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What An Online M.B.A. Can And Can’t Do For You

You can pretty much divide the people who pursue MBA degrees into two categories: career switchers and career enhancers. The former want the most popular business credential on their resume to help switch industries, disciplines or geographies. The latter simply want to accelerate their existing careers, in the short term with their current employer and potentially in the long-term with another company.

Career switchers are almost always better getting a two-year MBA experience that allows for a summer internship, a tryout of sorts, that is often essential to reinvent your professional self. Those residential programs have a parade of world class employers coming to campus to recruit students. An online degree, on the other hand, is more suited to the career enhancer, someone who wants increased responsibility, more money, or the basic skills learned in an MBA to make you more effective at work.

We just surveyed recent alumni of many of the very best online MBA programs on their career outcomes. More than 1,200 graduates in the past two years completed the surveys for our recent ranking of the best online MBAs in the U.S. What we found surprised even us.

Nearly a third of the graduates told us they actually switched jobs directly as a result of the online MBA program. At the high end, nearly half the graduates of the online MBAs at Northeastern University, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business changed jobs.

That finding was a complete surprise because online MBAs, as pointed out earlier, are typically recommended to those who want to accelerate their careers–not transition into another industry or field (see full results here).

The more likely outcome was, not surprisingly, a promotion at work. A median 44% of the graduates told us they had received promotion directly as a result of the online MBA. But the rates of promotion varied widely, with 50% or more of the graduates from nine programs gaining increased responsibilities at work due to a promotion. USC Marshall topped the field, with 64% of alumni getting promoted, followed by Northeastern (58%), the Jack Welch Management Institute (58%), the University of Maryland (53%), and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School (53%) (see full results here).

Other than a promotion with increased responsibility, another indicator of positive career outcome is an increase in pay. Again, we asked alums to report salary increases that they received as a direct result of their MBA degree. UT-Dallas led all schools, with nine out of ten grads reporting a pay hike. Northeastern (83%), USC Marshall (80%), Indiana Kelley (73%), and Carnegie Mellon (69%) were not far behind (see full results here).

The bottom line: The best online MBA programs are delivering pretty solid career outcomes. While it’s still unrealistic to assume the same career options you will get with a residential MBA, pay raises, promotions and even new jobs are all within reach with an online option.

I’m the editor-in-chief of Poets and Quants, the most read and most popular provider of information on business programs in the world. Our main website, PoetsandQuants.com, has been visited by nearly 100 million people and is updated daily with a wealth of admission and care…


John A. Byrne is editor-in-chief of PoetsandQuants.com, the leading website covering business schools. He is also the former executive editor of Businessweek and former EIC of Fast Company.


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