Best Online MBA Programs 2021
| TBS Staff
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The best online MBA programs give students the skills they need to assume leadership posititions in diverse industries.
Graduates of the top online MBA programs have many career opportunities and higher-than-average salary potential.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that in 2013, business leaders with a master's degree earned substantially more than their peers with only a bachelor's degree. For example, professionals with a master's degree who worked in securities, commodities, and financial services earned median annual wages of $170,000, while professionals with just a bachelor's degree earned $90,000.
What Is an MBA?
An MBA is an advanced degree that prepares students for leadership roles in diverse industries. Courses cover topics like leading and managing, using analytical tools for decision-making, analyzing and developing marketing tools, and understanding operations management. Students gain analytical, management, marketing, and communication skills, which they can apply to a variety of roles.
It is common for online MBA program applicants to be recent bachelor's graduates, current business professionals looking to advance their careers, or professionals in other industries seeking a career change.
Featured Online MBAs
The Best Online MBA Programs of 2021
UF offers one of the best MBA online programs in the country. UF's online MBA offers an accelerated, 16-month option or a two-year option, both of which use course material developed at the Warrington College of Business.
UF limits online MBA class sizes to promote interaction between classmates. Applicants must provide official transcripts, recommendation letters, a resume, and GMAT or GRE scores for admission. The university requires at least two years of full-time work experience to enter the program.
This public institution in Tallahassee,Florida, offers an online MBA program for motivated individuals. During the 39-credit program, learners collaborate with classmates to strengthen their creativity and problem-solving skills, and they can receive individualized attention from instructors.
FSU ranks among the best MBA online programs thanks to its specialization options. Degree-seekers can pursue in-demand specializations like business analytics, management information systems, real estate, or risk management and insurance. Applicants must submit a portfolio demonstrating their qualifications, including GMAT or GRE scores.
UNC-Chapel Hill is a public university that offers one of the top-ranked online MBA programs in the country. Enrollees build leadership skills through challenging coursework and assignments.
Learners can customize the curriculum by choosing from five concentrations and over 25 electives. UNC-Chapel Hill offers concentrations in entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, strategy and consulting, and data analytics and decision-making. The program also includes two in-person, immersive experiences. Degree-seekers can join the program on four start dates each year.
From its Tampa campus, USF offers an online MBA program that builds analytical skills and creative abilities. Incoming students work with advisors to design the MBA online curriculum around their interests. For example, the program offers concentrations in cybersecurity, data analytics, healthcare analytics, and compliance.
During asynchronous courses, degree-seekers participate in collaborative sessions and team projects. USF also encourages network building throughout the program. Most USF students work full-time while pursuing the MBA, though the program also offers an accelerated one-year option.
Penn State offers highly customizable online MBA programs. Students can choose from over 20 concentrations to prepare for focused career paths. Concentration options include business sustainability strategy, corporate innovation, homeland security, and public administration.
The degree trains learners to manage high-performance teams and solve complex business challenges. Learners also study business operations, strategic management, and organizational behavior. Each Penn State MBA student must complete a five-day residency, during which they interact with their instructors and peers in person. The residency also includes career management workshops.
USC offers the Marshall online MBA for students seeking a rigorous program with a flexible schedule. Throughout their coursework, learners explore real-world business scenarios to strengthen their practical skills. The degree trains enrollees to become strong communicators, effective decision-makers, and forward-thinking executives.
The MBA uses live class sessions to connect classmates with one another. During the online MBA, each student completes a one-week residency on USC's campus. Applicants need accredited bachelor's degrees and at least two years of work experience. USC also requires GMAT or GRE scores.
This private college in Wellesley, Massachusetts, offers a fully online MBA program. The program provides a flexible schedule that emphasizes experiential learning. Degree-seekers customize their degrees by selecting two-thirds of their courses from Babson's elective options. Electives allow students to complete independent research, pursue study abroad opportunities, or choose an intensity track, like social innovation, tech ventures, or science and technology.
The interdisciplinary curriculum covers organizational management, entrepreneurship, finance, and business analytics. During the Babson consulting experience, each enrollee completes a project-based assignment with a client partner.
FIU is a public institution in Miami that prioritizes flexibility in its online professional MBA program. Students choose from three pacing tracks, five start dates, and eight specializations. Degree-seekers can complete the program in as little as 18 months.
During this MBA program, learners study strategic management, strengthen their collaboration and leadership skills, and solve complex problems. Online enrollees also participate in professional development seminars, a two-day residency, industry nights, and business career management services that help them connect with the FIU community.
The professional online MBA program at NC State offers accelerated and flexible options. Students can complete the program in as little as 21 months or in up to six years, working with virtual teams to complete projects.
Each distance learner must complete two residencies in Raleigh as part of the degree. Applicants must submit a personal statement, resume, transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and GMAT or GRE scores. NC State also requires an admission interview. The program enrolls new students for fall or spring start dates.
As the flagship institution in its state, U of I offers a fully online MBA program with no travel requirements. Enrollees complete live class sessions with interactive components, strengthening their strategic leadership skills while studying business analytics, value chain management, and entrepreneurship.
U of I reports that over half of its current MBA students received a promotion, job offer, or new position while pursuing their degrees. Spplicants need an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA for the final two years.
Online MBA Programs Ranking Guidelines
We selected the following degree programs based on quality, curricula, faculty strength, school awards, rankings, and reputation, including the school's reputation for providing quality online programs. Our online MBA rankings employ the same methodology that we used to produce our ranking of the best online colleges.
Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.
Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.
While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.
The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.
Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.
Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology
About Our Ranking Factors
Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.
Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.
We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.
In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.
If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.
We thank you for your readership and trust.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online MBA?
Online MBA programs typically take two years of full-time study to complete, but many programs also offer accelerated timelines that allow students to graduate in 12-18 months. Additionally, some schools offer 4+1 programs for students who want to pursue an MBA immediately after earning a bachelor's degree, allowing learners to graduate with an MBA in just one year.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online MBA Program?
When researching prospective online MBA programs, students should ensure potential programs offer concentrations and courses aligned with their career goals. Offerings vary by program, but the following sections outline common courses and concentrations found in online MBA programs.
Online MBA Courses
Online MBA programs focus on leadership and management skills in addition to traditional business best practices. A few common courses are outlined below.
- Legal and Ethical Decision-Making: Typically taken in the first year, this course introduces students to some of the ethical and legal considerations that business leaders commonly encounter. Because many MBA graduates pursue managerial positions, they must understand how to ethically and legally interact with customers, clients, suppliers, and employers. Students in this class learn how to make effective individual and company-wide decisions, understand common areas of unethical behavior (e.g., insider trading), and stay up-to-date on legal regulations. Learners may review case studies, participate in roleplaying assignments, and complete group projects.
- Leadership Theory and Practice: Because so many MBA graduates work in leadership positions, this is often a core class in MBA curricula. Learners study how effective leaders provide oversight and support for employees and help their companies achieve goals. The course may use case studies of business and non-business leaders across history to help students identify effective and ineffective leadership strategies. Students often complete reflective papers and assignments that help them identify their leadership styles.
- Information Technology: Businesses often rely on information technology to create internal and external computer networks, collect data and make data-driven decisions, and keep sensitive information secure. This course examines how information technology can inform and improve business functions. Students learn how to use databases, manage digital strategies, and extrapolate data for use in business decision-making.
- Personnel Management: Sometimes known as human resource management, this course teaches students how to manage talent across their companies. Students learn how to hire effective employees, manage benefits programs, set competitive salaries, and provide meaningful training opportunities. Coursework also incorporates topics from industrial-organizational psychology to teach future managers how to maintain effective, efficient, and fulfilled employees.
- Finance and Accounting for Managers: Business professionals typically need a basic understanding of finance and accounting to assess business performance, identify areas of improvement, and set strategic goals, even if they don't work in finance. This course examines financial accounting principles, international financial reporting standards, and industry standards and trends. Many online MBA programs also offer finance and accounting concentrations.
- Marketing Management: This course teaches students how to incorporate marketing, branding, and advertising strategies to help organizations meet goals. Topics include segmentation and targeting, pricing and promotion, distribution, and brand allegiance. Students review marketing management case studies from a variety of companies and industries to identify best practices and areas of improvement.
Online MBA Concentrations
Because business is such a broad topic, most online MBA programs offer concentrations to help degree-seekers focus their skills. Below are a few common concentrations.
Marketing concentrations are ideal for students who want to lead marketing departments and make high-level decisions about how companies are portrayed internally and externally. Courses cover topics like marketing analysis and development, global brand strategies, and how to use data analytics to inform marketing decisions. Graduates can pursue senior-level titles such as brand and product marketing manager, public relations director, marketing data analyst, and marketing director.
Finance concentrations provide an in-depth understanding of the financial tools and concepts that can improve companies. Students learn how to make effective financial decisions and keep organizations financially healthy. Classes cover topics like international financial markets, advanced corporate finance, venture capitalism and financial innovations, and behavioral finance.
An entrepreneurship concentration teaches students how to create their own business ventures. Learners study concepts like finance, marketing, human assets, and management. Classes also cover venture capital and entrepreneurial management, strategies and practices of family-controlled companies, finance of buyouts and acquisitions, and intellectual property strategy for innovation-driven enterprises.
Designed for students who want to work in multinational corporations, international business concentrations teach students about global markets, international trends, and the rules governing how business is done around the world. Rather than focusing on a single topic, this concentration reviews traditional business topics — like human resource management and finance — through an international lens. Common courses include international business environments, international business law, and global operations for supply chain strategies.
Human resource management concentrations prepare students for roles managing human capital, such as training manager, compensation and benefits manager, and human resource manager. Courses may cover topics like foundations of human resource staffing, human resource management for general managers, talent management and development, and leading the strategic change process. Programs may also examine negotiation and conflict resolution strategies.
How Are Online MBA Programs Accredited?
Prospective online MBA students should look for two types of accreditation when researching potential schools: regional and programmatic. The U.S. Department of Education oversees six regional accrediting bodies, which accredit schools based on where they are located. Regional accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to faculty qualifications, academic rigor, and student learning outcomes. There is also national accreditation, but it typically applies only to vocational or trade schools, not to business schools.
Programmatic accreditation applies to programs within a school. Online MBA programs may hold accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.
Online MBA programs prepare graduates to compete for a variety of jobs in diverse industries. The following list outlines common jobs and potential salaries for graduates.
|Median Salary: $83,610||Projected Job Growth: 14%|
Also known as management consultants, management analysts help organizations improve efficiency. They may work in house for a single corporation or in a consulting role for several clients. When starting a new project, management analysts observe the workplace to identify efficiency problems. They may interview staff, review financial data, and collect other relevant information.
After identifying a problem, management analysts develop solutions based on organizational needs. They may introduce new systems, institute changes, or work with management teams to ensure effective implementation of plans.
|Median Salary: $104,980||Projected Job Growth: 6%|
Top executives sit at the helm of their companies, directing activities and setting short- and long-term goals. They devise strategic plans, liaise with other department leaders, and set organizational policies. They may also set budgets, negotiate large contracts, and review financial statements.
These individuals need strong leadership, problem-solving, communication, and decision-making skills.
|Median Salary: $96,180||Projected Job Growth: 7%|
Administrative service managers oversee clerical staff, create and monitor departmental goals, develop and implement operational policies, and oversee company-wide recordkeeping. These professionals may also oversee an organization's facilities.
When necessary, administrative service managers may call on outside vendors or specialists to repair equipment or introduce new technology. They must also ensure companies abide by local, state, federal, and industry regulations.
|Median Salary: $127,990||Projected Job Growth: 16%|
Financial managers help companies understand their finances and increase their revenue. They may prepare financial statements, create income and loss forecasts, develop business activity reports, and present financial information to stakeholders. Financial managers need a keen eye for detail and strong analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
Popular Questions About MBAs
MBA stands for master of business administration.
An MBA is an advanced degree that prepares students for high-level business roles in fields like finance, human relations, and marketing.
Online MBA programs prepare graduates for managerial and leadership roles in diverse industries.
Yes, an online MBA program is a master's degree. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree to apply for enrollment.
Graduates can work in a variety of fields, depending on their interests and goals. Common jobs for graduates include top executive, marketing manager, and administrative service manager.
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