A Guide to Online MBA Programs

Padya Paramita

A Guide to Online MBA Programs

After working in your job for a few years, you've realized the next career move will require skills you don't yet have. While an MBA provides the clearest path to get where you'd like to go, you are not sure about quitting your job and moving cities. That's where online MBA programs come into play.

Since many business school students often have other commitments like work and family, many esteemed universities around the country offer online MBA programs for young professionals who may not be able to relocate or find the time to attend classes on a fixed schedule. To guide you through the virtual offerings, I’ve outlined what an online MBA degree entails, the types of programs out there, the best online MBA programs, and finally, what the application requires from candidates.

Online MBA Programs: The Basics

Similar to their offline counterparts, online MBA programs provide students with an interdisciplinary education that builds a foundation for students to understand the basics of business while honing their analytical ability, critical thinking, and communication skills. The virtual classes are highly collaborative and students have the opportunity to work together through video chat and shared documents to complete assignments and projects, 

The first year of online MBA courses typically covers core topics such as:

  • Business Communication
  • Business Strategy
  • Developing Management and Leadership Skills
  • Economics
  • Financial Accounting
  • Marketing Strategy, Analysis and Development
  • Operations Management
  • Quantitative Reasoning for Business
  • Strategic Planning and Implementation

Once students have settled on the foundational skills, it’s time to opt for a specialization. MBA candidates vary in their aspirations. Depending on their goals, they can focus on courses within their chosen discipline. Specializations might include:

  • Accounting and finance (for accountants, auditors, financial analysts)
  • Informations Security (for analysts, IT managers, software developers) 
  • Organizational Leadership (for CEOs, operations managers, management analysts)
  • Marketing (for brand managers, marketing managers, public relations managers)

When looking at different programs, make sure you do research to find out if they have the specializations that you’re looking for. This can help narrow down your school list.

Types of Online MBA Programs

Because not all students are looking for the same things out of the experience, online MBA courses can come in different forms. Students have different goals, and they have different commitments that might require differing levels of flexibility. Take a look at the options below as you consider what you might be able to accommodate.

Part-Time Online MBA (3-5 Years):

The part-time online MBA is often the route chosen by students who are balancing their degree with other commitments such as work or family. A part-time online MBA offers the flexibility to study and complete assignments at whichever time is ideal for the student’s schedule. With classes online, students can pursue this degree from anywhere—this saves money and time. Plus, an MBA can help you add skills to your current job as well as boost your resume at the same time.

Hybrid MBA (3-5 Years)

The hybrid version of the online MBA combines remote classes with residential immersions. The in-person components are often scheduled for the first week of each semester. While you can be flexible with classes, you also have the option to network and make connections in person, which is often the reason many students pursue an MBA in the first place. 

Accelerated Online MBA (12-18 Months):

An accelerated online MBA—as the name suggests—packs years’ worth of education into a year or slightly more. So, it’s important that you start the course with a strong idea of business concepts already. Because of the shorter duration, the accelerated version saves both time and money.

Executive MBA (2 Years):

Executive MBAs are designed for those who already have been managers and boast around five years of experience in the workforce. The focus of classes at an executive MBA program lies in real-life applications that hone skills in decision-making, leadership and strategic skills. 

The Best Online MBA Programs in the Country

You may be wondering which schools are the best known for their online MBA programs. In the following table, I have compiled the US News’ top 20 schools for virtual business degrees, alongside the concentration options available to help you narrow down your list of business schools.

Rank School Concentrations
1 Indiana University — Bloomington (Kelly) Business Analytics, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Finance, Global Supply Chain Management, Information Technology Management, Marketing, Strategic Management
1 University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) Marketing, Data Analytics and Decision Making, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Strategy and Consulting
3 Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) Accounting, Business Technologies, Communications, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Health Care Analytics, Marketing, Operations Management, Operations Research, Organizational Behavior, Strategy, Sustainability
4 University of Florida (Hough) Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Management, Marketing, Strategy, Technology
5 University of Southern California (Marshall) Accounting, Business Analytics, Statistics, Data Science, The Business of Creative Industries, Business of Education, Business of Entertainment, Entrepreneurship, Finance and Business Academics, Health Care Advisory Systems, Information Systems, Management and Organization, Marketing, Operations Management, Supply Chain Management, Sustainability, Society, and Business, Technology Development and E-Business
6 Pennsylvania State University (Smeal) Accounting Foundations, Advanced Accounting, Business Analytics, Business Architecture, Business Sustainability Strategy, Community and Economic Development, Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Cybersecurity Intelligence Leadership, Engineering Leadership and Innovation Management, Finance, General Management, Health Care Business, Homeland Security, Human Resource Management, International Affairs, Management Consulting, Marketing Analytics, Negotiation and Influence, Project Management, Public Administration, Strategic Leadership, Supply Chain Management
7 University of Mississippi Business Planning and Entrepreneurship, Financial Analysis, Managerial Accounting, Project Analysis, Supply Chain Management, Strategic Marketing Management, Management of Technology and Innovation
8 University of Texas — Dallas (Jindal) Accounting, Business Analytics, Energy Management, Finance, Healthcare Leadership and Management, Information Technology Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Internal Audit, International Management, Leadership in Organizations, Marketing, Real Estate, Strategic Management, Supply Chain Management, Systems Engineering and Management
9 Villanova University Finance, Marketing, Analytics, Strategic Management, International Business
10 Arizona State University (Carey) Finance, International Business, Marketing, Supply Chain Management
10 University of Arizona (Eller) Entrepreneurship, Finance, Health Care Management, Management and Organizations, Privacy and Security, Marketing
10 University of Maryland — College Park (Smith) Corporate Finance, Data Analysis, Entrepreneurship, Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Managerial Economics and Policy, Marketing Management, Strategic Information Systems, Supply Chain Management
10 University of Washington (Foster) Data Analysis, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Global Strategy, Marketing Analytics, Operations Management, Supply Chain Management
10 University of Wisconsin Accounting, Communication, E-Commerce, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Finance, Health Care Administration, Human Resources, Information Technology, International Business, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Non-Profit, Project Management, Supply Chain, Sustainability
15 Ball State University (Miller) Artificial Intelligence, Business Analytics, Construction Management, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Healthcare Administration, Health Economics Policy and Administration, Information Technology Leadership, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Sales Management, General MBA
15 James Madison University Business Law, Entrepreneurship, Investment Analysis, Management, Marketing, Negotiations and Conflict Management,
15 North Carolina State University BioSciences Management, Financial Management, Innovation Management, Marketing Management, Supply Chain Management, Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization
18 Auburn University (Harbert) Financial Analysis, Global Business, Organizational Leadership, Marketing, Strategic Analysis
18 Lehigh University Business Analytics, Corporate, Entrepreneurship, Finance, International Business, Marketing, Project Management, Supply Chain Management
18 University of Utah (Eccles) Business Strategy, Marketing Strategy and Analysis, Information Systems, Business Analytics, Finance, Healthcare Administration, Engineering, Entertainment Arts and Engineering, Business Law, Business and Medicine
18 Washington State University Marketing, Finance, Hospitality Business Management, International Business, General MBA

Application Requirements for Online MBA Programs

Now that you’ve seen what different programs specialize in, it’s time to think about the application process. If an online MBA is right for you, you want to maximize your chances so that you can get into the very top universities. Here’s what most online MBA programs expect you to bring to the table.

Transcripts: Online MBA programs want to see your undergraduate transcript to get a sense of your classroom performance. You don’t need a certain major or undergraduate GPA to qualify for admission.

GRE/GMAT Score: Since the GMAT and the GRE test various writing and analytical skills, schools pay special attention to this score. Some institutions have a minimum score required for students to receive certain benefits. For example, USC Marshall offers merit scholarships to new students if they achieve test scores of 640 on the GMAT or 315 on the GRE. 

Work Experience and Resumé: Similar to in-person MBA programs, the online counterparts also expect you to bring a significant amount of work experience. For example, USC specifies that students need at least 2 years in the workforce to apply for the program. Your resumé can include the following:

  • A brief look at your career record: Which industries have you worked in? How many promotions have you received?
  • Career achievements: What projects have you led? Have you won any awards?
  • Experiences that can help you succeed at the MBA program: How has your past prepared you for your time in business school?

Programs outline different specifications in their requirements so pay attention to what the website says! You can learn more about the dos and don’ts of the MBA resumé in this blog.


Essays for online MBAs are program-specific and are geared towards helping admissions committees understand who you are and how their institution can help you reach your goals. In order to answer these prompts, you need to frame the biggest factors behind your choice of a school in terms of how they align with your personality and aspirations. Some example prompts include:

University of Mississippi: 

The typed Statement of Purpose (about 400 words) should address the following questions:

  • Why have you chosen to pursue the MBA?
  • How will these studies help you attain your career goals?
  • Is there anything you wish us to know that is not reflected in the other application materials? 

University of Washington (a hybrid program):

Essay 1:

Describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work (other than a job or career change). Briefly describe the circumstances, the pros and cons of the various options and how you responded. Given the benefit of hindsight, do you think you made the best decision? Why or why not? What would you have done differently, if anything? What did you learn? 

Note: A significant portion of your essay should cover a “post-mortem” analysis of the situation and your decision. We are less interested in your specific action, but rather your capacity for self-reflection.

This essay is about assessing your critical thinking skills and ability to learn from past experiences. (1500 word maximum)

Personal Statement

The Personal Statement should be a maximum of 1000 words and must address both of the questions below:

  • The format of an online degree program can be a challenge for some learners. Online programs require discipline, self-direction, resourcefulness, follow-through, and the ability to actively seek help when needed. Considering this, why do you think you will be successful in this Hybrid MBA Program? Describe a situation in which you successfully demonstrated these qualities. (500 word maximum)
  • Why have you decided to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Why do you think the Hybrid MBA Program is the best fit for you? (500 word maximum)

Your essays should stand out as it is your chance to tell business schools your unique story. Be as specific as possible. Saying you want to work in consulting or in investment banking once you’ve received your MBA is far from enough. It tells nothing unique about you. Why do you want to work where you do? How can an online or hybrid format benefit you? What kind of consulting firms are you looking for and why? How do you hope to leverage your experiences and education to create something bigger? The more specific you are to your own goals and story, the more you can stand out to the reader. 

Gather all of your materials according to the deadlines and make sure you submit your application on time!

Online MBA programs provide flexible routes for students to expand their career prospects while still partaking in their jobs or other responsibilities. If you’re considering this path, make sure you’ve carefully chosen a school that can provide you with a specialization choice that can help you grow in your field. Carefully outline your goals and interests in your essays and hopefully you’ll give yourself a fair shot at admission. Good luck!

Schedule a free consultation

to find out how we can help you get accepted.