The best online MBA programs of 2021

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An online Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree prepares students to pursue some of the most rewarding careers in the business world, often with a more flexible approach than on-campus programs. Many online MBA programs can lead to success, but attending one of the best online MBA programs might give graduates a leg up on the competition.

Top 5 online MBA programs of 2021

What is an online MBA?

An online MBA is a degree program that explores the inner workings of businesses and the various roles and responsibilities that keep them moving. MBA students learn how business professionals can use information, tools and techniques to improve operations, decisions and results. The training also typically emphasizes leadership and networking, which prepares graduates for most management positions.

Online MBA accreditation

Several organizations provide accreditation for online MBA programs, but students typically look for acknowledgements from three specific institutions: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE).

Attending an accredited MBA program guarantees that the program provides a quality education. Accreditors vet institutions’ teachers, classroom experience and career opportunities to ensure that the programs are worthwhile. Some employers will also only hire graduates who attended an accredited program.

How long does it take to earn an MBA online?

Most MBA programs take approximately two years to complete, though many online MBA programs now offer accelerated pathways. Students can reduce their study times by transferring credits, taking learning assessments or enrolling in more courses at once. Asynchronous online training helps learners accommodate heavier course loads while working.

What can I expect from an online MBA program?

Online MBA programs typically focus on leadership training and equip learners with advanced management skills and strategies. For that reason, most programs recruit early- to midcareer professionals with management experience.

Most of the best online MBA programs run for two years and feature between 30 and 60 credits. The training builds on business foundations, delving into more advanced concepts and providing learners with an in-depth understanding of the various business management functions and responsibilities.

In addition to the core training, many online MBA programs offer specializations. Learners can focus a portion of their education in a certain area, such as finance, management or human resources. Specializations can help students direct their training toward their interests and distinguish themselves from other MBA graduates.

Compared to traditional programs, an MBA online can provide more scheduling flexibility and fewer travel requirements. However, many programs feature on-campus residencies, which students may need to attend. Group assignments and networking opportunities may also require real-time attendance, even within primarily asynchronous programs.

Online MBA program courses

An MBA curriculum will differ from program to program. However, there are some common courses you may encounter when you enroll:

  • Data analytics. This course teaches students how data can inform better business decisions by creating data models, analyzing the data and creating reports and forecasts.
  • Operations management. Operations management courses examine the different methods and practices used to improve operations and efficiency. Students learn how to effectively plan and forecast, manage projects and manage inventory and materials.
  • Teamwork and leadership. In teamwork and leadership courses, students learn team-building and communication skills to empower employees and facilitate independence and collaboration within their teams.
  • Corporate finance. These courses explore the different tools and concepts of corporate finance. Students learn how to make better financial decisions and help organizations handle their finances, while covering topics in taxation, capital budgeting and investments.
  • International economics. International economics courses equip students with knowledge in international trade, foreign exchanges and trade policies and barriers.

MBA program concentrations

You may choose to select a concentration or specialization when you enroll in your MBA program. A specialization can help you more easily prepare for the career you’d eventually like to pursue. Some MBA program concentrations include:

  • Operations: Operations concentrations focus on the processes involved in creating and delivering goods and services. The training examines the planning, analytical tools and service management strategies used to improve operations.
  • Accounting: Accounting concentrations focus on accounting principles and theory while teaching learners how to apply accounting concepts to other management practices.
  • Business analytics: Business analytics concentrations teach students how to use statistical tools and methods to improve business decision making within business sectors, such as marketing, finance and operations management.
  • Health care management: Health care management concentrations examine the planning and operations within health systems and services. Students explore health policies and economics, along with topics in quality management and resource allocation.
  • Information systems management: Information systems management concentrations teach students to create business intelligence systems, stronger networks and more productive business operations.
  • Sustainability: Sustainability concentrations focus on how organizations can improve energy efficiencies, integrate and satisfy green policies and procedures and incorporate sustainable initiatives into their operations and communications.
  • Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurship concentrations give students the tools and knowledge necessary to develop and lead their own business ventures. Some of the training may include entrepreneurial finance, strategies and communication.
  • International business: International business concentrations prepare students for careers with global organizations. Learners may explore topics in international economics, financial policy and communication strategies.

What can I do with an online MBA degree?

An online MBA degree opens up a variety of interesting and high-paying careers in the business world. Depending on your specialization, you could find jobs in finance, information technology, management and more. Some of the highest-paying MBA degrees include:

  • Chief financial officer.
  • Business development director.
  • Investment banker.
  • Senior project manager.
  • Information technology manager.
  • Management consultant.
  • Business operations manager.
  • Financial manager.
  • Health services manager.
  • Marketing manager.

The best online MBA programs of 2021


Best online MBA program for accelerated learning

University of Florida

UF’s online MBA program is open to students with at least two years of professional work experience and offers small class sizes and flexible enrollment options. The program is cohort-based, which means that you’ll be studying with the same classmates for the duration of your program. UF also hosts several networking programs and a speaker series for online MBA learners.

School status Public
Tuition $48,000 to $58,000 total
Accreditation AACSB
Exam requirements GMAT accepted; average GMAT scores of 580 to 600

Key benefits

  • Multiple options: MBA online students can choose between a 16-month or 24-month program. The more accelerated pathway reduces the credit requirements by accepting only students who possess an undergraduate business degree.
  • Career benefits: The online MBA program hosts career development services like career assessments, remote video interviewing, career development webinars and a job board.
  • Networking opportunities: The online MBA features a cohort of around 50 students for a more intimate experience and to provide more effective networking potential. In addition to the networking elements built into the curriculum, UF runs regular networking nights and opportunities to build lasting relationships.

Key drawbacks

  • In-person orientation: While the courses run asynchronously, enrollees in the accelerated 16-month online MBA must attend an on-campus orientation at the beginning of the program. Enrollees in the 24-month program are also encouraged to attend.
  • Experienced applicants only: For admission, applicants need a bachelor’s degree and GMAT scores, along with a minimum of two years of professional experience. Applications also need to highlight relevant responsibilities, advancement opportunities and professional goals.


Best online MBA program for a budget

Florida State University

FSU offers a 39-credit online part-time MBA that allows students to access the same in-depth training from the full-time on-campus program in a part-time asynchronous online format. Applicants can choose from the standard program or a program with a specialization.

School status Public
Tuition $30,427 to $31,599 total
Accreditation AACSB
Exam requirements GRE and GMAT accepted, GMAT preferred

Key benefits

  • Specializations available: FSU’s online MBA program features a real estate specialization, which includes courses in real estate valuation, finance and investment. Other FSU specializations include business analytics, management information systems, marketing and risk management and insurance.
  • Few prerequisites: The online MBA program does not require previous coursework in business, although applicants should be familiar with economics and management principles.
  • Relatively low tuition costs: Compared to other top MBA programs, FSU’s total tuition costs are low — on average $10,000 to $15,000 cheaper overall. Additionally, in-state and out-of-state students pay around the same amount.

Key drawbacks

  • GMAT is preferred: While FSU accepts both the GMAT and the GRE, it strongly recommends taking the GMAT. For some students, the GMAT is the more challenging of the two exams.
  • No accelerated option: The only online MBA program that is available through FSU is the seven-semester part-time degree. Students who would like to learn full time or accelerate their degree will have to look elsewhere.


Best online MBA program for flexible program timelines

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Running for more than a decade, the UNC-Chapel Hill online MBA features 18- to 36-month study options. Learners take a blend of asynchronous and synchronous training in the STEM-designated program, gaining the skills to improve decision making through data analysis.

School status Public
Tuition $125,589 total
Accreditation AACSB
Exam requirements GRE and GMAT accepted

Key benefits

  • Program concentrations: In addition to the general online MBA pathway, students can choose from five concentrations: strategy and consulting, data analytics and decision making, finance, entrepreneurship and marketing. UNC-Chapel Hill also offers more than 25 electives for even more program customization.
  • Alumni network: UNC-Chapel Hill’s MBA students participate in an experiential learning curriculum that features various networking events and opportunities. Learners benefit from the business school’s alumni network of more than 42,000 graduates, including more than 2,000 graduates from the online MBA program.
  • Flexible completion: Online degree-seekers have access to year-round classes and can choose the pace that’s appropriate for them. On average, students complete the program within 24 months, but you can choose to complete your program in as few as 18 months or as many as 36 months.

Key drawbacks

  • In-person components: Students take the vast majority of their training online, but they need to complete two in-person summits. UNC-Chapel Hill summits take place over three days at various locations around the world. While most expenses are included in the program costs, students are responsible for airfare.
  • Program cost: UNC-Chapel Hill’s tuition prices may be prohibitive for some students. Regardless of the pathway chosen, students pay $125,589 total for the program.


Best online MBA program for a customizable education

The University of Texas at Dallas

UT Dallas offers an online MBA for state residents and a global leadership option for nonresidents. Learners can complete the 53-semester hour program in as few as 21 months, taking courses in organizational behavior, economics and data analysis. The program is extremely customizable, with 15 available concentrations and 59 electives.

School status Public
Tuition $47,565 to $85,512 total
Accreditation AACSB
Exam requirements GRE and GMAT accepted; average GRE score of 310, average GMAT score of 609

Key benefits

  • Customizable: UT Dallas’ online MBA features 15 concentrations, giving students a great deal of control over their studies. While some concentrations are standard offerings, like finance and real estate, the program also has unique tracks like internal audit, supply chain management and international management.
  • Academic certificates: While pursuing an online MBA, UT Dallas students can choose to complete one of four academic certificates: organizational consulting, transformational leadership, project management and executive and professional coaching. The credit requirements for each certificate vary, but they could be a good way to get even more specialized training.
  • Flexible tuition options: UT Dallas learners can choose between a guaranteed tuition plan or a variable tuition plan. Students are automatically enrolled in the variable tuition plan, where tuition is subject to change every year. If you choose the guaranteed tuition plan, your tuition might initially be higher, but you’ll have a locked-in rate for four years.

Key drawbacks

  • Nonresident tuition: Tuition fees for nonresidents are almost double those for Texas residents, with residents paying a base tuition fee of $47,565 for three years of study and nonresidents paying a base tuition fee of $85,512 for three years of study.
  • Additional courses: While students need to complete 53 credits for the online MBA, some degree-seekers may need to take up to two additional courses to satisfy the program prerequisites: communications for management and quantitative foundation of business.


Best online MBA program for professional development opportunities

Florida International University

FIU’s professional online MBA builds on the school’s 20-plus years of experience delivering distance education and provides students with a flexible online education. Students take courses in competitive strategy, financial analysis and business legal environment. They also enjoy access to support programs and services from one of the largest schools in the country.

School status Public
Tuition $42,000 total
Accreditation AACSB
Exam requirements Optional GRE or GMAT

Key benefits

  • Schedule flexibility: FIU offers online MBA students five start-date options throughout the year, and enrollees can complete their training in 18, 21 or 33 months, depending on the course load they choose.
  • Professional development opportunities: As part of the online MBA curriculum, learners complete three mandatory professional development seminars. They also have access to industry nights, virtual meetings and various support staff and business career management services.
  • Performance-based scholarship: After the completion of their 10th course, high-performing students are eligible to receive a scholarship of $3,000 to $15,000. Students who hold a GPA of at least 3.0 are automatically considered for the scholarship.

Key drawbacks

  • In-person components: FIU’s online MBA features a two-day residency in Miami. While this residency is not mandatory, the cost is built into the tuition — so students who are unable to attend may lose out on value.
  • Fewer electives: Compared to other online MBA programs, FIU has fewer elective opportunities, with most of the focus centered on the core curriculum. If you’d like an MBA concentration, you may take two courses within one of the eight specializations offered.

Frequently asked questions about online MBA programs

Is an online MBA worth it?

An online MBA can lead to some of the most attractive management positions in the country. The advanced leadership training prepares graduates for most management occupations, and the program’s numerous networking opportunities allow learners to build and expand their professional networks. Many online MBAs feature the same curriculum as the equivalent in-person MBA.

Is an MBA program hard to get into?

Many MBAs feature high admission standards that can restrict certain students from applying. While programs may set GPA and GMAT score minimums, some of the most restrictive admission prerequisites come from the experience requirements. Many programs ask for a minimum of two years of professional leadership experience.

How much does an MBA program cost?

MBA Today’s list of the top 25 MBA programs feature programs that cost anywhere from $55,727 to $161,810. However, some online programs may cost less; the online MBA programs above range from $30,000 to $126,000.

How much money can I make with an MBA?

MBA graduates enjoy a high return on investment from an MBA. GMAC’s application trends survey reports that the median annual base starting salary was $115,000 in 2019. That’s more than double the median starting salary of $55,000 for bachelor’s graduates.

What are the highest-paying jobs with an MBA?

The pay you receive with an MBA degree largely depends on your location and experience. However, PayScale reports some of the highest-paying MBA jobs as:

  • Chief financial officer.
  • Business development director.
  • Investment banker.
  • Senior project manager.
  • Information technology manager.

Methodology

To find the best online MBA programs, we evaluated colleges’ academics, affordability and programming — weighing statistical data like enrollment rate, graduation rate, average net price, percentage of enrolled students taking out federal loans and more. Our top picks are all accredited programs that provide unique features like flexible enrollment and diverse course options.

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Written by
Doug Wintemute
Since 2014, Doug Wintemute has contributed content and editorial work for award-winning digital trade publications, global SEO copywriting projects and hugely popular online brands.
Edited by
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