1. Identify the characteristics of an online MBA program that are most important to you. Don't apply to an online MBA program just because you've heard of it, says Cates. Do some research first and consider what's most important to you in a program, whether that be the school's reputation, the quality of the teaching, the rigor of the academics, a particular concentration in a subject area, or the flexibility the program provides, she says. Your employer's HR personnel might be able to tell you which MBA programs have worked well for other employees.
2. Make sure the institutions you're considering are accredited. Some employers don't recognize degrees from non-accredited schools, notes Cates. Moreover, if a school is non-accredited, you may not be able to transfer any of your credits if you decide to enroll in an MBA program at a different institution.
3. Find the program that best fits your lifestyle and learning style. Cates says that professionals turn to online MBA programs for a variety of reasons: Many can't afford to drop out of the workforce for two years to pursue a traditional MBA. Others, due to demanding business travel schedules, can't be geographically tied to an evening or weekend executive MBA program. And some need the flexibility to take courses and complete the academics on their time.
Since online MBA programs vary in structure in style, to find the one that best suits your needs, Cates recommends asking the following questions:
What learning formats are part of the program? Books? Webinars? Video conferences?
Does the program repurpose on-site coursework for the Web, leaving you largely learning on your own? Or does it promote interaction with other students and faculty throughvideo conferencing and/or online discussion groups?
Is there on-demand access to course materials?
Is there real-time access to faculty for office hours?
When are classes held? Are they offered during times that are clearly built for working professionals, such as evenings and weekends?
Can you take classes anytime?
Can you scale up or down the number of credit hours you're taking during any given term?
Can you begin the program at different times of the year, or only in the fall?
4. Talk to current students. "There's no substitute for talking to current students to give you a sense of what is really happening in the program," says Cates. Conversations with professionals currently enrolled in the program will help you determine whether the program may meet your needs, she adds.
5. Evaluate whether the program offers career support. Good online MBA programs will offer leadership development and career coaching, says Cates. They also offer robust alumni networks that can come in handy when you're looking for a new job.
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