Is Online MBA Worth It? In a Word, Yes.

Is Online MBA Worth It? In a Word, Yes.

February 12, 2021 | Read Time: 8.5 Minutes

By John Crawford

Sure, earning an MBA can sound like a smart idea, at least on paper. An MBA can open up career advancement opportunities, and the increased salary and status that comes along with it. But, what does the reality of earning an MBA degree look like? Because, let’s face it, you lead a busy life. 

  • Will you be able to handle assignments and classes when you’ve got work to do and errands to run? 
  • If you’re a parent, how will you juggle soccer practice, piano lessons, and the myriad other responsibilities on your plate with being a student again?
  • If you opt for an online MBA instead of a more traditional in-person full time MBA or part time MBA, will you still realize your career gains? 
  • And, let’s not forget the other issues about an MBA that you may be concerned about, such as if the cost is worth it and whether an online degree is even highly regarded.

Just reading these questions may make your head spin. The good news is we’re here to help you sort through the answers. The bottom line is that earning an MBA, particularly one that’s part time and online, isn’t as difficult as you think.

The Big Question: Is Online MBA Worth It?

When online degree programs were first introduced by for-profit higher education institutions starting in 1989, they were considered lower quality academic programs compared to traditional in-person programs. However, as more and more non-traditional students balanced work and school, employers saw the benefit of supporting employees in pursuit of improving their skills. 

Today, an online MBA is a well-respected degree that can offer students great flexibility to manage their busy lives, while allowing them to gain the broad-based skills required to advance their careers. 

That’s the short answer, but now let’s dig further. After all, that question—is online MBA worth it—can feel like a complicated one. Here are some of the issues worth pondering as you consider pursuing a part-time, online MBA:

  • What’s the difference between a full time MBA vs. part time MBA?
  • Is a part time MBA worth it in terms of salary potential?
  • Am I too old? Is a MBA worth it after 30?
  • What about flexibility? Can I work and be a parent and still go to school?
  • Is a part time MBA worth it in terms of its reputation?
  • Why does an MBA matter so much in today’s uncertain world?

Let’s look at these issues one at a time.

Full Time MBA Vs Part Time MBA: Which Is Best for Me?

Whether you are a good fit for a full time MBA vs. part time MBA comes down to where you stand in your career, whether you feel fulfilled and satisfied in your current situation or are in need of a completely new direction.

Middle managers already blessed with a job they enjoy are usually solid prospects for an online, part-time MBA. These working professionals are essentially people who like where their careers have led but are seeking roles involving greater strategy and responsibility.

By taking classes part time, they’ll be able to continue in their jobs while applying in the workplace the lessons they learn in real time. “They are able to see results right away,” says Colleen Hynes, the director of admissions at the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College.

By contrast, those stuck in jobs that they don’t find fulfilling, or who may be looking for a totally different career path, may be more suited to a full-time MBA. The more immersive degree choice will allow them to really take time to pursue internships and figure out a new direction for their career.

Is a Part Time MBA Worth It in Terms of Salary Potential?

Earn an online, part-time MBA degree, and you will have the potential to earn substantially more money, as well as have broader career options. MBA graduates earn higher starting salaries than those with undergraduate business degrees (for the Class of 2020, MBA grads averaged $20,000 more annually) and experience an overall salary increase of almost $37,000. And, if you graduate from a top MBA program, you’re more likely to earn $2.3 million in salary over a 20-year period and find a job that puts you on a faster track to a leadership position.

None of these results is particularly surprising, given the broad depth of business knowledge that an MBA imparts and that employers seek. Such an education will allow you to work with a wide range of stakeholders across an organization.

“The majority of the world still understands the deep business value of an MBA,” says Cheri Paulson P’19, senior director for the Graduate Center for Career Development at Babson. The Babson MBA was ranked third for career progression by Financial Times in 2022.

Just the analytics skills alone that MBA candidates learn are particularly valuable to potential employers, who are eager, regardless of industry, to hire employees who can find the insights hidden in data, Paulson says.

Is a MBA Worth It After 30?

A part-time MBA program is perfect for working professionals who already have a fair amount of experience. 

At Babson, typical part-time students have five to nine years of experience, though some have as little as two or three years or as many as 12 to 15. “There is not a set time for when you should go for it,” Hynes says. “It’s an individual decision.”

In terms of the ages of  full time MBA vs part time MBA students, the part-timers usually skew a little older. At Babson, the average age of a part-time MBA student is about 32.

Remember that at 32, you still have many years of work life left. With people working well into their 60s, an MBA earned later in life still affords plenty of opportunities for promotions and new jobs.

And, forget worrying about being 30. The same article quotes a survey that found 95 percent of MBA alumni who enrolled after the age of 40 found their education personally rewarding. So, is a MBA worth it after 30? So long as you have the curiosity and appetite for going back to school, you’ll be in good company with other adult students.

Flexibility Is a Factor

Being a good candidate for an MBA is one thing, but having the time and energy to pursue it is quite another.

To enroll in a full-time MBA program is to face an encompassing experience that must be completed in a set amount of time. Luckily, the big advantage of an online, part-time MBA is the flexibility it offers. At Babson, for instance, the part-time degree can be completed in as little as 18 months, though it also can be stretched out much longer than that.

Two and a half years is the average time it takes students to finish. However, wanting to minimize the amount of homework they receive each semester, or seeking to maximize the amount of employer reimbursement they obtain, some students may take several years or more to earn their degree. “It can be molded to what individual needs are,” Hynes says. “It comes down to the priority of what the student wants. For students who need to stretch it out, that’s an option.”

A part-time MBA is flexible in other ways as well. At Babson, a part-time degree can be completed completely online, but students can take classes in person, too. In fact, many courses allow students to switch from online to in person from week to week, depending on what their needs are. Even if they aren’t physically present, they can still participate remotely in a live class.

That seamlessness between online and in-person classes is particularly important during the pandemic, Hynes says. Even if COVID-19 limits students’ ability to learn in person, they still want the same quality of experience remotely.

Is a Part Time MBA Worth It in Terms of Its Reputation?

Potential employers don’t care if you are earning your MBA online and on a part-time basis. They are only interested in what you learned in your degree and not the manner in which you received it.

“An MBA is an MBA, no matter what mode you take it in,” says Paulson, pointing out that diplomas don’t list whether graduates took classes online or how many months or years it took them to finish.

At Babson, there is essentially no difference between a degree completed online and one completed in the classroom. “It’s the same part time mba courses, the same content, the same professors. It’s the same requirements for graduation,” Hynes says. “Ultimately, everyone earning a Babson MBA graduates with the same degree, regardless of if your classes were online or in person.”

Back to the Original Question: Is Online MBA Worth It?

If you value flexibility and are in the right stage of your career, a part-time, online MBA may very well be the right choice for you.

And, if you consider attending Babson, there may be one more critical reason that now is the right time to pursue an online MBA: entrepreneurial leadership. A hallmark of the learning experience at Babson, that creative, action-oriented mindset emphasizes finding opportunity despite uncertainty. In these dark days of the pandemic, when the foundations of our lives and jobs seem so unstable, entrepreneurial leadership is a critical asset to have in a career.

Companies are confronted with ambiguity, Paulson says, and they are looking for employees who know how to handle it. Entrepreneurial leadership has never been more highly sought after.

Hynes agrees. “If the pandemic has taught us anything,” she says, “it’s the people who see opportunities where others see challenges are those who not only survive but thrive.”

So, is online MBA worth it? In our uncertain days, maybe more than ever.

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About the Author

John Crawford is a senior journalist at Babson College. In addition to telling the College’s entrepreneurial story on Babson Thought & Action and in Babson Magazine, he has written articles and essays for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Notre Dame Magazine, The Good Men Project, and other publications. 

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