Best Online MBA Programs

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by ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Earning an online MBA can be a great way to gain the skills and experience you need while still working a fulltime job, caring for family or tending to other responsibilities. As you read through program websites, you’ll find that programs differ in so many areas that it might be difficult to figure out which one is right for your needs.

It’s important to think about why you need an MBA and what kind of financial and time commitment you’re willing and able to make at this stage in your life. After you determine which type of program will work best for you, browse our expert reviews to read about some of the top choices.

Compare Reviews for Top Online MBA Programs

University of Phoenix MBA
Read 53 Reviews

The University of Phoenix is a for-profit higher education institution. Its online MBA program is designed to take about 72 weeks at a cost of around $28,620. It also offers several concentration areas and certificate options.

Keller Graduate School of Management
Read 13 Reviews

Keller Graduate School of Management was founded in 1973 as the CBA Institute. It provides students with flexible online and on-campus courses that are up-to-date on business trends and taught by working professionals.

Western Governor's University MBA
Read 17 Reviews

Western Governor’s University is a private, nonprofit online university. Its online MBA program can be completed in 1-3 years at a cost of around $15,000. It offers several focus areas including finance, leadership and more.

Ashford University MBA
Read 14 Reviews

Ashford University is an online for-profit higher education institution. Its online MBA program takes just over a year and a half and costs around $30,000 to complete. It offers specializations in economics, marketing and more.

Strayer MBA
Read 11 Reviews

Strayer University is a private, for-profit higher education institution. Its online MBA, administered through the Jack Welch Management Institute, takes about 1-3 years to complete and costs about $31,590.

Creighton University Read Expert Review

Creighton University is a private residential Jesuit university. Its online MBA program is accredited by the AACSB, takes two years to complete and costs around $36,000. Students may specialize in investments, accounting and more.

Pepperdine University Read Expert Review

Pepperdine is a private, not-for-profit university in California. Its online MBA program offers students interaction with faculty and a prestigious accreditation at a cost of around $88,000 for the two-year program.

South University MBA Read Expert Review

South University is a private, for-profit higher education institution with physical campuses and online degree programs. Its online MBA program is available in 12- or 16-month plans and costs around $27,500.

University of Atlanta MBA Read Expert Review

The University of Atlanta, formerly Barrington University, is a private, for-profit online degree granting institution. It offers an MBA that costs about $12,000 but is not accredited by a United States agency.

Villanova University Read Expert Review

Villanova University is a private Augustinian research institution. Its online MBA uses the same curriculum and faculty enjoyed by on-campus students. The program can be completed in 2-3 years at a cost of around $50,000.

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MBA program factors to consider

Is the program accredited?

Accreditation refers to a certification process that a program or institution has to go through to prove it offers a relatively standardized, quality product for its students. It is the single most important factor when choosing any degree program, especially an online MBA. Accreditation is offered by third-party institutions that set and monitor industry standards by which to measure the quality of a program.

  • AACSB accreditation: Since 1916, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or AACSB, has been the most venerated and elite business accrediting agency. AACSB accreditation is considered the “gold standard” for business degrees, including online MBAs, but a program with AACSB accreditation is usually expensive and has high admission requirements. Unless you are planning to become a faculty member at a university or are competing for executive leadership roles at a Fortune 500 company, you may not need to foot the bill for an AACSB-accredited MBA.
  • Other types of accreditation: Many online-only programs are accredited by regional governing boards, such as the Northwest Commision on Colleges and Universities (NCCU) or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). There are also many faith-based accrediting agencies; the most reputable of these is the Association of Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation.
  • Accreditation mills: Because of the uptick in online degree programs, many less-reputable accreditation programs have developed to keep up with the demand and make more money off of students. These agencies use much less stringent requirements to certify programs. Because of this, noting that a program is accredited doesn’t necessarily mean it is also reputable.
  • Determining accreditation legitimacy: To find out if an accrediting agency is reputable (which increases the odds that the MBA program it certifies is also reputable), you should find out if it is recognized by the United States Department of Education. You can figure this out by asking if the program accepts federal grants and loans; if it does not, it is probably not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Other signs of accreditation legitimacy: Ideally, the school should also either be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities or both. Watch out for programs that claim they are “internationally accredited” but have no federal or regional accreditation in the U.S. No international accrediting bodies are recognized by the U.S. government or other reputable American oversight organization.

What financial factors should you consider?

Many factors determine the cost of an online degree, so it is important to think about why you need a Master’s degree when you decide how much of an investment you should make. For instance, if you are already well established at your company and are simply looking for a credential required to move up in management, you may not need a degree from an expensive program. On the other hand, if you are just entering the work field in a highly competitive area where most people have degrees from reputable places, a degree from a more well-known program might be a better long-term investment.

  • Cost: Online MBA programs vary wildly in cost, ranging from around $10,000 to more than $90,000 for the full degree and averaging around $30,000. You’ll pay an application fee, tuition fees per credit hour, books (often $100 or more per course), software and sometimes student fees. When you compare the cost of various programs, be sure to look at more than the cost of tuition; these other expenses can add thousands of dollars to the total cost of the degree.
  • Financial aid: Compared to residential schools, it is less common for online MBA programs to offer scholarships. However, some smaller programs do offer scholarships to attract highly qualified candidates. Moreover, if the school is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. government, federal grant programs and private scholarships are often available. You can fill out a Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) online to see if you qualify for subsidized or unsubsidized loans or need-based grants.
  • Employer reimbursement: Companies or corporations of all sizes sometimes offer generous benefits packages that include reimbursement or stipends toward furthering your education. Typically, employers who offer these programs will either choose specific degrees, institutions or both that qualify for this benefit and on average will subsidize about half of the cost of tuition. Most companies only reimburse tuition toward career-related degrees that will substantially increase your work-related skills or make you a candidate for a promotion.
  • Payment programs: Many institutions offer payment plans to help you defer the cost of tuition or pay on a month-to-month basis instead of obligating you to pay your full bill on a semester or quarterly basis. Be sure to find out your institution's financial options before enrolling if you need this option.

What is the program’s reputation?

If you are obtaining an online MBA as a way to enhance your resume and bolster your qualifications, it’s vital that you choose a reputable program. A degree from a well-known and trusted institution is a reflection of your knowledge and skills and makes you more marketable professionally. But because the job market is so competitive, there are many less reputable programs that won’t give you the knowledge you’ll need and may not be recognized by other professionals in your field. An MBA from a disreputable program isn’t likely to improve your career prospects and will cost you time and money.

  • Admissions requirements: Most MBA programs require prospective students to complete the Graduate Management Assessment Test (GMAT), a standardized business test and achieve a certain score to qualify for admission. Many online programs do not require GMAT scores, but this is not necessarily a good thing. Lower admissions requirements might be convenient, but sometimes mean a school has a lower reputation.
  • Well regarded in your field: You may not be able to afford the most prestigious MBA, but you should be sure that the program is at least well-known and reputable in your specific field. A degree from an online school no one has ever heard of will not necessarily improve your resume and may even seem suspicious. Talk to your industry mentors, supervisors or coworkers to find out which programs are considered reputable in your field.
  • Residential school or online only: In general, programs that are offered by well-known, brick-and-mortar residential schools are considered more prestigious than programs from online-only schools, especially if the online school is a for-profit institution. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a good education (and at a lower cost) from an online-only school; however, it is a factor worth considering if you have the choice between an online program offered by a residential school or an online-only school.

How flexible is the program?

Unlike residential programs, one of the main benefits of an online degree is the potential flexibility of the program. For instance, you might be able to take just one class at a time or several, depending on your other time commitments and financial situation. However, many programs still have some constraints you’ll have to work around.

  • Time commitment: Some online programs require a time commitment of a couple of hours a week for several years. Others require more hours per week, but only for a year or so. If you need to finish the program on a fast-track for a work related promotion, or if you are a full-time student, having the flexibility to finish quickly by taking more classes at once can be a real benefit. On the other hand, if you are working full-time and don’t have a lot of time on your hands, you might prefer to take only one course at a time.
  • Class scheduling: Many online classes allow you to “set your own schedule” and complete the work in an online portal when you’re free. This means if you have family responsibilities, a job, health issues or other commitments, you can work on your classes when you’re able. Other classes have set meeting times for things like video chats, live streamed lectures or group meetings. These can be more engaging and often more beneficial, but less flexible schedule-wise.
  • Experience as credit: Some online degree programs allow you to take competency exams to advance more rapidly in the program; for instance, if you’ve already learned upper-level human resources skills on the job, you might not need to take as many HR courses. Some programs also allow you to transfer credits from other institutions if you have already started an MBA or other advanced degrees elsewhere.

What resources and perks are available?

Brick-and-mortar business schools should offer all the same benefits to online students that they offer their on-campus students. Even if you are not in physical proximity to the campus, there are some services you should be able to take advantage of as a distance learner.

  • On-campus “residencies”: Many top online programs require students to attend campus for a set amount of time each semester, often a week or two, to attend activities in person, complete team projects and network with the department. These residencies often result in viable business experience and job leads.
  • Access to recruiters: Most business schools host career fairs, facilitate internships or otherwise assist their students in securing a position or gaining industry experience while in school. You may already have a job, but it is still worthwhile to network in the industry while you’re in school.
  • Use of campus resources: Online programs that are a part of a residential school typically offer their students access to any resources that residential students enjoy. If you live near campus, for instance, you might be able to use the gym, library, computer facilities and more. If you don’t live near campus, you might still have access to online resources like library holdings, interlibrary loans or email.

What courses are offered and who teaches them?

Two major clues into whether a residential college or university values its online programs are what types of courses it offers and who teaches the courses.

  • Class offerings: Check out the courses offered in person at the institution. Are they better or more expansive than those offered online? Ideally, you should be able to take the same types of, if not the exact same, courses online as those that an institution offers its residential students. This is one way to know you are getting a well-rounded business education.
  • Shared faculty: Reputable online MBA programs should utilize the same faculty as residential classes. While it is true that some tenured professors may decline to teach online courses, institutions that value their online programs and view them as an asset generally require faculty to teach both online and in person courses.
  • Full time faculty: Look for a program where online teachers are full-time, tenure-track or tenured professors. Institutions are increasingly outsourcing online teaching to contingent faculty members, sometimes located remotely around the world, in order to make more money off of online programs. But that means instructors are less likely to have any research requirements and may not be as committed to the course or the students.

What types of online MBA programs are there?

General MBA

An MBA that does not have any particular specialization or concentration focus is known as a general MBA, or sometimes just as an MBA. A general MBA covers basic areas of business management and administration, such as finance, human resources, marketing and leadership. General MBAs are the most common types of programs, but more schools are offering specializations to help professionals compete for jobs.

Executive MBA (EMBA)

An executive MBA is a program designed specifically for upper-management professionals. The curriculum tends to focus less on business basics and more on advanced leadership topics like building company culture and loyalty, driving sales and innovation in the global marketplace. Some EMBA programs only admit business executives or others in managerial positions, while others are open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree who meets the program’s entrance requirements.

MBA with specialization

Specialized MBAs often come with a certificate in a related business area, such as accounting or finance. A concentration is similar, with more coursework in a particular area of business administration, but may not be noted on the transcript. Concentrations or certificates are meant to signify that you’ve received additional instruction in these subject areas (usually three or more courses on top of the regular MBA course load). Be sure to find out if and how the concentration, specialization or certificate will be noted on your transcript.

Full or part time MBA

Online programs are designed to be flexible, but most assume that you are busy with a full-time job and can’t accommodate a full course load. These part-time programs usually require you to complete only one or two courses per term or semester. Some programs, however, allow students to enroll full-time (generally three or more graduate courses at once) in order to expedite degree completion.

Who could benefit from an online MBA?

Professionals climbing the career ladder

More than half of those enrolled in an online MBA program are career professionals who want to increase their credentials to climb the corporate ladder at their current place of work. For instance, you might have a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and currently work on a team of corporate accountants. With an MBA under your belt, you might be able to oversee the whole department and substantially increase your lifetime income.

Career switchers

Getting an MBA from an online program can be a convenient way to build your qualifications and prepare you for a career switch. Additionally, if you’re still employed, you can earn your MBA during the evenings or weekends and then make your career move after you’ve earned the degree, which might help you avoid financial trouble while working toward your MBA.

Recent college graduates

If you’ve recently graduated with your undergraduate degree or a master’s in another field, you might want to enroll in an online MBA program as a way to continue your education now instead of putting it off for later. In an increasingly competitive job market, more educational credentials can often result in increased job prospects in the future. Plus, if you’ve recently graduated, you might consider enrolling in a full-time program so you can focus on your studies to finish sooner and get started with your career.

Those who have employer subsidies

You may not necessarily be thinking about switching careers or climbing the corporate ladder, but if your current employer offers a generous benefits package and will subsidize the cost, and if you are in a good place in your life to put a few years into a degree, it may still be a good investment in your future. Think about whether taking advantage of a free or greatly reduced degree program might be helpful in your long-term career plans, especially if you don’t see yourself at your current employer and thus able to take advantage of the subsidy for more than a few more years.

Online MBA program expert reviews

University of Phoenix MBA

University of Phoenix is a for-profit higher education institution with 91 campuses across the United States and extensive online learning programs. Its online Master of Business Administration program is flexible and allows working students to complete their courses at their own pace. Students may choose a certificate or concentration.

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Western Governor's University MBA

Western Governor’s University is an American private, nonprofit online university based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Its online MBA program is flexible and can be completed at your own pace.

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Creighton University

Creighton University is a private residential Jesuit university located in Omaha, Nebraska. Students can enroll in its online MBA program through Creighton’s Heider College of Business as an online-only option or in combination with residential classes in order to expedite their degree completion.

  • Program length: The online MBA is designed to take two years and eight weeks or 11 eight-week terms. Students who want to expedite their degree can take more than one course per term.
  • Credit requirements: Creighton’s online MBA requires 33 credit hours. Each course is three credit hours, so students with no transfer credits will need to take 11 classes.
  • Tuition and fees: In the 2016-2017 school year, Creighton’s online business classes were $1,025 per credit hour, with online program fees of $134 per semester and technology fees of $56 per semester for students taking an average course load. That totals around $33,825 for tuition plus around $2,000 in fees. Graduate students who take at least one course per semester are eligible to apply for financial aid.
  • Specializations: Students may choose to specialize in investments, business intelligence and analytics, accounting or leadership. Students are encouraged to work with a faculty mentor to customize their plan of study to fit their career goals.
  • Accreditation: Creighton’s business school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the most prestigious business school accreditation agency. It is one of only two percent of worldwide business schools to be accredited in both business and accounting.
  • Best for: full-time working adults who want to take only one course per semester or students enrolled at Creighton’s physical campus who want to expedite their degree.
Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University, located in Los Angeles County, California, is a private, not-for-profit American university affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management offers several MBA options, including an online program with four concentration options.

  • Program length: Pepperdine’s online MBA can be completed in as little as two years. The program is designed to last six 14-week trimesters.
  • Credit requirements: Students must complete 52 credit hours. This consists of 15 courses, including three courses in their area of specialization. The first course requires a weekend-long on-campus residency, which gives students a chance to network with faculty and one another.
  • Tuition and fees: Tuition for the 2016-2017 school year was $1,670 per credit hour, for a total of $86,840 for the two-year program. Students should also budget for application fees, books and supplies (about $500-600 per semester). The Graziadio School of Business and Management offers scholarships to some highly qualified students. Other federal loans and grants are also available.
  • Key subject areas: Students must choose an area of specialization in Finance, Marketing, General Management or Leadership and Managing Organizational Change. You will take extra courses in that area and receive a notation on your transcript that you have special expertise in that area.
  • Accreditation: Pepperdine is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Graziadio School of Business and Management holds accreditation from the prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AASCB).
  • Best for: working professionals who want to advance in their current company or change careers.
Ashford University MBA

Originally a residential school, Ashford University is now an online-only, for-profit institution of higher education located in San Diego, California, offering more than 50 online degree programs. Its online MBA program takes less time to complete than most similar programs.

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Strayer MBA

Strayer University is an American private, for-profit higher education institution with physical campuses nationwide and an online distance-learning program. Strayer offers two MBA programs, one administered through Strayer and another Executive MBA program through the Jack Welch Management Institute (JWMI), a partner program. The JWMI EMBA was named one of the Princeton Review’s Top 25 Online MBA Programs for 2017.

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South University MBA

South University is a private, for-profit higher education institution with 15 campuses across the United States. About half of South University’s students are online-only distance learners. South University’s online MBA program can be completed faster than most similar programs and it emphasizes finance, decision-making, business strategy and other crucial aspects of professional leadership.

  • Program length: South University’s online MBA is designed to take 16 months, but most students take longer. In 2014-2015, 21 percent of students who completed the program did so in 16 months. South University also offers an accelerated program to students in some states; it is designed to take as little as 12 months to degree completion.
  • Course requirements: Both South University’s traditional and accelerated online MBA program require 12 courses for a total of 48 credits.
  • Tuition and fees: For students who finish the program in 16 months, tuition, fees and supplies are estimated at around $27,500. Students can apply for federal financial aid including grants, loans, military benefits and work-study positions. In some states, South University also offers institutional financial aid packages to qualified students.
  • Key subject areas: South University does not offer certificates or specialization tracks. Instead, all MBA students take the same courses. Courses include Organizational Behavior and Communication, Managerial Economics and Finance, Quantitative Analysis, Leadership Ethics, Project Management and more.
  • Accreditation: Various states offer South University accreditation. The online program is not available for residents of Oregon, Massachusetts or Washington D.C.
  • Best for: busy professionals who want to finish their MBA quickly.
University of Atlanta MBA

The University of Atlanta is a private, for-profit higher education institution that offers online-only programs. It offers degree programs in several areas, including an online MBA and Executive MBA. These programs are best for students who live in areas that accept accreditation from the Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC) in the United Kingdom.

  • Credit requirements: Students must complete 12 courses for a total of 36 credit hours. The University of Atlanta does not publish information about time to degree completion.
  • Tuition and fees: The University of Atlanta charges $1,000 per graduate course for a total of $12,000 plus fees and expenses. The University of Atlanta offers financing options, but students attending the University of Atlanta are not eligible for federal funding because of its accreditation status.
  • Key subject areas: While all MBA students are required to take 12 courses, there is a bit of flexibility in choice. All students must choose five of seven specialty course options, such as Managerial Technology, Negotiation, Economics and others. Unlike most MBA programs, the University of Atlanta’s program requires students to complete a research proposal, project, field work and a master’s thesis for nine total credits.
  • Accreditation: The University of Atlanta is accredited by the Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC), based in the United Kingdom. It is not accredited by any agencies recognized by the United States Department of Education.
  • Best for: students in locations that recognize internationally accredited institutions.
Villanova University

Located in Philadelphia, Villanova University is a private research university affiliated with the Augustinian Order. It offers both a residential and online MBA program. The online MBA offers business professionals a flexible and convenient experience with the same renowned faculty and curriculum as the campus-based program.

  • Program length: The online Flex Track MBA program at Villanova is designed to take six semesters. Students who want to expedite the process can complete the program in as little as two years; this is called the Fast Track program.
  • Course requirements: The MBA program consists of 48 credit hours, which is 21 courses. Students must also participate in a campus residency at the beginning of the program and two practicum experiences.
  • Tuition and fees: Villanova University charges $970 per credit hour for the Flex Track MBA and $1,095 per credit hour for the Fast Track MBA, for a total of $46,560 to $52,560 in tuition. Students should also plan for $50 in fees per semester.
  • Key subject areas: Students focus their studies with a specialization in Finance, Analytics, Marketing or Strategic Management. Students can also participate in an optional international immersion program for more hands-on experience.
  • Accreditation: Villanova’s School of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the most prestigious accrediting agency for business schools.
  • Best for: working professionals who want to earn an MBA to advance their career or change career paths.
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ConsumerAffairs Research Team

The ConsumerAffairs Research Team believes everyone deserves to make smart decisions. We aim to provide readers with the most up-to-date information available about today's consumer products and services.