9 Things to Consider When Choosing the Right Online MBA Program

Published 05/07/2021

Pursuing a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) is a strategic move that can benefit your future. The degree can help you advance in your current career or give you the opportunity to change careers.

2020 report from U.S. News & World Report agrees: “An MBA can often serve as a gateway to business leadership positions, experts say, and management roles typically involve higher salaries than nonmanagement jobs.”

There are several major considerations when weighing online MBA programs, including requirements, accreditation, support, cost, and other factors. We sat down with Mark Johnson, Fellow in Investments & Portfolio Management and teaching professor at Wake Forest University, to explore nine key things to consider when choosing an online MBA program.

1. Accreditation

Accreditation organizations are independent agencies that examine all facets of an MBA program—curricula, faculty, retention and graduation rates, the student body, and alumni satisfaction. Accreditation experts review this information to determine if an institution is providing high-quality instruction in its MBA program to meet accreditation standards.

There are three agencies that accredit MBA programs at the national level:

  • The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)

In addition, there are six regional accrediting bodies recognized by the Department of Education.

The organization that accredits Wake Forest’s online MBA program is the AACSB. This is widely considered the premier accrediting body in the U.S.

On its website, AACSB says it helps “create the next generation of great leaders” by connecting educators, students, and businesses. Besides accreditation, the global nonprofit also provides business education intelligence and learning and development services to over 1,700 member organizations and more than 840 accredited business schools worldwide.

“Accreditation by the AACSB ensures that the key functional areas of business are covered in the program,” Johnson says.

2. Cost of Attendance and Financial Aid

Cost is an important thing to consider when pursuing an online MBA. Johnson advises students to look at the total cost of attendance, not just the cost of tuition.

“Just because it’s online does not mean there won’t be other costs in addition to the tuition,” Johnson says.

For example, students may still be expected to pay for books or access to online versions of textbooks, articles, or other necessary materials. There may be online learning or technology fees or fees to transfer credits. Some colleges require online students to visit campus for an in-person orientation and may conduct exams in-person, so these costs need to be factored in too.

You’ll also want to consider your financial aid eligibility. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for loans and grants from the federal government or aid from your state or school. You can also apply for scholarships and grants, and you may wish to secure a responsible private loan as well.

3. GMAT and/or GRE Test Requirements

Most business schools accept the GMAT, while others accept the GMAT and/or the GRE. Some schools, however, will accept waivers in lieu of those scores. Other graduate programs will accept postgraduate degrees, professional credentials, a high GPA, or a specified number of years of work experience instead of test scores.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 business school candidates take the GMAT globally each year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which facilitates the exam. According to the Educational Testing Service, between 500,000 and 600,000 graduate students take the GRE annually.

“At Wake Forest, we encourage our online MBA program students to complete the GMAT or GRE and submit their test score, but there are waivers that are available,” Johnson says.

4. Online Learning Functionality and Support

One key to online education is a robust learning management system (LMS). Most online MBAs will administer their programs through platforms such as Canvas, Blackboard, Sakai, and Moodle.

“A prospective online MBA student should ask what kind of LMS a particular school uses in its MBA program,” Johnson says. “It’s not that there are inferior and inadequate ones, but, like cars, some are easier to drive than others.”

The LMS used by your college or university must have good functionality and support, Johnson says. He also recommends tech support that’s always available, which Wake Forest offers.

“It’s important to make sure you’ll be supported when you’re doing your school work, no matter what time of day or day of the week you’re studying,” he says. “Does the program have 24/7 tech support? Is tech support available in the evenings and on the weekends? These are important questions to ask.”

5. Academic Support

If you’re a working professional and haven’t been in school for a while, academic support is an important factor to consider. That support can be vital to getting help and staying connected to your instructors and classmates.

“It may be hard to remember how to study, take an exam, or to write a formal essay,” Johnson says. “Academic support looks and feels different at different schools, so prospective online MBA students should inquire about what that academic support looks like.”

This support should expand beyond having faculty members available. For example, Wake Forest has Student Success Managers who help students.

“Students who haven’t been in school in a long time may run into a tough time with a grade or difficult feedback from their instructor, so they want to seek additional resources or assistance,” Johnson says.

6. Career Coaching and Support

For career changers and advancers alike, career coaching and support is an important factor. This looks different at each school but may include access to networking events, job postings, interview preparation, and alumni.

“Find out what coaching and support looks like at the institution you’re considering,” Johnson says. “Would you have access to job postings or career postings? Would you receive resume feedback as well as critiquing? Would you be invited to networking events?

“Just because you’re an online MBA student doesn’t mean that you can’t receive a high level of career support and feedback.”

At Wake Forest, we offer a high level of career support. “We assist our students by preparing them to perform and engage in job searches, networking opportunities, personal branding, interviews, and negotiations,” he says.

7. High-Quality Faculty Who Are Available to You

The quality of the faculty is an important factor for students. For example, are your instructors grad students or full-time faculty? Have they published original research? Do they come with real-world experience in entrepreneurship, strategy, finance, or another area you are interested in? Do they have experience and connections in the field?

Of course, having the best instructors may not mean as much if you can’t get in touch with them easily.

“Students deserve easy access to faculty,” Johnson says. “Are they one Zoom call away? Are they quick with replying to emails and returning graded assignments?”

How the professor handles classroom engagement is important too. “Will students have the opportunity to engage with their classmates and their professor in a virtual class? Or will it just be discussion forum posts?” Johnson says. “Usually, we find some combination of live interactions and communication through discussion forums to be ideal.”

8. Flexibility

One reason people consider an online MBA is because of the flexibility it offers. But that flexibility doesn’t have to come at the expense of student engagement. Johnson says you should consider both flexibility and the level of engagement you need when weighing online MBA programs.

For example, you should decide whether your schedule is more amenable to synchronous or asynchronous classes. Synchronous classes are at set times with the entire class in attendance online, while asynchronous classes let you sign in and work at your convenience.

“At Wake Forest, we have optional synchronous sessions, where students who want to directly engage with their faculty member in a live session will be able to do so,” Johnson says. “If their schedules are so demanding that they’re unable to attend these synchronous sessions, the sessions are recorded and available online.”

9. Reputation of the University

Many employers consider the reputation of an applicant’s university when hiring. But reputation is about more than turning employers’ heads. A university’s true reputation lies in the strength of its faculty, students, and alumni.

“Because many people look at a graduate business degree as an investment, you’ll want to consider not just the education that you will obtain and the alumni network you would join, but also the family that you’ll join and the pedigree associated with that degree,” Johnson says.

An engaged alumni network is also a great benefit for MBA students.

“Our students at the undergraduate and graduate levels have such an excellent experience here that they’re always reaching out to us, asking how they can give back,” Johnson says. “They are eager to help other students currently at Wake Forest. We take a lot of pride in that, because they want to help the university they graduated from.”

Learn About Wake Forest University’s Online MBA Program

The Wake Forest online MBA program is designed for students who are seeking executive or supervisory roles by learning advanced business concepts and skills. Reach out for more information about our online MBA program.