Four “Must Ask” Questions Before Starting an Online MBA Program

This article is sponsored by University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business

New online MBA programs are popping up seemingly every day, thanks to technological advancements and the unprecedented flexibility they offer. But not all online programs are created equal. So, we asked Tawnya Means, Chief Learning Officer at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, how you can discern which online program is right for you.

Means gave us four questions you should be asking before you pick an online program.

1. What am I going to do?

A program may have great faculty, high-quality videos, and a strong sequence of courses – but if you’re not engaged, then you’re going to have a solitary experience. The online program should be career-curated, so you can take what you learn in highly interactive live sessions and apply it at your job the next day.

“Being able to go into a simulation and apply what you’ve learned is key,” said Means. “I can provide you information, but if you don’t explore what that information means when applied in realistic and authentic situations, you haven’t really learned anything.”

2. What kind of meaningful interactions will I have with other people?

Engagement is key, and the best online programs offer opportunities to develop genuine connections with peers and faculty. Will you participate in live class sessions with the top faculty? Do those sessions include breakout rooms and in-depth group work? These types of personal connections opportunities are crucial in an online program.

“There’s a big difference between being asked to post a certain number of times on a forum vs. making real connections with people,” Means said. “We learn best when we have to explain an idea to someone else, when we defend an idea, or when we hear how others have applied an idea.”

3. Do I have options?

Flexibility is important, but often students think about that flexibility in terms of being able to view or attend a lecture whenever they want. The important question, according to Means, should go deeper than that.

“The best online programs offer flexibility in the sequence of classes and elective tracks or concentrations,” said Means. “They also offer flexibility and choice in small ways, such as how you complete your assignments.”

4. Will my MBA still be relevant for my next job?

How many graduates received a promotion, job offer, or accepted a new position during their time in the program? Not only do you want to realize an immediate ROI, but you should also be thinking ahead to your next position. Means emphasizes the importance of making sure your degree will fit your future needs.

“Some programs were put ‘in the can’ three years ago, and the content doesn’t stay fresh,” she said. “Make sure the program you choose is adaptable. You should make sure you’re asking good questions about how frequently content is refreshed.”

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