After examining the pros and cons of getting an online MBA degree and finally making the life changing commitment of pursuing an online MBA, aspiring graduate students move to the challenging task of choosing the best business schools to apply to. Unfortunately, many students fail to make the right choice that would best serve their education and career.
For most online MBA students, choosing the right school has more to do with cost and convenience than with educational standard and reputation. However, the fact of the matter is that, just as in traditional MBA courses, there are much more important factors to be considered other than mere personal ease and low expense.
MBA Program and Univesity Accreditation
The first questions you should ask yourself when deciding on an online MBA school is whether it is accredited or not. And a mere yes to this question will not suffice. You need to do your homework on the body that has issued the accreditation status to the school in question.
What is AACSB Accreditation
The entity most favored by recruiters at top corporate firms is The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The AACSB is one of the oldest boards for business school accreditation, and it also happens to have some of the most stringent criteria. This means that online MBA schools which comply with this board have a high quality curriculum that is taught by the same professors who also teach regular courses, and that provides regular communication between the teachers and the students.
Most AACSB accredited schools will have a tough admission procedure, often requiting a GMAT test. There are just 68 schools that are accredited by this board; less than half of these schools allow students to apply with a GMAT – provided that an advanced degree is already in the applicant’s possession, or that the applicant has at least 8 years of managerial experience.
Regional University Accreditation
If an AACSB accredited degree is too expensive, your next choice of an online MBA program should be certified by a regional board recognized by the federal government e.g. North Central Association of Colleges and Schools or Higher Learning Commission. There are a total of six such boards, one for each of the regional divisions of the US, and all are non-governmental bodies.
Other Types of Accreditation
As a last resort, you can opt for a Distance Education and Training Council accredited school. The DETC may be recognized by the DoE and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. However, you should note that this type of accreditation is considered inferior when compared to regional accreditation, which is why transferring credits from a DETC accredited school to a regional accredited school can be difficult.
No matter what type of accreditation you choose, you must keep an eye out for fake colleges toting accreditations from bogus boards.
To make sure that your business school of choice has a legitimate accreditation, check the DoE’s database official list of accreditation boards; anything outside this list should raise questions. Moreover, take a look at this Diploma Mill Police listing over 300 untrustworthy online schools.
The Importance of MBA Program Reputation
The opinion your future employers hold for your chosen school is tantamount to getting a successful career out of your online MBA degree. It is true that corporations give preference to regular degree holders, especially when it comes to very high ranking positions. For online MBA students, who aim for a fulfilling above average paying career, this isn’t an issue. Here is what you need to do in order to ascertain whether your chosen school has a good enough reputation:
- Make a list of the companies where you would like to work in the future, after you have gotten your graduate degree.
- Contact each company’s Human Resources department or the exec search firm working for the company to inquire about their policy regarding online MBAs. Ask whether the company prefers specific schools. If you have your eyes set on one or more business schools for your online MBA, ask if the degrees granted by these schools are acceptable by the company.
- Make sure that you check the leading business school ranking publications such as S. News and World Report, GetEducated.com, The Princeton Review to see what their experts have to say about the most reputed schools at the time of your application. You will find a common trend in these institutions that they have AACSB accreditations, require GMAT and enjoy approximate rates of completion at 80 to 95 percent.
Remember that the five schools mentioned above are not the express tickets to success. You can attend any other business school, but you need to ensure that it enjoys the following:
- Sound local reputation
- Acceptance and good reputation at your targeted firm
- It is well known in your field
- It has previously produced successful graduates
The Importance of MBA Program Rankings
What is the difference between reputation and rankings, you may ask. Previously, there was almost no difference at all. Nowadays, however, the ranking model for online MBA programs is showing a shifting trend. The traditional ranking model valued the school’s reputation as the deciding factor in the rankings, which lead to the most expensive programs coming out on top. The school’s reputation is now being phased out as a ranking metric, and is being replaced by criteria such as alumni salaries and debt load. This has turned over the entire ranking system online MBA students had come to expect.
The best example for this is Forbes’s 2014 Top American Colleges rankings. It is clear from these rankings that not only is online mode of delivery on the way up, conventional metrics are being replaced by what the college has to offer in terms of future job surety for the bill the student is footing. In a nutshell, unless you are shooting for the very summit, choosing an Ivy League program over a regular accredited well reputed program will not be as important as you may think. What your employer will value the most is the knowledge you have accumulated through your studies.
Cost and Financial Aid for MBA Programs
Many students have cost as a deciding factor when it comes to choosing their online MBA program. Cost, however cannot be the deciding factor alone; it must go hand in hand with factors such as accreditation and reputation.
A cheap online MBA degree costing about $20,000 won’t be as worthwhile as an AACSB accredited program with an average expense of $32,000. The key element here is to choose a degree whose price tag and career prospects are in line. What you should think about is the returns you are getting from your investment. A cheap degree that does little to advance your career is a bad investment when compared to a slightly more expensive degree with ACSB accreditation that will bring you a wide array of opportunities after completion.
Choose a cheap program on the expense of accreditation if your professional aims are not overly ambitious, otherwise it is better to stick with an AACSB accredited school that costs more, but also opens up more avenues of employment for you.
You should also pay heed to the financial aid prospects at the school in question as they could significantly reduce the cost of the program once factored in, allowing you to get a better degree within your budget.
If the Forbes’ rankings are any indicator, the trend for traditional enrollments is going down as expenses for regular programs go up, with an increased preference for online medium of delivery for the curriculum. Prospective online MBA students should rejoice since this means that the global market has begun to consider online degrees parallel to their regular counterparts. If they can make the right choice of online MBA School by giving due weight to factors such as accreditation, reputation, ranking and expenses, these students will definitely be able to use the help of their online degree to achieve a fulfilling career.