Employers often can't tell, and may not even care, whether you got your MBA by studying online.
Founder and Director of Unicurve.com
18 March, 2019
Getting an MBA online might seem a bit too easy compared to the usual study grind. You login into your study portal, in your spare moments at home or work, and eventually earn yourself a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
Being able to study for a high-value degree in the online mode has prompted people like Robert Klecha and Chris Holtzer to ask, “Are online MBAs respected?” Is the catch for the flexibility and affordability of distance learning that your degree is seen as less credible by employers?
As a company owner and former government recruiter, I can tell you that having an MBA qualification gives you a career advantage. It demonstrates commitment to being the best manager you can be.
You gain respect whether you study online or go to the trouble of attending classes in person. But there is one caveat to all this: the business school you choose still matters. The adage, “You get what you pay for,” holds true for online MBA programs just as it does with other things in life.
Online MBAs are Convenient But Not Easy
As anyone who has tried it quickly learns, studying online for an MBA is convenient but also challenging. Discipline is always required to be a good student. When studying online, the requirements are even greater.
The thing about studying 100% online is that you miss out on energy from the group. You don’t see your instructors and classmates in person. This cuts out motivation sources, making the achievement of completing your MBA even more deserving of recognition.
To illustrate, these are the sorts of thoughts you might have during an in-person class:
- “Gee, some of these people aren’t switched on. With a little effort, I should do better than them on the next quiz.”
- “She seems so organised and prepared. I should try to be more like her.”
- “The tutor really cares about how we’re going. I’ll try harder on the next assignment so they won’t be disappointed.”
- “I’ll pay close attention during this next bit so I can participate in the class discussion at the end.”
Online MBA courses can help make up for such loss of personal contact with digital communication and student networking. You can interact via emails, chat forums, online class participation, online group projects, etc. Online learners have also come up with study strategies to stay motivated.
But there is no doubt that earning a full university degree such as an MBA online is a real achievement. You demonstrate the determination and organisational skills to finish a long series of requisite tasks – without meeting others in person as part of it. You graduate as a proven self-motivated person, as an independent doer.
Is that an Online MBA? Employers Find It Hard to Tell
When you get your actual MBA degree – the paper or digital testamur – it doesn’t have “Online MBA” or “Online Degree” stamped in big red letters across it. Your qualification is simply “Master of Business Administration” or similar.
Employers usually don’t know if an MBA has been earned through online study. Most Australian universities offering online MBAs also have on-campus programs. You can get your MBA from them either way, and there’s nothing on your testamur to indicate the study mode.
According to the latest education statistics, just as many MBA students study online as attend a campus regularly.
It’s also normal to write on your CV or resume just that you have an MBA from such and such university and graduated in the year that you did. You're not expected to indicate whether it was achieved online.
Even in a job interview, where any questions about education are usually chatty rather than pointed, you can choose how to talk about your qualifications. You might want to use your online studies as a selling point to, say, explain how you managed to balance study with work. But an alternate option may be open as well: to simply not mention that you were a distance learner.
Most Business Schools are About Equal in People’s Minds
Here’s the lowdown from someone who has done lots of recruiting. Just in terms of credentials, the business school that you study with is unlikely to determine whether you get a job / promotion.
There are some exceptions of course. If you have an MBA from Wharton or the London Business School, for example, you may be seen in a different light. A recruiter will likely be impressed that you got into such an institution, probably with the help of an employer who thought you were worth investing in.
But, generally speaking, most business schools are rated about the same in people’s minds. So you got your MBA from the University of New England and not the University of Western Australia or University of Newcastle. Who really cares, especially given all the other information a recruiter has in front of them such as references and work history?
Employers have to take in lots of information when doing a recruitment round. They won’t normally check the MBA rankings tables. They need to assess applicants with different types of qualifications anyway, such as people with masters degrees in non-management fields.
Recruiters have lots of information to process. They'll see you've got an MBA, give you credit for that, and usually just move on to the rest of your application.
A recruiter is unlikely to notice if, say, you studied with a business school mainly offering online degrees. Even if they do, they won’t automatically hold it against you. Employers these days are generally receptive towards online MBAs, especially as technology blurs the boundaries between on-campus and online courses.
A common piece of advice, though, is that you should go into any interview prepared to discuss the virtues of your online learning experience. The issue may not arise but there's always a chance you could be probed about your education and how it's relevant for the particular role.
But You Still Only Get What You Pay For
If you want to people to respect your MBA qualification, just make sure the program is credible. Generally, that means you should avoid the cheapest options. Australia's best-value online MBAs, while well-priced, charge more than basement-level fees.
Online MBA programs are generally able to offer value for money because online delivery is a cost saver. Tuition fee savings of up to 50 per cent are possible by methods such as running larger classes and using expert digital trainers rather than star academics.
If an online program is very cheap, however, you can be fairly sure corners are being cut. Student support may be patchy, for example, and the content may be outdated or delivered using old technology.
Good business schools that maintain a strong reputation don’t offer ultra-cheap accredited MBAs. So be prepared to pay a little extra for a high-quality program. Doing a "non-cheap" online MBA gives you a better guarantee of gaining employer respect. You should also have a richer, more enjoyable learning experience.