When Jessica Sellers, 24, started her search for an online MBA program, she had one requirement: It had to have a travel component.
A lover of exploring different countries, she believed participating in a school-sponsored trip abroad would not only be fun, but make her more marketable. By enrolling in Webster University's online MBA program, she was able to indulge both her personal and professional sides through a two-week trip to Thailand.
"It was an amazing trip," says Sellers, who visited Thai factories and spoke with executives. "I learned so much. It stretched my thinking."
As business becomes more global, full-time MBA programs have adapted by giving their curriculums a more international bent and incorporating travel opportunities. In the past, these trips were almost exclusively available to MBA students at brick-and-mortar programs. Now a handful of online MBA programs are offering their own business-themed excursions abroad.
Since online programs cater largely to adult students, many of whom work while attending school part time, the trips can't span months or semesters. Some programs offer three days of travel during a course, while others offer two or three weeks.
[Explore job search tips for online students.]
"These are professionals who are balancing life and school," says Anne Browning, programs director at Webster University's George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology. "This gives them the opportunity to gain some international experience and still fit it into their schedule."
Depending on the program, courses with an international travel component can last anywhere from two weeks to an entire semester. At schools such as Saint Leo University, Northeastern University, Webster University, Washington State University and Arizona State University, students spend months or weeks studying business trends in their specific country prior to departure. During their visit, students typically meet with local business leaders, tour local companies and speak with local academics and government officials.
Students at Webster University, for example, recently traveled to Brazil for a week and met with BP officials and visited recycling centers. At ASU, online MBA students have had the chance to visit the Airbus headquarters in France and the Nike headquarters in Vietnam.
Other online MBA programs have different models for international travel.
In one course in the online MBA program at Indiana University—Bloomington's Kelley School of Business, for example, students are asked to solve a problem for a foreign client. This year, students were matched with small business owners in Botswana, including a veterinarian, an auto shop owner and leaders of a garment factory.
[Discover why it's easier to get into online MBA programs.]
Early in the course, the clients flew to the U.S. to meet the student "consultants." Weeks later, the students traveled to Botswana to do ground research and present solutions.
MBA@UNC, the online MBA program at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, offers two international "immersion experiences" each year. Students spend three days in a foreign country hearing lectures from local executives, meeting alumni and performing case competitions. The program also includes an option to extend the trip for five days.
In 2012, students traveled to London to study the European debt crisis. They met with the CEO of Raytheon, the editor-in-chief of The Economist and other experts.
Traveling abroad during an online MBA program may be a time and financial investment for students, but school officials say the experience is well worth it.
"Obviously the experience is amazing," says Shawnna Pomeroy, director of academic affairs at ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business. "Nobody ever comes back to me and says, 'I wish I had just taken another marketing class online.'"
Visiting another country is not only a fun experience, but one that can strengthen a resume, school officials say. In today's global marketplace, they say there is an expectation that students have exposure to international business and other cultures.
"We want our students to be competitive in the work place," says Philip Powell, faculty chairman of Indiana University's online MBA program. "If our students can come back with this on their resume, they can leapfrog in terms of their promotion."
[Learn how to network in an online MBA program.]
Sellers, who runs her own apparel business, optimisticstyle.com, in addition to her regular job with the federal General Services Administration, says her trip to Thailand gave her a better understanding of the need to work with ethical suppliers and how to buy in bulk to improve her bottom line.
"If you don't really look at the global aspect of business you really miss out," says Sellers, who graduated in May 2013. "Down the supply chain, working with other countries is so important."
Traveling abroad can also provide online students with a unique opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise: the chance to spend some quality face-to-face time with their classmates and professors.
"Students are really building these friendship bonds that are really incredible to see," says Shawnice Meador, director of career management and leadership development at MBA@UNC. "You might not expect to see that in an online program."
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.
Corrected 8/13/13: A previous version of this article misstated details about the online MBA program at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School.