Five Reasons to Get an Online MBA

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College diplomas. (U.S. Air Force photo)

At some point during your finance career, you'll likely grapple with whether to pursue an MBA. If you go for it, here's another point to consider: Should you get your MBA online?

Even this isn't a clear-cut decision, because many colleges offer hybrid degrees that allow you to learn both online and in a traditional classroom setting. While some will tell you virtual learning is no substitute for classroom-based education, earning an MBA online can be attractive for several reasons.

Here are five:

It's Convenient.

This is clearly the top draw for most people looking to get an online degree. Asynchronous learning -- whereby you complete your coursework via email and the internet -- takes place and time out of the equation. Whether you're in Bangor, Maine, or Biloxi, Mississippi, or put in your time at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., as long as you've got an internet connection, you can go to class wherever and whenever it suits you.

Debbie Rogers of Stillwater, Minnesota, finished her online MBA at Capella University in December 2004. With a full-time job at US Bank and two teenage boys, "I don't think I would have been able to do it in the traditional way," she said. "This way, I could schedule school around the rest of my life."

You'll Enjoy Broader Networking Opportunities.

When it comes to networking, there's something to be said for a traditional educational setting. You get to know classmates both inside and outside the classroom, plus alumni of brick-and-mortar learning institutions have a certain affinity.

But Joe Cockrell, a spokesman for the University of Phoenix (and alum of its online MBA program), says online networking has its own benefits.

"You are networking with people in positions all over the country," he said. "You are not limited to the geography of wherever it is you are going [to school]. There's very much a sense of community in an online class."

Rogers says networking online was easier for her because of her personality. "I'm more likely to write to somebody than talk to somebody next to me in class, so the opportunities were greater," she said.

The Learning Environment Mimics the Business Environment.

Increasingly, those in the business world work with people they never actually meet. An online education prepares you for this kind of working environment. As an online MBA student, you'll work in groups composed of individuals who live thousands of miles apart and perhaps in different countries.

"My job mirrors [the virtual environment] very much," Rogers said. "I have people that report to me in several different states. I see them very rarely. Getting the feel of how to converse with people through an online environment is key."

You'll Learn from Real-World Business Executives.

One advantage of an online university is that it can recruit teachers from all over the world. The University of Phoenix says it "does not have traditional tenured faculty, drawing instead from more than 9,000 CEOs, CFOs [chief financial officers], CIOs [chief information officers], managers and executives from industry who wish to share their knowledge and real-world expertise."

Rogers' experience bears this out.

"I would have a professor from Stanford and a professor from the University of Wisconsin," she said. "I was very impressed that I could get the cream of the crop by pursuing an online degree."

It Can Save You Money.

Pursuing an MBA can be costly. A full-time, two-year program at an elite school can cost about $70,000 for tuition alone. Add in living expenses, those $150 textbooks and the opportunity cost of forgoing a paycheck for a few years, and getting an MBA can be one high-priced undertaking.

An online MBA may be less expensive, but it's still not cheap. A random sample of online MBA programs indicates you should expect to shell out $20,000 or more for a degree. But you can take classes while holding down a full-time job, and you can keep living wherever you are -- as long as you've got an internet connection.

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