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Is an online MBA a real substitute for a campus degree? Yes, say those who studied on these online programmes and who roundly endorse the format.
Eighty-six per cent of online MBA graduates who responded to a Financial Times poll* on the subject said they would not study on a campus-based MBA. Of the remainder, just 4 per cent regret taking the virtual route, while 10 per cent were undecided.
Of the 206 respondents who completed the FT poll, 98 per cent would recommend their programme to others and 83 per cent gave a score of eight out of 10 or higher when ranking the value for money aspect of their course.
It all sounds promising, but is there anything the class of 2010 wishes they had known before embarking on their course?
About half of the participants – 48 per cent – said their programme was more time-consuming than expected. Others said it was essential to get support from your employer. Without this, one graduate claims this led to no holidays and little free time for a few years.
One individual recalls the school making it clear that the workload was just as demanding as traditional programmes: “Still, in the back of my mind I was hoping they weren’t right. However, it was as rigorous as they warned – probably better for me in the end, but people going into a top online programme, such as I did, shouldn’t expect a free lunch on the workload.”
Juggling work and study priorities can have an effect on personal life. One graduate recommends her course, but with caveats. “If you have high family obligations, you better have strong support to cover you,” she warns.
Having the right equipment is also important. As one student stresses – you need to have your own personal computer rather than relying on the one at work, otherwise you never see home.
About 29 per cent said their MBA was more challenging than expected. One respondent explains: “For some reason, I thought an online programme would be easier than in the classroom or at least less challenging. By comparing notes with friends in other MBA programmes I found it to be just as hard as classroom programmes.”
There were mixed reviews about successful networking, as studying at a distance can pose challenges when it comes to interacting with peers. About 65 per cent believed their school could have done better in providing more networking opportunities.
Another graduate laments, “One of the greatest limitations of an online MBA is the lack of networking with fellow students and faculty. In this respect, this is probably not the best option if you plan for a radical job change, that is, from a technical position to a managerial one . . . as recruiters quickly put labels on people and an online MBA is usually perceived as a nice add-on but definitely not as a game changer.”
Also, 51 per cent of the group indicate, in varying degrees, that the school could have provided more on-campus activities. One participant wishes there were more opportunities to meet other students in the region.
In contrast, one individual notes: “There is a misconception that online programmes don’t have good networking opportunities. However, I believe it to be opposite. As most of my colleagues were from every corner of the globe and we were so used to being in touch via online methods, we are still very much in contact and I now have someone in every continent I can reach out to.”
Similarly, one respondent argues that: “Networking with other students was really up to our respective schedules. In some cases, students were located in other countries, which added a unique real-world complexity that would not be experienced in the classroom.”
The poll reveals an average score of seven out of 10 when it came to ease of networking and communicating with fellow students, where one was difficult and 10 very easy. Email is the preferred medium for communicating and networking, it seems, followed by the school’s online learning system and online forums.
In terms of career impact, 59 per cent of graduates managed to secure a job offer graduation and 57 per cent also got a promotion as a result of their MBA. Perhaps more importantly, 66 per cent managed to apply what they had learnt in the workplace.
However, some employers remain unconvinced about online MBA programmes because they are not ranked. As a consequence, one graduate complained, they are not always taken seriously by recruiters.
Another respondent says it is difficult to get access to an internship if you are still working and even if you are not in employment - there is no time between classes to take advantage of work placements.
“If you are looking at the MBA to change career paths, this is a limiting factor because internships are the main ways companies recruit. You are more likely to continue with your existing career path and job you had before starting the MBA even if you want to change,” he adds.
*The Financial Times polled 448 managers who graduated from one of the 15 top online MBA programmes in 2010. Some 206 completed the poll, a response rate of 46 per cent.