Is an Online MBA Worth It?

Created by Rob

By Rob - August 4, 2022
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Reading Time: 9 minutes

There was a time when online business degrees didn’t seem to hold the same weight as ones earned in the hallowed halls of traditional colleges. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, that was already changing. But as schools and businesses scrambled to stay open, both had to embrace the remote revolution or become irrelevant. As a result, top-ranking business schools across the world have developed online MBA programs that mirror their in-person curriculums while featuring some undeniable advantages exclusive to a virtual format.

Like full-time, in-person Master of Business Administration programs, online MBA programs:

  • Are accredited by nationally-recognized business school organizations
  • Teach valuable business administration skills applicable to commerce in general or to specific roles
  • Foster connections between today’s business professionals and tomorrow’s industry-leading entrepreneurs

However, many online Master’s business programs can be completed at home and at one’s own pace. For actively employed students who have a wealth of obligations outside of their studies or can’t afford to move to their schools of choice, advanced online business degrees are more than worth it. They’re often vital to their success.

If the flexibility of an online MBA program sounds like a great fit, here are some costs and investments to consider, a few potential benefits to look forward to, and a checklist to help students make an informed decision about choosing the right online MBA program.

The Big Question: Are Online MBAs Respected?
Online MBA Costs
Are Online MBAs Worth It? Determining a Degree’s Non-Financial ROI
Saving Time and Money: The Unmatched Flexibility of Online MBA Programs
Far-reaching Connections From Home
Explore the Border-Breaking World of Online MBA Programs
Infographic – Cost & Consideration Checklist

The Big Question: Are Online MBAs Respected?

Every person has their own reasons for choosing an online MBA over an in-person program. However, students generally have similar goals regarding career advancement and employer marketability. This means that the answer to “Are online MBA programs worth it?” is largely based on if employers actually hire online graduates.

To maintain lofty hiring goals, they may have to. Two statistics demonstrate this potential need for businesses to recruit professionals who earned their business degrees online:

  • In the 2020-2021 academic year, there were more online MBA students than full-time, on-campus business students according to an analysis by Forbes magazine.
  • The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), an international committee of graduate business schools that administers the GMAT exam, says 91% of corporate recruiters planned to hire more employees with MBAs in 2021.

As more students turn to virtual business degree programs, businesses that exclude recruits with online degrees may find themselves behind in employment statistics and profits.

Fortunately, corporations worldwide are increasingly recognizing the value of online degrees. ICEF Monitor, an international firm that specializes in tracking global education trends, reports that 55% of employers value online degrees the same as traditional ones. Another 16% of employers actually view online degrees as more valuable than their in-person counterparts.

This may vary depending on the industry and individual recruiter attitudes. For students to decide if the money and effort online MBA programs cost is worth it, researching different degree programs and potential employers is often of the utmost importance.

Online MBA Costs

MBA online programs cost a figure that covers a combination of tuition, material expenses, and service fees. Some programs include these costs in the price of tuition. Others allow students to purchase materials and services as needed or include them as separate but mandatory fees.

According to Fortune magazine, top-ranked MBA online programs cost anywhere from $60,000 to $200,000 overall. That’s a huge range and well-respected outliers exist on the less and more expensive ends. But no matter the total cost, there are typically six factors applicants should consider.


An MBA program’s tuition is usually expressed as cost per credit hour. That means part-time MBA students may pay less per semester than full-time students because they’re not taking as many courses at once. Each program has its own credit hour requirements for graduation, but many programs require students to complete anywhere from 36 to 60 credit hours.

Some programs waive foundation credit costs (costs associated with courses focused on fundamental business principles) for students who have recently completed an undergraduate program focused on accounting, statistics, and other business fundamentals.

Whether a person enrolls as a part-time or full-time student, most programs require paying an enrollment fee as a deposit. Though the exact fee changes, this deposit is usually credited to the student’s account and is often refundable up to a certain point in the enrollment process or semester.

Technology Fees

Online MBA students use a handful of technologies during their education. This might include virtual classroom software, cloud storage services, electronic book readers, and other tools that connect students to each other, their instructors, and necessary online course materials.

Purchasing, updating, and providing such dynamic technologies means hiring IT staff and paying licensing fees to software companies. To offset these expenditures, schools often charge their students a small percentage of their overall technology costs.

Instructional Support Fees

To teach students the most up-to-date and innovative business strategies, colleges need to maintain proper staffing, expertly-curated libraries, and updated computer hardware. Basically, anything an instructor needs to run an online class may fall under the umbrella of instructional support fees.

Student Service Fees

Tutoring, libraries, career guidance services, and networking events aren’t just for on-campus students. With the same technology used to host classes, schools also connect enterprising students with a range of services often needed to advance one’s business career in any industry.

Textbooks and Access Keys

Many MBA programs will require students to have physical textbooks, e-books, or a combination of both. Depending on the course materials, both physical and digital textbooks can often be rented or purchased. If a textbook seems like it may prove useful in the future, purchasing it may be a good investment.

Access keys or access codes enable students to use anything from electronic textbooks to extra online study materials. Though they aren’t physical resources, colleges generally have to pay licensing fees to allow their students to use them. Like technology fees, these costs are frequently passed on to students.

Personal Computers and Internet

No matter what’s included or not included with an online MBA program’s tuition, students usually need a relatively up-to-date computer and a high-speed internet connection. The latest technology isn’t necessarily needed, but old computers and slow, constantly interrupted internet connections could significantly hinder a student’s ability to learn and interact with their peers and instructors.

Some programs have their own mobile apps or can otherwise be completed using mobile devices like tablets. Always check with program administrators about internet and hardware requirements.

Check What an MBA Program’s Tuition Includes

When analyzing online MBA costs, check with school administrators about what resources students have to pay for outside of tuition. Technology, instructional support, and textbook fees are almost always mandatory. Sometimes, though, they’re included with tuition and sometimes they aren’t.

Things like student service fees aren’t always mandatory, but some programs require students to pay for them even if they don’t plan on using the services themselves. In many cases, this is to make career services available to everyone regardless of financial status.

Are Online MBAs Worth It? Determining a Degree’s Non-Financial ROI

Prospective business students are probably familiar with the term ROI, an acronym that stands for return on investment. In the business world, ROI is often expressed as a percentage based on a monetary return. For instance, if a stock trader buys a stock for $100 and sells it for $200, that investment has an ROI of 100%, meaning the profit earned from the sale matched the initial investment.

cash clocks piggy bankOnline MBA programs cost more than money, though. Before getting caught up in cost/benefit analysis, prospective MBA students may want to consider if a given program will match their investments of time and effort in the forms of skills growth and potential career opportunities.

How To Factor Skills Growth Into an MBA’s ROI: A Three-Tiered System

In general, there are three types of MBA students. Each type of student is defined by the business administration skills they have, lack, and would like to develop. Being realistic about these competencies is key to getting the most out of any Master’s-level business administration education.

Fortunately, there are MBA programs tailored to people with a variety of business backgrounds:

  • Students with little to no business experience or education. For students with bachelor’s degrees in non-business fields, it is still possible to enroll in many valuable MBA programs. Specifically, they may want to seek out programs that are self-contained and require little to no business experience or education. This way, they’ll learn about the basics of business management, inter-department coordination, and corporate financial planning. With that kind of broad education, students may learn the skills needed to start careers in business, secure internships, or pursue more advanced degrees tailored to their long-term goals.
  • Students with some business experience or education. Students with bachelor’s degrees in business, finance, economics, or other business-adjacent fields may want to look for programs that offer highly-technical degree tracks. This could allow them to hone their skills around specific industries and business administration roles. For example, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers online MBA programs focused on international business, supply chain management, marketing, and other specializations.
  • Students with ongoing business careers. Current business administrators may see a better ROI from MBA programs that build upon well-developed administration skills. Take, for instance, Cleveland State University’s MBA program. It allows students with 10 years of business experience or more to enter an executive MBA degree track. This program and others like it teach high-level business leadership principles and skills including business ethics, managerial accounting, and organizational development. Entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses or managers with their eyes on higher rungs of the corporate ladder may be well-suited to executive MBA programs.

Considering Career Outlook and Growth

As with pursuing any kind of advanced degree, determining if an MBA is worth it is largely based on the opportunities it may open up. Exploring this issue involves doing a combination of general and laser-focused industry research.

GMAC researchers found that the median salary for MBA grads was on average 77% higher than the salaries of their bachelor degree-holding coworkers. While the numbers may fluctuate between industries, these promisingly high statistics demonstrate how MBA grads might use their degrees to secure raises, find new, exciting industries to work in, and craft attractive resumes.

However, those broad strokes paint a somewhat incomplete picture. Students with specific career plans may want to consider:

  • How many high-ranking employees in their chosen industries have MBAs
  • Which MBA programs are best for any given industry or role
  • If their ideal employers hire and promote employees based on their business education. Some may favor experience, tenure, education, or a combination of the three.
  • Other career paths that favor people with online MBAs just in case their plans change

Large employers may publish some employment information online. Otherwise, it may be available from trusted third-party business publications and surveys. For potential MBA students that already work for the company their career plans involve, seeking guidance from peers and human resource programs may provide some very detailed insights.

No matter where the information comes from, though, it’s important to remain objective and flexible. What worked for one person may not be tenable for everyone and may not be realistic across all industries. That being said, pursuing a Master’s in business administration online may better equip individuals to face a multitude of challenges.

Saving Time and Money: The Unmatched Flexibility of Online MBA Programs

With the possible career benefits an MBA could provide, one big question remains: why should students consider online MBA programs instead of in-person ones? This question has many answers, but students largely choose online programs because the flexibility of an online education suits their lifestyles and, perhaps more importantly, their budgets.

Each online MBA program has its own schedule and course requirements, but in general they:

  • Allow students to take only one or two classes per semester
  • Host synchronous and asynchronous classes. In synchronous classes, students and instructors occupy virtual classrooms together in real time. Asynchronous classes are pre-recorded lectures students can access at any point within a specific period of time.
  • Only require students to be on-campus once or twice a year if at all

Parents can spend more time at home with their children. Working students don’t have to rush between jobs and classes. Anyone can take breaks doing whatever helps them unwind: taking a nap at home, walking in their favorite park, or catching up with friends over brunch. Overall, online MBA programs are conducive to striking a healthy work/life balance.

busy business momPeace of mind is invaluable and the potential financial benefits of taking online MBA courses only reinforces that. Instead of eating out or paying for cafeteria food, online students can eat at home. Without the need to commute, they can also save money on gas. Other cost-saving benefits may depend on the fees associated with different programs, but those two factors alone may make acquiring an MBA online attractive to anyone with an already hectic schedule or tight budget.

Far-reaching Connections From Home

Despite doing courses from home, online MBA students don’t have to be isolated. They can create new professional connections and maintain the support networks they already have.

For families, military personnel, and people who want new opportunities without paying for a costly move, online MBA programs offer a blend of socialization and education that may have been otherwise unavailable.

Imagine taking online business classes from a college on the other side of the country. The virtual classes may be full of students from around the school, one’s own local area, and various places across the globe. The instructor may have ties to businesses around the school and in regions across the country via former students and coworkers. By asking questions and joining online study groups, students can meet new people who may one day be important to their professional and personal lives.

Some programs have physical campuses in multiple cities. Others have central locations in sprawling metropolises rich with potential employers. Either way, employers may be likely to recognize business schools that operate in their spheres of influence.

A degree from an MBA program with a widespread presence may be the key that allows graduates to relocate for lucrative jobs. Conversely, graduates may also find remote jobs at internationally-known companies that pay industry-leading salaries.

Cost and Consideration of an Online MBA

Explore the Border-Breaking World of Online MBA Programs

Today’s innovative entrepreneurs and forward-thinking business administrators don’t have to be held back by budget issues, geographic location, or time constraints. With the sheer number of high-quality online MBA programs available today, business professionals everywhere can accomplish their goals. Most importantly, they can do so at their own paces and from their own homes.

This journey to professional success can start with an exploration of some of the nation’s best fully-accredited online MBA programs. For more numbers-driven information about online business administration programs, read about the numbers behind an online MBA and how to pay for online MBA costs.


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