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Business School at Your Fingertips:

Press the right buttons for an online MBA Degree

By Margaret W. Crane

In today's knowledge-based economy, an MBA is one of the most coveted professional degrees on offer. It's the gold standard credential you need to stay competitive, increase your earning potential, and fast-track your career as a manager or executive.

If you're a working adult with a job and a family, you probably can't afford to take time off from your job to attend business school. Your career, income, and personal responsibilities are at stake. If you could find a flexible academic program for "grownups"- one tailored to your schedule and career objectives - you'd consider going for it.

Today, there are dozens of high-quality online MBA programs to choose from that put this prestigious degree well within the reach of adult learners like you. In the virtual classroom, students can study at your own pace and from the comfort of your home. But distance education isn't for everybody. Your success as an online MBA student will depend on your maturity, motivation, and willingness to invest in your personal and professional development.

Know Yourself

As a prospective online MBA student, your first assignment is to conduct an honest self-assessment by answering the following:

  • As a student, will you be able to work independently?
  • Are you good at time management?
  • Do you have clear career goals?
  • Are you comfortable with computers and the Internet?
  • Do you have the motivation and self-confidence?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, you should consider yourself a promising online MBA student.

Find your MBA Program

Your second order of business is to find an online MBA program that meets your individual needs. You'll want to look at a number of important factors:

  • Is the institution accredited or state licensed?
  • Does the program have a track record of success?
  • Are residencies required?
  • How long will it take to complete the degree?
  • What does the program cost?

As you conduct your investigation of distance MBA programs you will find that some are highly interactive via phone, email, and local affinity groups, while others involve far less interaction. Programs range from structured to free-form. While some are conducted entirely online, others combine distance learning with periodic face-to-face, "ground-based" study.

Most online MBA courses are offered through a mix of online lectures, case studies, videoconferencing, and threaded discussions, all accessed through the program's Web site. Business Week reports that the best distance courses are rich in multimedia and full of role-playing and real-life simulations. Online education links students and teachers from geographically scattered locations, creating a uniquely 21st-century student learning community. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, a virtual MBA can be a great way to expand your network around the world.

More than just a Business Degree

Depending on the breadth of the MBA program you choose, you may also have the opportunity to specialize in one of the following focus areas:

The MBA core curriculum is shaped by local, national, and global business trends. As an online business school student, you will take courses covering the full spectrum of disciplines and business functions.

Online MBA Quality

All online MBA programs are not created equal, but the best ones compare favorably to traditional college business school programs. The best online programs provide students the same high-quality instruction and course offerings as their campus-based counterparts. The only real difference between them lies in the way education is delivered, not in the substance of what is taught.

Beyond the issue of cost, students may have concerns around the acceptability of online degree programs among employers. There is mounting evidence that the better online MBA programs can hold their own compared with respected brick-and-mortar business schools. Many HR managers have even reported a preference for online degrees, as they indicate a capacity for independent study and self-directed work. According to a GMAC survey, corporate recruiters favor MBA degree holders with pre-MBA work experience.

Great Expectations

Although graduate school can be expensive, you are likely to realize an impressive return on your investment in your education. Statistics from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) - the organization that administers the GMAT exam - indicate that MBA graduates can increase their pre-MBA salaries by as much as 50%. What's more, many online MBA programs are far more affordable than campus-based ones, according to a recent article in the Financial Times (March 22, 2004).

As an online MBA student, you can continue to earn as you learn and rack up valuable work experience as you go. At the end of the process, you'll emerge with a credential that will accelerate your career trajectory and give you the self-confidence you need to compete successfully in today's competitive business environment. Business school is literally at your fingertips; press the right buttons and you'll be on the road to career success with an online MBA.

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