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An online MBA is no longer seen as a poor relation to a traditional on-campus degree, according to a recent Financial Times poll of alumni*.

About two-thirds of online MBA graduates in the survey, from the class of 2011 at schools in the 2015 ranking, say they did consider studying for a campus-based degree. However, an overwhelming 82 per cent are glad that they took the online learning route. Of the remainder, 13 per cent were undecided and the remaining 5 per cent had regrets about their choice.

Of the 136 respondents who completed the poll, 97 per cent would recommend their programme to others and 91 per cent gave a score of at least four out of five for value for money.

But is there anything they wish they had known before starting their MBA?

About a third of participants say their programme was more time-consuming than expected, although, one adds: “I am not sure an on-campus programme would have been less time-consuming.”

About a quarter of respondents say their degree was more challenging than expected. One graduate recalls being physically drained from long hours of preparation for the face-to-face sessions that were part of his “blended” course. He wondered how much of the lecture material he was able to absorb during those on-campus classes.

Others report that it was difficult to cope with a demanding full-time job and family commitments, leaving little time for networking.

One individual suggests that it would be helpful to have an audio bank of lectures online covering every lesson, as listening to materials on the go would save time.

Studying at a distance can be an isolating experience, with 20 per cent of graduates citing a lack of contact with other students during their studies.

However, email is the preferred medium for communicating and networking, followed by the schools’ online learning system, video calls and the telephone. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn were less popular for keeping in touch with fellow students.

About 44 per cent believe their school could have provided more networking opportunities. There was also room for improvement when it came to the delivery of live teaching materials and the provision of more on-campus activities, according to nearly 30 per cent of the graduates surveyed.

Online MBAs allow students to fit academic work can around their careers. One respondent, who travels a lot for work, said the flexibility was important, adding that his “classrooms” were in a different city and hotel each night.

One participant says: “A distance-learning MBA is appropriate for somebody who is already working and not able to take a break because of other commitments. It was important for me to attain a qualification from a university with a top reputation.” A few years had passed between his undergraduate degree and MBA and he believes the hard work was worthwhile to bring himself up to date with the latest business thinking.

About two-thirds of respondents report that they have secured job offers and promotions since graduation. About 67 per cent have managed to apply what they learnt from their course in the workplace on a regular basis, with 82 per cent believing their employers have a high regard for the value of their MBA.

“An elearning masters-level programme is not for everyone — a person must have a level of commitment and determination to see it through, as it requires the individual to put in 100 per cent of the effort and remain self-motivated throughout the process,” says one graduate of a US school. “I think elearning produces graduates who . . . often possess qualities such as self-reliance, proactivity, resilience and the ability to work independently.”

*The Financial Times polled 266 graduates who took part in the Financial Times ranking of the 15 top online MBA programmes of 2015. A total of 136 completed the poll, a response rate of 51 per cent.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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