The key criteria: what to consider when evaluating Online MBA programs

Sep 15, 2023 | Online MBA

Pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) online has become a popular choice for working professionals. According to John Bai, associate professor of Finance at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, “many students want an opportunity to continue their education at their own pace, whenever they want to do it, and wherever they want to do it.”

However, when it comes to evaluating online MBA programs, prospective students need to understand what constitutes an effective online education—especially with the growing number of online degree programs.

According to the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, 56 percent of college and university chief academic officers planned to allocate major funds to online programs in 2019. As a result, today’s online education marketplace has grown exponentially, making the research process even harder. 

If you’re struggling to effectively evaluate online programs, here is everything you need to know about choosing an online MBA program that’s right for you.

Experience the Northeastern Online MBA firsthand

8 Things to Look for When Choosing an Online MBA Program

1. Accreditation

When choosing an online MBA program, accreditation is a crucial factor to consider. It ensures your degree holds value and credibility in your industry, and that the school provides quality education through its curriculum, faculty, and resources.

While most reputable institutions have accredited online programs, Bai suggests referencing sources like US News while researching. “Most likely those top 100 schools already have an existing full-time MBA, therefore have an accredited online program as well,” explains Bai.

Another valuable resource to check accreditation is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The AACSB is a globally recognized accrediting agency that evaluates business schools on their academic excellence and offers a directory of accredited online MBA programs.

2. Flexibility

Flexibility is an essential consideration when evaluating online MBA programs. According to Bai, “maximum flexibility is a major selling point for any online MBA program these days.”

Working professionals need educational options that won’t hinder their current career trajectory. “Most students can’t completely leave the workforce for two or more years just to spend time on campus,” says Bai. Therefore, it’s important to find a program that can be customized to fit your busy schedule.

This can be achieved through an asynchronous learning format, which enables students to access course materials, lectures, and assignments at their convenience. While this pace is not offered in every online MBA program, “it maximizes the flexibility aspect of the program,” says Bai.

This format allows students to continue working full-time or juggle other commitments while pursuing their MBA. So if you want to avoid taking a hiatus from your career, it’s essential to look into these flexibility options.

3. Curriculum Format

The curriculum format of an online MBA program also plays a pivotal role in shaping your educational experience. “This will differ across different programs though,” says Bai.

For example, while many asynchronous learning programs provide prerecorded courses and lectures, focusing on this method can create a lack of connection and sense of community that many prospective students want in an online program. Therefore, it’s important to find an online MBA program that fosters a strong sense of community through offerings like: 

  • Interactive virtual platforms
  • Collaborative group projects
  • Discussion forums
  • Networking events

Northeastern’s online MBA offers all of these resources to their students through faculty connect sessions, multiple discussion and social channels, as well as experiential projects in their EXPO courses. As a result, Northeastern strikes the right balance between flexibility and connection to ensure working professionals have a “stimulated sense of learning and curiosity through the curriculum format,” continues Bai.

4. Return on Investment

Ensuring your education has a positive return on investment is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when choosing an online MBA program. Despite its importance however, Bai admits that it’s a hard factor to quantify. 

“The cost of programs is pretty transparent. There's tuition fees and any additional expenses,” Bai says. “The benefits, however, are usually harder to pinpoint.” The reasons for this are often tied to the career trajectory of the average MBA students. Since most MBA students have a few years, if not decades, of experience in their current field, calculating the immediate value of earning an MBA can be difficult. 

“If the program has a track record, then you would look into things like alumni career advancement or long-term salary potential,” says Bai. But these benefits are not guaranteed and often depend on a number of factors.

Because of this, you should be mindful of program cost to ensure your degree is worth both your time and money in the long run.

5. Academic Support

Effective teaching that’s consistently available to students plays a vital role in providing day-to-day academic support for online MBA students. In the online learning environment, you’ll rely heavily on remote communication and virtual interactions with instructors. Therefore, responsive and knowledgeable faculty members are essential to your success. 

At Northeastern, “we pay a lot of attention to teaching and I think that's important because effective teaching delivers the most value to students,” Bai says. 

Another important aspect of support is the academic resources available to students. For example, MBA students often benefit from digital libraries and comprehensive research databases. “The idea is to tailor student research,” says Bai, “especially considering generalized resources and Chat GPT as well.”

6. Alumni Success

Most students reference alumni success during the decision-making process. However, success after an online MBA program can look very different compared to other advanced degree programs. This is largely because most people in MBA programs already have a job. 

“A common metric students can look into is whether or not somebody successfully changed their line of work and entered another industry,” Bai suggests. “The other thing would be career progression. Many people are just looking for that next step, whether that’s being promoted within the organization they're currently working in or not.”

A quick search on LinkedIn for program alumni should be a good indicator of whether or not past professionals achieved any of these goals.

7. Professional Networking Opportunities

A professional network is another incredibly valuable factor to consider when choosing an online MBA program. “If you think of an MBA program, I would say the large portion of its value is really in the network of people it provides,” Bai asserts. This is particularly true when considering how most people land a new job. 

“Many studies have shown that super close friends don’t get you a job,” Bai says. “It's actually the semi-loose ties that become very useful and can help you in career advancement.” 

Online programs need to provide ample networking opportunities for its students to ensure they reap the professional benefits of traditional programs. This can include resources like: 

  • Informal social gatherings
  • Discussion forums
  • Virtual networking events
  • Instructor connection sessions
  • Social media groups

“In many online programs that dimension is actually missing,” Bai concludes. As a result, you should always research what networking opportunities are available so you aren’t disappointed by a lack of professional connections.

8. Skills Development

Skills development is a crucial aspect to consider when researching online MBA programs. However, developing business competencies often extends beyond a singular focus on quantitative skills. While proficiencies in areas like data analysis and computer programming can be useful, a well-rounded curriculum in business should take a broader approach. Project-based, experiential courses are one way students can achieve more in-depth skill-building in an online degree program.

In experiential courses, “students make real business decisions that have happened before,” Bai says. This hands-on approach enables students to apply their knowledge and gain a deep understanding of the complexities and subtleties of today's business conditions.

Mid- and higher-level managers, in particular, require a nuanced comprehension of business. “They aren’t struggling to understand the basic technology or data in reports,” Bai asserts. Therefore, an effective online MBA program “gives working professionals the tools to make the right decisions, whatever position they may be in.”

Take the First Step Toward Earning Your Online MBA

Taking the first step toward enrolling in an online MBA program is an exciting endeavor that requires careful consideration of various factors. By evaluating essential aspects such as accreditation, flexibility, curriculum, and academic support, you can make informed decisions that align with your personal and professional goals.

Northeastern's Online MBA program meets all the criteria of a high-quality and comprehensive business education. The program prioritizes flexibility, allowing you to pursue your MBA while managing work and personal commitments through various asynchronous learning options. In addition, Northeastern's commitment to providing day-to-day academic support ensures you’ll receive the guidance you need throughout your educational journey.

If you're ready to take the next steps in your career, check out the program page. You can also experience the Northeastern Online MBA firsthand by exploring the online video resource library.

Online Video Library CTA