Online vs. On-campus MBA Programs: Pros and Cons

Online vs. On-campus MBA Programs: Pros and Cons

Key Takeaways

  • Many business schools offer online MBA programs.
  • Getting an online master’s degree in business is an excellent way to balance a degree with your professional responsibilities.
  • If you’re thinking of earning an MBA online, you’ll need to consider important factors like higher education accreditation, financial aid options, and opportunities for career advancement.

The Master of Business Administration is an extremely valuable advanced degree. The MBA is very popular and there’s a good reason for this.

Working professionals who earn an MBA will typically earn anywhere from 36% to 90% more than those with a bachelor’s degree working in the same fields. In other words, getting an MBA is definitely worth it.

And if you’re considering online MBA programs versus a brick and mortar business school education, how can you be sure which is the right MBA program for you?

You can start by checking out the most affordable online MBAs or the most affordable traditional MBAs to be sure that you get your money’s worth regardless of how you access your classes. Or check out our complete MBA program list for more information.

Otherwise, read on to learn more about the advantages of getting your MBA through an online program...

Pros: The advantages of Online MBAs

Prospective MBA students have plenty of options to choose from, including a full spectrum of online MBA programs. Online education carries a number of distinct advantages over a traditional program. Online MBA pros include:


Online programs offer far greater convenience than on campus programs, especially for working adults. The ability to engage courses through online learning means that you can complete coursework from anywhere.

For parents managing childcare and professionals managing job responsibilities for their current company, remote access may be the only way to attend classes, participate in class discussions, and complete assigned readings.

Many online students will find the time to complete MBA requirements on a personal computer from a break room at work, a local coffee shop, or a quiet room in a bustling household. The online format is uniquely convenient for those with busy lives.


Online courses also offer a level of flexibility that is essential for those balancing personal life and workplace responsibilities. Online MBA programs tend to cater to the needs of working professionals. That’s why business schools with online MBAs often provide an array of models.

Online students may be able to choose between the full time MBA program, the part time MBA program, and a wide range of models which are designed to be completed at your own pace. Many online programs also cater to students seeking accelerated MBA degrees.

Happy male student in a yellow shirt

Lower Non-Tuition Expenses

Attending online classes means you’ll save money on peripheral expenses such as housing, transportation, and certain campus fees. This makes online education particularly appealing to prospective students who still live at home with parents or guardians. The online MBA program can translate to significant savings on residency. The specific state where a student receives their degree might also play a role in how expensive tuition is. For example, Delaware has MBA programs that might be more affordable than the same type of programs in California.

Preparation for the Global Marketplace

In some ways, an online degree program can actually improve your career opportunities relative to traditional MBA programs. This is because completion of an online MBA program from an accredited university indicates a set of skills that are highly valued in the 21st Century workplace.

In an increasingly global marketplace, businesses work across geographic boundaries and time zones to get things done. Completing an online program demonstrates your ability to complete work on your own schedule, display effective self discipline, and leverage critical thinking skills to succeed without direct oversight.

Valuable Technical Education

In addition to the workplace skills you’ll build and demonstrate, your online MBA program will require a demonstration of technical proficiency. Completing your advanced online degree program indicates the ability to use online tools for research, communication, and collaboration.

Online MBA students tend to demonstrate a high level of technical savvy.

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Cons: The Disadvantages of Online MBAs

While online programs can be convenient, flexible, and affordable, there are some drawbacks relative to the traditional MBA. Online MBA disadvantages include:

Less Structured Environment

Online programs are typically geared toward students who are well organized and self motivated. This is because you won’t have the level of direct oversight in an online class as you might in person.

Generally speaking, it will be your responsibility to attend online lectures, schedule meetings with professors, and stay on pace with required readings. For many students, achieving this type of self discipline requires an adjustment. Depending on your learning style, this may be a difficult adjustment to make.

No Face to Face Classes

One distinct advantage of campus MBA programs is the ability to interact directly with your classmates. It can be difficult to replicate the dynamics of an in-class debate or a fascinating professorial tangent through the online medium.

Therefore, if you find that you benefit most from in person discussions and face to face interaction, an online MBA may be more challenging.

No On Campus Experience

For some students, this can limit networking opportunities relative to traditional programs. If you require the stimulation of direct engagement with your fellow students, you may be a better fit for a traditional MBA program.

The same is true for students who might benefit from access to on campus resources like academic advisors, mental health support, and various clubs or activity groups. This is one reason that the online program may not attract younger students in the same proportion as working adults.

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Pros: The Advantages of On-Campus MBAs

On campus MBA programs do offer a few distinct advantages relative to online MBA programs:

Access To On-Campus Resources

One major advantage of the on campus program is the immediate access you’ll get to the vast array of resources on your campus from school libraries and computer labs, and writing support. You may also consider it a benefit to experience face-to-face interactions with academic advisors, professors, and your fellow MBA candidates.

Even beyond these academic resources, on campus programs also carry access to services like career counseling, mental health support, and even athletic facilities. In other words, there is no way to replace the experience of being embedded within a physical educational community.

Job Opportunities

In addition to career counseling, in person MBA programs offer a variety of opportunities for career advancement. Pursuing your advanced degree on campus will give you access to a local community filled with business leaders and influential professors. In fact, many of your professors will have experience in both worlds!

Earning your degree through an in person MBA program improves your chances of developing meaningful relationships and cultivating opportunities with these influential individuals. This can be a great way to land valuable internships and even secure immediate post graduate job opportunities. Distance learners may not always enjoy that same level of personal access and opportunity.

Networking Events

In addition to job opportunities, students earning their MBA through on campus program will see more networking opportunities, both formal and informal. From career fairs and guest lectures from local leaders to special workshops and seminars, on campus programs offer more direct access to figures and organizations in the business world.

Even the best online MBA programs can’t match that level of personal interface. And beyond improving job prospects, networking opportunities can provide pathways to various exciting educational prospects. Your personal interactions may lead to a meaningful summer internship, a fruitful relationship with a real-world business mentor, or a partnership with your fellow MBA candidates around an innovative new idea.

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Cons: The Disadvantages of On-Campus MBAs

Peripheral Costs and Fees

One of the biggest differences between online and on campus programs is the array of costs that on campus students must typically pay to either live on or utilize the campus. These costs can include housing, dining, and campus maintenance fees as well as the array of fees that can come with residential enrollment.

Students in online MBA programs will typically pay additional fees for access to online learning management systems. However, the reduced cost for housing can be quite significant for students pursuing online vs on campus MBAs.


Another major disadvantage for on-campus students is the commute to class. Parking and transportation issues may not seem like a big deal on the surface. But for graduate students with busy lives and schedules, every minute counts. Many schools have difficulty accommodating the high demand for space, especially among commuters and graduate students.

If you’re a working professional pursuing an MBA degree, you may find that transportation to and from classes is one of your biggest scheduling difficulties.

Fewer Accelerated and Self-Paced Programs

In some cases, earning your degree on campus may actually limit your flexibility. In many cases, online MBA programs offer options that may not be available through full time MBA programs on campus. In some instances, you may actually have more control over your schedule and pace of completion with an online MBA vs. the traditional on-campus program.

One reason is because online MBA candidates often have access to asynchronous courses, pre-recorded lectures, and other distance learning channels. This may make it possible for full time students to complete the degree online faster.

Student Submitted Questions on Online vs. On-campus MBA Programs

Josiah asks, “What measures are in place to ensure online students receive the same level of personal attention and academic support as in-person students?”

Dr. James Barham’s answer: Online education has come a long way in recent years, and online programs are more equipped than ever to support online students. Professors will typically have virtual office hours and advising sessions to make sure students have access to them. Learning management systems also allow for students to have easy access to their course materials. As an online student, you will need to make an effort to get to know your professor, but that is true for on-campus students as well.

Kayla asks, “Are there any differences in the return on investment (ROI) between graduating from an online vs. an in-person MBA program, according to alumni feedback or employment statistics?”

Dr. Jed Macosko’s answer: ROI can vary considerably depending on the program’s cost, students pre-MBA salary, post-graduation salary, and the opportunity costs associated with taking time off of work to study full-time. Because there are so many confounding variables, it’s hard to say if there is a difference in the ROI based specifically on the online vs. in-person aspect of the degree. My suggestion is to look up the specific programs you are interested in and see what data they have on factors such as how much their graduates make, average student debt, etc.

See our Guide to Life in Graduate School for valuable tips on applying to and succeeding in your master’s or doctoral degree program.

Or get tips on studying, student life, and much more with a look at our Student Resources.

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