Founder and CEO of Haroun Education Ventures, Inc.
Online MBA programs are becoming an increasingly popular option for professionals looking to level up their careers.
Citing data from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) noted in its 2022 summary report that one “of the many effects of the pandemic” impacted graduate management education (GME) was “a rapid shift to online learning, especially in the United States, where total enrollments in Online MBA programs exceeded that of full-time MBA enrollments for the first time in the 2020-21 academic year.”
Professionals find both traditional (offered by universities) and non-traditional (provided by other types of organizations, like my company) online MBA programs attractive for good reasons. Key among them? Online MBA programs don’t require the financial, logistical and emotional stress of moving or commuting to get an education.
But with so many options on the market, choosing the right program—and properly leveraging it after enrollment—can be challenging. If you’re thinking about starting an online MBA program, here are some key considerations.
1. Focus On The Curriculum, Not The Brand Name
One of the biggest mistakes applicants make when evaluating online (and in-person) MBA programs is focusing on the brand name offering the degree rather than the curriculum. This is a mistake for two main reasons.
First, just because an institution has a good reputation does not mean its curriculum is suitable for your needs. For instance, if you’re interested in getting an online MBA to enhance your entrepreneurial skills and start your own company, you shouldn’t enroll in a program centered on corporate strategy, no matter how well-known the institution is.
Second, some curriculums are centered on theoretical concepts that are difficult to apply to the real world. With a theoretical curriculum, you’ll gain a solid foundation in the theories behind business fundamentals and best practices, but you might not necessarily get many, if any, opportunities to practically apply those theories during the program (via activities like group projects and internships), which can hinder your progress post-graduation.
As you research different online MBA programs, look into their curriculums. Learn which classes students are expected to take and whether the classes are primarily asynchronous or synchronous. If the programs you’re considering have syllabi posted online, read through them to get a sense of the readings, assignments and activities you’ll be required to complete. Try to interview graduates of the programs you’re researching as well—there’s a lot you can learn from them in a short conversation, such as how hands-on their classes were and whether they felt the program helped them land a job.
2. Build Authentic Relationships With Your Peers
Porter Gale, marketing expert and the author of the book, Your Network Is Your Net Worth, stressed the importance of networking in a 2013 article from the Huffington Post article. She wrote, “your social capital, or your ability to build a network of authentic personal and professional relationships, not your financial capital, is the most important asset in your portfolio.”
In-person MBA programs create ample networking opportunities via formal events and informal channels (such as spontaneous conversations and hangouts that can occur after class). Unfortunately, given the nature of online courses, it is more challenging to network and build authentic relationships with other students. But, like with many things in life, you can carve your own opportunities and find ways to bond with your peers.
Once you’ve gotten accepted to and enrolled in an online program, you should prioritize creating strong relationships with fellow students. If your online MBA program offers virtual meetups, attend them. Be proactive about setting up Zoom calls with your classmates; Zoom is free to use as long as the meetings are less than 40 minutes long and have fewer than 100 participants. If you’re visiting a city where one of your classmates lives, make plans to get coffee. If you notice that someone always writes interesting responses to your class’s discussion questions, start a conversation with them about their ideas. Make sure to connect with your classmates on LinkedIn.
Avoid isolating yourself. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first, make an effort to connect with your peers—and you might make lifelong friends who become your biggest advocates in the business world.
3. Emphasize Absorbing And Applying What You Learn
One of my favorite sayings is, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” You can learn all the business concepts in the world, but without applying them, you won’t be putting your education into practice.
In business school, it can be easy to fall into the mode of wanting to earn the highest grades possible. But in my experience, a high GPA in an MBA program is a “nice-to-have,” but not really a “must-have.” Consider a 2021 report by GMAC which found that recruiters most highly value the following in business school graduates:
• “Interpersonal skills” (80%)
• “Learning, motivation, and leadership” (75%)
• “Managing decision making processes” (64%)
• “Strategic and systems skills” (61%)
• “Managing strategy and innovation” (61%)
Of course, you want to earn good grades, especially if you are in a program with a minimum GPA requirement for students to remain enrolled. But emphasize genuinely understanding the material before you and absorbing what you learn rather than putting all your energy into securing certain grades. Plus, chances are that when you enjoy the process of learning in and of itself, the grades will follow.
What’s more, absorbing what you’ve learned is one thing, and applying what you’ve learned is another. Apply the concepts you learn in your MBA courses while you’re a student and beyond, such as when you’re creating class presentations, working on a group project, writing a resume or LinkedIn profile, interviewing for jobs, investing, creating a business plan and putting together a business portfolio.
By putting the business concepts you learn into practice, you’ll be well on the path to reaching your career goals—and securing an even brighter future for yourself.
Haroun Education Ventures, Inc. is the company behind The Haroun MBA Degree Program, a one-year, 300+ hour online MBA degree program with over 1.5 million paying students from around the world.
Founded in 2016 by Chris Haroun, Haroun Education Ventures emphasizes teaching students practical business concepts that they can apply to the real world. Haroun MBA graduates have gotten jobs at some of the world’s top companies, including Golman Sachs, [ADD COMPANY] and [ADD COMPANY].
In May 2023, Haroun Education Ventures released its seventh annual gold and platinum MBA degree program, which both provide students with 500 hours worth of lessons, Zoom group meetings with their instructor (Chris Haroun), an in-person graduation and networking event and more.
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