions of your organization.”

Ready to get started? Browse Online MBA and Business Degree Programs on Coursera.

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