Applicants to online MBA programs tend to be older – the average age of new students applying to online business programs ranked by U.S. News is 33. For those candidates, impressive professional accomplishments can sometimes make up for average or lackluster academic credentials, admissions officials say. In fact, of the 191 online business schools ranked by U.S. News, 42 percent of the programs don't require any standardized test scores.
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"People will score better while they are in school and after up to five years," says Cheryl Oliver, assistant dean for graduate and online programs at the Washington State University College of Business, which has the top-rated online MBA program in the country. "In online learning, when we are looking at people who have been out seven or eight or nine years, we know that might not be the best measurement for that learner."
Although in general it may be easier for older, nontraditional students to get into online MBA programs than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, admission into the top online programs is still quite competitive, school officials say.
Take the case of Indiana University. The school's full-time MBA program, ranked No. 22 in the country, has an acceptance rate of 39 percent, according to data provided to U.S. News. Its online counterpart, ranked third, has an acceptance rate of 76 percent.
Powell says those numbers are misleading, since the full-time program attracts more international students, whose academic credentials are extraordinary.
When you compare domestic online MBA students and domestic face-to-face MBA students, the candidate profile is very similar, he says. Taking international students out of the equation, he says, the online program has an acceptance rate that is only five to 10 percentage points higher than its on-campus counterpart.
Powell has participated in the admissions process for both online and in-person MBA students and says he approaches each slightly differently.
"When I'm interviewing an applicant for a full-time program, I'm asking myself, 'Is this person going to get a job in two years?'" he says. "When I'm talking to an online MBA student, I'm asking myself, 'Is this person going to be motivated to perform in a way that will accelerate his or her ability to move up in his company?'"
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