3 Career Reasons Why Students Get Online M.B.A.'s

Some look online for flexibility, convenience, and ease of access.

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Professionals with a master's of business administration degree will be desirable to companies in 2012, according to a recent report by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the Graduate Management Admissions Test. Among the 216 companies surveyed worldwide, nearly 75 percent plan to hire M.B.A. graduates in 2012, up from 58 percent in 2011.

With an economy that's showing signs of improvement, many people may consider getting advanced degrees in preparation for potential job opportunities. For some, that may mean sacrificing two years of professional experience to attend a full-time graduate business program. For others, though, an online M.B.A. program may be the best fit.

[Read about the top online graduate business programs.]

"If you're going to stay generally on your same career path, the online M.B.A. programs work pretty well," says Dan Smith, dean of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University—Bloomington. "Some [people] are oftentimes looking to move ahead with their current company or stay within that industry, as opposed to making a radical career change."

Here are three reasons why some students choose an online M.B.A. program to meet their career goals.

1. Earn an M.B.A. without relocating: One advantage of an online M.B.A. degree is the ease of being able to access course materials from any location, says Mary Hawkins, president of Bellevue University. "Convenience will start them on that path, but then what they find is that the online environment is very robust," she notes.

[Discover four technology must haves for online students.]

For D'andre Payne, a formulation scientist at a pharmaceutical company in San Antonio, the online M.B.A. program at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill allowed him to switch jobs and relocate without falling behind.

"When I started the program in July [2011], I was living in North Carolina," Payne says. "If I was in a full-time program, I wouldn't have been able to move locations as easily as I have with this program."

In addition to the freedom to switch jobs or relocate without threat of delaying M.B.A. plans, online students may also have the opportunity to attend a top-ranked school regardless of proximity to campus, notes Susan Cates, associate dean and executive director of the online M.B.A. program at UNC.

[Top M.B.A. programs are embracing online education.]

2. Balance work and education: When Steve Wright, a nurse at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, N.Y., received a promotion to become the hospital's cardiology program director—giving him the responsibility of overseeing roughly $20 million of annual expenses—he began exploring M.B.A. options.

"This was exactly the type of education that people in my role are looking for," Wright says. "I'm a nurse, so I understood the clinical side, but I needed to understand the business side to make me a better leader here at the hospital."

[Learn which nursing schools have the top online programs.]

He originally enrolled in a traditional M.B.A. program at the University of Albany—SUNY School of Business. "It was hard to go to work, go to class, and not get home until 10:30 at night, and then get up and do it all over again," he says.

Looking for more flexibility, Wright left and enrolled in the online M.B.A. program at Excelsior College, which allowed him to continue earning a salary from his full-time job while being a "good student outside of work," Wright says.

At UNC's online M.B.A. program, which welcomed its first class in 2011, the average salary of its students is roughly $110,000, Cates notes.

"A benefit to an online program is you don't have the opportunity costs of giving up your salary for two years [or] the costs of relocating to a new place," she says.

3. Gain business and managerial experience: A student who is exploring M.B.A. options is "looking to accelerate their career [or] enhance it," Cates says.

Two years after graduating from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Jason Frazier desired a business career that would allow him to utilize his engineering background. Although he explored traditional business school options, Frazier narrowed his search to online programs in order to continue working.