× Explore our resources to learn how to reach your career goals with a graduate business degree.

Why Do an Online MBA?

Thomas Nugent

Thomas Nugent - BusinessBecause

Thomas Nugent is the Deputy Editor for BusinessBecause.

Image not found

Online MBA programs have only grown in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), applications to Online MBA programs grew by 43.5 percent in 2020.

While MBA education was once consigned to the classroom, now you can study wherever, whenever.

But what is the value of an Online MBA? How much does an Online MBA cost? And is an Online MBA right for you?

Here’s everything you need to know about the Online MBA—including types of Online MBA programs, jobs and salary prospects, and admission requirements—to help you make an informed decision.

Who is an Online MBA for?

Online MBA programs tend to attract older, more experienced candidates than their full-time MBA equivalents. Students on the Online MBA at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business have an average age of 30, with 7.1 years of work experience, for example.

Students of Online MBA programs also work full-time while they study. The degree is an alternative for candidates who can’t, or don’t want to, take the two years out of the workforce a traditional full-time MBA degree demands.

“[Online MBA students] advance their business knowledge and skills, save the costs of relocating to study, continue progressing in their careers while they study, and build a wide-and-deep network of professionals across industries and geographies” asserts Amy Foster, director of the Online MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. 

According to GMAC’s mba.com Prospective Students Survey, there are also a number of key post-MBA career goals that Online MBA candidates have in common. Sixty-three percent of Online MBA candidates want to get a raise/salary increase; 47 percent want to manage people; 41 percent want to obtain a senior level position; and 40 percent want to change job function/occupation or get a promotion.

If you want to study alongside your work; if you’ve hit a ceiling in your current role and you’re eager to land a promotion, boost your salary, or work at a more senior level managing people, an Online MBA is for you.

Types of Online MBA

Some Online MBA programs are delivered 100 percent online, while others contain a residential component that requires you to attend several days on campus, usually at the start and end of your degree. 

As you’re working while learning, schools often give generous amounts of time to complete your Online MBA—sometimes up to six years. But the typical program length for an Online MBA is around 24-to-36 months.

One-year Online MBA programs

Some business schools offer accelerated, one-year Online MBA programs, although these often come with specific candidate requirements.

There is a one-year Online MBA option at American University’s Kogod School of Business for candidates who are not planning to work full-time during their degree. The University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business also offers a one-year Online MBA for candidates who have completed an undergraduate business degree in the previous seven years and meet the core module requirements.

Online MBA courses & curriculum

The Online MBA syllabus is equivalent to the full-time MBA but delivered wholly or mostly online. Online MBA students get a grounding in the core business fundamentals, including:

  • Marketing
  • Corporate Finance
  • Accounting
  • HR
  • Strategy
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Investing

You then choose your electives, focusing your MBA on your core interests. Online MBA courses might focus on mergers and acquisitions, entrepreneurship and new venture creation, venture capital and investing, business analytics, behavioral science, or project management.

During an Online MBA, learning varies between asynchronous modules, where lectures are posted online and you learn at your own pace, and synchronous learning, where you’re placed in virtual, interactive classrooms with live discussions, group work, and case study work.

Online MBA jobs & salary prospects

An Online MBA can help you accelerate your career at the company where you currently work. That was the case for Soo Fang Lim, who gained the skills to boost her career as a manager for a local community pharmacy, by pursuing an Online MBA from Nottingham Business School.

“These skill sets are valuable as they are highly transferable in any organization and I think it adds tremendous value to my long-term career aspirations as a leader,” she says.

That’s not to say that you can’t find a new role with a new company after graduating, although your company is more likely to sponsor or support your Online MBA if they know your plan is to commit to developing where you are.

Companies that hire the most MBAs include the Big Three management consulting firms, Bain, BCG, and McKinsey; Big Tech firms like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft; and accounting firms like Accenture, Deloitte, and EY.

Typical MBA jobs include:

  • Finance Manager
  • Financial Advisor
  • HR Manager
  • Investment Banker
  • IT Manager
  • Management Analyst
  • Management Consultant
  • Marketing Manager
  • Operations Manager

Some Online MBA graduates also launch their own companies, like Terez Rijkenberg, who completed an Online MBA at Edinburgh Business School with her husband and launched her own strategy coaching business after graduating.

Online MBA salaries

An increase in salary post-graduation is the end goal of many candidates. An Online MBA might not bring the eye-watering salaries the best full-time MBA programs do, but you can still expect a salary spike after you graduate.

The salaries of Online MBA students can increase more than 30 percent after graduation. Graduates from Warwick Business Schools Online MBA—ranked the best Online MBA in the world by the Financial Times—earn on average US$207,725 three years after their degree, for example. That’s an increase of 35 percent on their pre-MBA salary.

Online MBA cost & ROI

According to the BusinessBecause Online MBA Guide 2021, Online MBA programs typically cost between US$30,000 and US$80,000, although there are outliers.

The Online MBA at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, for example, costs over US$141,000, whereas the program at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business comes in at just under US$25,000.

There are multiple ways an Online MBA can benefit your career, the main one being that you can apply knowledge in real time and see a tangible return on your investment through better work performance and an increased likelihood of promotion.

You also boost your earning potential during an Online MBA, as the degree doesn’t require you to take time out of the workforce to study. You can offset the cost of tuition via employer sponsorship and scholarships—the majority of MBA students receive some form of financial aid. This, combined with the salary benefits of an Online MBA, means you’ll likely recoup your investment shortly after graduating from the program.

Studying an Online MBA also benefits you by placing you in an environment that echoes the modern workplace. You learn to collaborate with your peers and lead teams in a virtual environment. You also grow your network of professional peers on whom you can rely for advice and business knowledge for the rest of your career.

Online MBA admission requirements

Applying to an Online MBA follows a similar process to applying for a full-time MBA program. Business schools typically require you to have a set number of years’ work experience and a bachelor’s degree.

You’ll typically be asked to complete an online application form first. This will require you to upload the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree certificate
  • CV
  • Personal Statement
  • Letters of recommendation
  • GMAT exam score

Then there’s an online assessment, or essays. Your essays might focus on your career aspirations, and how an Online MBA at your specific target school can help you achieve your goals.

The Ultimate Business School Application Checklist

Use our business school application checklist and timeline to nail the admissions process and access useful mba.com resources right when you need them. 


A personal interview comes next, which may be face to face or virtual. It’s here that you need to impress the admissions team. After the interview, the admissions committee make their final decision.

Why now is the time for an Online MBA

Now may be the perfect time for an Online MBA. While in the past Online MBA programs were seen as secondary to the full-time MBA, you can now enroll in an Online MBA knowing you’re getting the same quality of education you would in an on-campus degree.

“The value of an Online MBA is the value of an MBA,” explains Rebecca Loades, director for career accelerator programs at ESMT Berlin. “At ESMT we make no distinction between how you have earned your MBA degree as the same […] faculty teach across our programs, the same academic rigour is applied, and students earn the same degree.”

The Online MBA is also attractive for big MBA employers like McKinsey. When business education shifted entirely online during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said that would have no negative impact on its plans to hire MBA talent.

“Focusing on how students study, recruiters will see that succeeding in an online program is a very tangible demonstration of a future employee’s ability to be organized, to prioritize competing tasks, and to juggle multiple projects. I also see it as a clear indication of focus and drive,” says Rebecca.

“The past year has demonstrated that successfully managing global virtual teams requires a different skillset, [and] we help our students build that muscle from day one.”

Amy from UNC adds that employers are more interested in the university and business school that potential employees went to, rather than the format in which they earned their MBA. A changing workplace also places greater emphasis on virtual skills, and employers will be targeting that when recruiting.

“While in our Online MBA program, our students master how to collaborate on teams across industries, national borders, and time zones. They network and build lasting relationships, as well,” explains Amy.

Is an Online MBA worth it? The answer, it seems, is yes.

The core value of an Online MBA derives from the flexibility you get to work while you study, the fewer number of years it takes you to recoup the cost of your degree, and the way new technology allows you to interact with your classmates in real-time, as if you were in person, on campus.

As well as the career and salary benefits of an Online MBA, you’ll gain the skills you need to manage teams across both the physical and virtual workplace.

Now you know about the value of an Online MBA, it’s time to take the next step and apply. Download the free BusinessBecause Online MBA Guide 2021 for everything you need to know about applying to an Online MBA this year, plus a list of the world’s best Online MBA programs.


Thomas Nugent

Thomas Nugent - BusinessBecause

Thomas Nugent is the Deputy Editor for BusinessBecause, with responsibilities supporting the Editor with content and SEO strategy, alongside editorial team development.

Thomas is an experienced writer who has written articles covering business education, management, careers, and the future of work.

He launched and edits the BusinessBecause Insights series, which explores the latest research and trends from the business school classroom, drawing on the expertise of world-leading professors to inspire and inform current and future leaders. The Insights series has covered things like the sharing economy, working from home during COVID-19, the future of the office, NFTs, and ESG investing.

Thomas earned an MA in English from the University of Aberdeen before completing an MSc in Journalism at Robert Gordon University. He joined BusinessBecause in October 2017.