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How to choose the best online MBA for you, according to students who've used these affordable, flexible degrees to launch their careers

How to choose the best online MBA for you, according to students who've used these affordable, flexible degrees to launch their careers

college of william and mary

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The College of William and Mary offers an online MBA program, which allows students more flexibility as they complete their studies.

  • Picking the online MBA program that best aligns with your career goals and passions is no walk in the park - and with hundreds of remote options, it can certainly be overwhelming.
  • Business Insider spoke with six current and former MBA students to understand how they ended up at their respective programs.
  • When looking at options, these students suggest checking out not just the program's location, ranking, ratings, and curriculum, but also what its frameworks are, whether its competency-based, and how flexible it is in terms of deadlines and class structure.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

When selecting an online MBA program, it can feel like there are almost too many options to choose from.

Business Insider polled students from a variety of schools who have earned (or are currently earning) an online MBA to learn about their experiences. As you think through your own needs and preferences, use these stories as a guide to help you target the right school for you and your career goals to earn an online graduate business degree.

Look for a program that offers a specialized focus on your industry

Christin Gomes, a senior marketing manager in Atlanta, successfully completed her online MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in two years as part of the first graduating class of the program in 2018. "I completely enjoyed my experience and felt that it helped me transition into a more strategic marketing role and career path," Gomes said. "It has also assisted me with my entrepreneurial pursuits."

Christin Gomes 2

Courtesy of Christin Gomes

Christin Gomes.

The remote program featured weekly virtual classes, office hours with professors, and group assignments with five to six members across the world. The class also met in person on campus once a year and hosted various meetups in cities across the US.

Gomes emphasized that the program attracted many students in senior or executive positions in their industries. "That set it apart from many other programs I was considering," she said.

A key reason for Gomes' selection of her online program was that while many virtual MBA offerings feature general curriculums, the University of Illinois online MBA program allowed her to specialize and focus her degree in a specific industry - digital marketing and entrepreneurship.

"Specializations are sometimes hard to come by when considering professional MBA programs, and this program is truly flexible in class schedule and course offering," said Gomes. "So choosing this one became a no-brainer for me. Also, the reasonable tuition of $20,000 didn't hurt my decision! As a grad of a private institution, going into further debt was not an option for me."

Seek out a program with unique frameworks that best suit your learning style

Recent MBA graduate Eulica Kimber, who is also a certified public accountant, just completed the online MBA program at the College of William and Mary in May 2019. Kimber said that she selected William and Mary because it is a cohesive cohort program centered around design thinking and addressing what the school calls "wicked problems."

Eulica Kimber

Courtesy of Eulica Kimber

Eulica Kimber.

"Each course is tied to the 'wicked problem,' and students are required to document the connection of each respective course to their self-developed 'wicked problem,'" explained Kimber.

Kimber's problem to solve was figuring out how to bring business knowledge to unregistered business owners. As a result, she spent the summer creating an online business academy, Plan2Pro$per, with plans to offer scholarships to small business owners.

"I've never been so excited about my business," said Kimber. "With the knowledge gained through my online MBA, I've found my passion and moved from a traditional accounting firm to offering training for small businesses."

Consider a program's location as well as their ranking, price, and curriculum

Another recent graduate from the William and Mary online MBA program is Katie Hotze, founder and CEO of Grocery Shopii. A decade ago, Hotze earned half of an MBA from a part-time program at Virginia Commonwealth University before she chose to stop taking classes due to a difficult pregnancy. In 2017, she started over with her MBA goal by switching gears to William and Mary's remote program and describes it as "fantastic": "Online MBA students take the program very seriously," she said. "They are not looking to burn an extra two years while searching for themselves. They tend to be focused and competitive."

Katie Hotze headshot

Courtesy of Katie Hotze

Katie Hotze.

When deciding on an online MBA program, Hotze extensively researched her options, explaining that she "cared deeply" about the school's ranking since she worked in the consulting space where Ivy League degrees were the norm. She whittled her wish list down based on geography (she was based in North Carolina), as well as the ranking of the university's MBA program. The final three programs on her short list were the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (online), William and Mary (online), and Wake Forest (part-time via remote campus in uptown Charlotte).

"Chapel Hill was the number-one online MBA program at the time; however, their price tag was $100,000 compared to William and Mary's $58,000," explained Hotze. "The price tag became a powerful driver as the global consulting firm I worked for would only fund $10,000 per year, so I was responsible for the balance." And with her busy travel schedule and family life, she decided to pass on commuting to Wake Forest twice a week.

"Once I narrowed in on William and Mary, I was so impressed by the curriculum," Hotze said. "Each class built upon the last, and all students were required to take the same 12 classes." She also points to the "wicked problem" as another draw to the program. "I learned so much through that required real-time application," she said.

James Badia, who works in luxury real estate sales in Charleston, South Carolina, was able to earn his online MBA from Marylhurst University in one and a half years while working full time, and graduated in 2013.

James Badia

Courtesy of James Badia

James Badia.

"The program was very aggressive, and I spent about 30 to 40 hours each week studying," said Badia. "Being able to do all of the work from home and not attending in a classroom made the program much easier. Professors were always available to help with questions."

Badia explained that he chose Marylhurst for several reasons, but, "the main reason was that this was an established university, with a physical campus. It was over 100 years old and was not an online-only university. I was very concerned with the quality of the program along with the perception it would yield upon graduation," he said.

Research the program's enrollment format and see whether it's competency-based

Public relations manager Casey Schow is currently working on his online MBA through Western Governors University (WGU) and recently received a Master's in Leadership and Management from the online college.

Casey Schow

Courtesy of Casey Schow

Casey Schow.

"It's great because students can go at their own pace, any time and anywhere they want," said Schow. "WGU is disrupting the traditional education model. One way they do that is by having enrollment all year round versus fall or winter programs that offer only select classes during that semester." Schow's personal goal is to complete two Master's degrees in 18 months, while working full time and spending quality time with his family.

In addition to the enrollment structure, Schow added this additional motivator that led to his choice of school: "WGU is a competency-based program. The semester is six months long and you take one class at a time, going as fast or slow as you need to. If you are well versed in one specific topic you can quickly finish that class, leaving you more time to focus on what you need to learn, rather than what you already know."

Check out online reviews from current and previous students

LaKenya Kopf earned her MBA from online university American Military University (AMU). "Due to being pregnant and working full time, I had the same reasons as most people deciding to attend a remote school - control over my schedule," said Kopf. "I would tell anyone who is interested in pursuing an MBA to take advantage of a remote program, as it melds better with the demands of everyday life."

LaKenya Kopf head shot

Courtesy of LaKenya Kopf

LaKenya Kopf.

After reviewing and comparing the curriculums for available online schools, she was impressed by the courses provided by AMU. "The degree outline was not full of philosophical or fluff classes like I saw with other online MBA programs," said Kopf. "I had business law, marketing, and calculus courses that were relevant to my degree."

But one of the key influencers of her decision came down to how peers in the program rated their experience of online MBA programs. "I checked online reviews from other students who attended [AMU] and they raved about the professors and support staff," said Kopf. Badia, too, reports that reading positive online reviews from other students helped tilt his decision to attend Merylhurst.

Scope out how flexible the program is

Kopf reports that attending AMU was convenient, affordable, and flexible. "I was normally provided new lessons on Mondays and had until Sunday to complete them," she recalled. While students were also required to post in group discussions during the week, Kopf said it was clearly understood and communicated that most people attending were doing the program "between jobs, while kids were at school, or whenever life allowed it."

There was no pressure to finish the entire program within a certain amount of time, explained Kopf, who completed the program in 23 months and graduated with honors.