Inside Look at the Best Online MBA Programs for 2021

Review this year’s top-ranked online MBA programs, learn what to look for in a quality program, and explore the most popular types of MBA programs available online.

Earning an MBA online can open many doors to you in the business world. Whether it is finance, management, or consulting, you will be well-prepared for a rewarding career that pays well. However, deciding to pursue this path is only the first step; you’ll need to decide which B-school and online MBA program best align with your education and career goals. Most programs offer quite a few degree specializations and course formats to support different career paths. With dozens of possibilities available, how do you choose?

This guide will help get you started in your research by showing you what to look for in a quality online MBA program, a list of this year’s top B-schools offering MBA programs online, and a breakdown of the most popular types of online MBA programs and specializations.

AACSB-Accredited B-Schools with the Best MBA Online Programs in 2021

To help you begin your search for a solid online MBA program, we’ve identified accredited B-schools with online MBA programs that have a high combined score in affordability, flexibility, and quality. We’ve highlighted three programs below that truly stand out from the pack. This is a preview of our full rankings list arriving later this year, so be sure to check back soon.

University of North Carolina – Kenan-Flagler

UNC’s Kenan Flager-School of Business has an online MBA program with five different concentrations. Qualified students can choose from over 25 electives while specializing in entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, strategy and consulting, data analytics, and decision-making. The program builds essential business strategy and management skills while introducing learners to economics and organizational leadership principles. The school’s extensive alumni network also helps connect soon-to-be graduates with potential employers, establishing a strong professional network that sets this course of study apart from other online MBA programs.

Specifically designed for working professionals, UNC delivers most coursework components entirely online, offering classes in business modeling, corporate strategy, financial analysis, and a host of other subjects. All students must complete two in-person summits held at the school’s Chapel Hill campus and select cities worldwide. These immersive experiences expose students to new business perspectives and help strengthen the interaction between colleagues and faculty.

University of Southern California

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USC offers a cross-disciplinary online MBA that draws on technical knowledge in marketing finance, accounting, entrepreneurship, and management. Students learn how these disciplines intersect and how they can improve business strategies and corporate outcomes. Graduates of the program step into roles as forward-thinking business leaders who can design effective, practical solutions across industries. The fully accredited program entails 51 credits and includes instruction in managerial techniques, business fundamentals, environmental sustainability, and finance.

Students can take classes to choose and access course material using a blend of synchronous and asynchronous online learning tools. USC uses a semester system, which means learners can begin the program in the fall or spring, enrolling in 15-week classes. Within this system, students move through the program with a cohort of peers who provide support and additional interaction opportunities. USC also provides one-on-one career advising services to all its students.

University of Florida

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At the University of Florida, students can earn an MBA online along two different tracks designed to accommodate a wide range of circumstances: a 16-month option and a 24-month option. The 16-month track offers an accelerated path to graduation for students who hold an undergraduate degree in business or a closely related field. The 24-month track casts a wider net and allows for more flexibility in study and timing. Both options result in the same degree and administer the same menu of courses covering financial management, international marketing, organizational behavior, and entrepreneurship.

Housed within USC’s Warrington College of Business, this course of study uses cohorts comprised of ~50 students that offer a small group experience within an interactive online learning environment. The program uses asynchronous tools for maximum convenience – students can access content and complete assignments whenever they choose. USC administers all program requirements virtually, but students must attend an in-person orientation session before beginning a course of study.

Common Qualities of the Best Online MBA Programs

There are a ton of business schools and online MBA programs out there. You can narrow your search by looking for common qualities often shared by the top programs. This helps establish some clear parameters and ensures that you complete a solid, reputable course of study that will pay off in the future. Here are a few key indicators to keep in mind.

  • AACSB Accreditation

    This is one of the most important characteristics to look for. Programmatic accreditation from the AACSB is no substitute for institutional accreditation (every potential school should have that), but it does demonstrate additional clout and quality. The best online MBA programs will hold this credential because it provides additional backing specific to business and management.

  • Professional Specializations

    Many students earn a generalist MBA, but you can advance your career even further if you choose a specialization that deepens expertise and expands your profile. With that in mind, it’s worth considering schools that give you some options. We detail some of those options later in this guide. If you already work in finance or entrepreneurship, for example, pursuing a course of study that supports those interests can go a long way.

  • Resources and Support

    Most schools will have some services in this area, but the best online MBA programs showcase their ability to support students (especially online learners) throughout their studies. In this regard, things to look for include professional development tools, built-in alumni networks, technology resources, robust fieldwork placements, and career services for soon-to-be graduates.

3 Best Reasons to Earn an MBA Online

Obtaining the skills and knowledge you need to advance your business career is easier and more accessible than ever, thanks to new technologies and online learning tools. The best MBA online programs provide quality training from industry experts with built-in options for customization. Also, you will enjoy the following benefits and advantages:

  1. Flexibility

    These programs stand among the most convenient and flexible options out there. Designed with busy learners and working professionals in mind, online MBA programs can accommodate various circumstances. This means you can study without any personal or professional hiccups, graduating quickly so you can put your degree to good use.

  2. Diversity

    Business and corporate enterprise are more globalized than ever. The most successful leaders aren’t just aware of this; they encourage it by hiring, interacting, and working with people from all walks of life. Earning an MBA online prepares you for this reality by transcending national and geographic boundaries. You will study with a diverse group of colleagues that reflects real-world work conditions.

  3. Affordability

    Online MBA programs tend to be quite cheaper than the traditional, brick-and-mortar alternatives. Tuition rates vary by individual program, of course, but this approach could save you money in the long run. For example, many schools extend a flat rate to online learners and sometimes forgo many of the fees often associated with in-person education.

To accommodate different starting places and diverse circumstances, most schools offer several different ways to earn your MBA online. The program types discussed below are usually tailored to fit unique needs. If you’re concerned that your situation might make more school difficult, rest assured – there’s a viable starting place for everyone.

  • Executive Online MBA Programs

    Theoretically, you can become a top business executive with an MBA or MBA specialization. These programs fast-track that path and are designed for working professionals with some corporate experience. They typically offer evening courses (if synchronous) and blend traditional business programming with instruction in executive-level leadership and management.

  • Accelerated/1-Year Online MBA Programs

    These programs attract learners who want to complete their studies quickly and have few outside commitments. Most programs graduate students in 16 months or less and administer an intensive curriculum covering a broad range of topics in less time. Because of their rigorous nature, many accelerated programs call for an undergraduate degree in business.

  • Part-Time Online MBA Programs

    If you are already working in business, want the career advancement opportunities an MBA provides, and are in no rush to graduate, this could be the best option. These programs move at a slower pace to accommodate professional commitments and family responsibilities.

  • No-GMAT MBA Programs

    These online MBA programs fast-track the admissions process by waiving traditional test requirements. Many programs require the GMAT (a standardized management test), but if you’re pressed for time or don’t have a business or management background, this could be the way to go. Some programs might call for additional admission requirements in some cases.

Top Online MBA Program Specializations

One of the great things about earning an MBA is the ability to specialize. The best MBA online programs offer specializations that correlate with in-demand skill sets and broader business management trends. Specializing can set you apart from the competition when you graduate. Check out some of the options below.