10 Surprising Facts About Online MBA Programs

It took a little getting used to at first — and, in the very beginning, it faced much scrutiny. But the online MBA has finally made its mark and declared that it is here to stay.

Now that the stigma has vanished and these programs have had a few solid years to settle in, some definite themes have emerged. Online programs generally provide a broad understanding of the workings of business just the same as any on-campus program (part- or full-time). Many offer specializations and electives for students to customize their experience, and most, if not all, of the leading programs have received the AACSB stamp of approval, providing quality assurance through the most respected accreditation organization in the B-school arena.

While talking to schools for our inaugural ranking of the best online MBA programs, Poets&Quants found there are other, less expected traits found under the surface of many these programs. Here’s a list of the 10 most surprising facts you need to know about getting your MBA online. If you’re a prospective student, pay attention as some of these have the potential to impact the amount of time and money you put into getting your MBA online.


The major appeal for pursuing an MBA online is convenience and flexibility. So, naturally, online MBA students tend to be working professionals. For applicants who have multiple years of professional work experience, many schools are making it easier to get an MBA degree by waiving the GMAT requirement for their online programs.

“One thing we started a couple years ago was a waiver for entrance exams,” says Christine Estoye, the online MBA program manager at the University of Tennessee Martin’s College of Business. “For students with a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and seven years or more of post bachelor’s work experience, we will review their application and submit for a GMAT waiver. For students, it becomes another box you don’t have to check.”

GMAT waivers are typically reviewed on a case by case basis and the years of work experience one must have differs from school to school. For instance, Lehigh’s College of Business & Economics will only consider a waiver if you have at least 10 years experience, University of Tennessee at Martin seven years, Hofstra six years, and University of Maryland says if someone has less than three years of work experience they’re unlikely to waive.

Another factor in entrance exam waivers is already having an advanced degree. Schools report that their online MBA programs are filled with doctors, engineers, and other professionals who not only have an abundance of experience, but they have various other degrees. For them, many schools are removing blockers by saying “Yes” to the GMAT waiver.

At University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, students can potentially bypass the GMAT if they have a 3.25 GPA plus five years of professional experience, or they can waive it altogether if they’ve already earned an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctorate. The same is the case in Penn State’s new online MBA program, where applicants with advanced degrees, including M.D., D.O. and Ph.D., are automatically exempt from taking the standardized test.


Do you have an undergraduate degree in business? Any previous exposure to finance, accounting, or stats courses in your earlier academic career? If your answer to these questions is no, don’t be surprised if your B-school of choice hands you a list of prerequisite courses you’ll need to take before getting started in their online MBA program.

Prerequisites are designed to familiarize students with some basic business concepts and terms so they can hit the ground running once enrolled in the MBA program.

“There’s no way to apply the concepts if you haven’t learned the concepts,” says Richard Skolnik, dean of SUNY-Oswego’s School of Business. At SUNY-Oswego, a 36-credit program can jump to as high as 57 credits because of several foundational courses in economics, statistics, and business law that the school requires if students haven’t previously had them.

“It’s about ensuring that students are prepared for graduate course work so they’re not overwhelmed,” Skolnik says.  

Richard Skolnik, Dean of SUNY-Oswego’s School of Business

Admission is not contingent on having these courses completed, but enrolling in online MBA classes is. Many schools won’t allow you to enroll in classes until the prerequisites are complete, while others will allow you to start, but only let you get so far into the curriculum before the requirements must be satisfied.

The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga is one such case. Non-business majors must take four non-credit, online modules — which take 20-30 hours to complete — to obtain specific competencies the school feels they’ll need to be successful in the program. The subject areas the modules cover are economics, statistics, business law, and accounting and all four modules must be completed before six credits of the online MBA curriculum are taken.

The University of Tennessee-Martin is similar. Students who don’t have an academic or professional background in business can enter the online MBA program, but the school will require you to take foundational, prerequisite courses in financial accounting, statistics & probability, or operations management within the first two semesters.

Of course, prerequisite courses are not free and they are, in fact, actual course work that needs to be completed — and successfully passed. The University of Mississippi, for instance, requires a “C” grade or higher for its prerequisite courses, and at Mississippi State, having taken the required prerequisite courses, even during undergrad, isn’t enough. Students need to have received at least a “B” for the prerequisite to count.

Then there’s the cost associated with prerequisite courses. While some schools allow you to take the classes at any institution, it’s still an out-of-pocket expense that applicants should be aware of. Andrew Ward, associate dean of graduate programs at Lehigh’s College of Business & Economics, says, “Our whole program is charged on a per credit basis so if they did the prerequisites at Lehigh they would pay as they would any other class. But they’re not required to get them here.” In Lehigh’s case, students can take their prerequisite courses or equivalents at another institution and still get credit.