Online MBA vs. In-Person: Which Is Right for You?

A smiling student works on a laptop outside.

In today’s increasingly competitive business landscape, an advanced degree such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) can boost an individual’s job prospects. Business schools continue to be highly successful in placing their MBA graduates in coveted jobs, and MBA programs offer opportunities to learn innovative business practices and network with industry experts.

It’s no surprise then that universities are experiencing a surge in enrollment for online MBAs—degree programs that offer the rigor of traditional MBA programs with greater flexibility for busy professionals. But when it comes to deciding whether to choose an online MBA vs. an in-person program, prospective students have even more factors to consider.

Exploring online MBA program offerings allows professionals to learn how they can take advantage of the many benefits of earning an MBA online.

Why Earn an MBA?

Business professionals choose to earn an MBA for several reasons. Starting salaries for new MBA graduates reached record highs in 2021, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. Beyond higher potential earnings, securing an MBA can also be a route to gaining transferable skills, starting a successful business, or networking with highly driven industry professionals.

Higher Salaries

MBA degrees tend to yield high returns on investment. MBA graduates of most programs made, on average, more money two years after graduation than they had borrowed to earn their degrees, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data.

Other sources corroborate this finding. MBA graduates commanded a salary premium compared with direct-from-industry hires between 2018 and 2021, according to the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council™ (GMAC). In 2021, the median annual salary for marketing professionals with an MBA was projected at $115,000, compared with $65,000 for those with only a bachelor’s degree.

Transferable Skills

Business is ever-evolving, and companies consistently seek highly skilled graduates with the ability to adapt to rapid changes in business consulting, investment banking, technology, and health care, among other areas.

Earning an MBA can help professionals develop the skills they need to train and manage teams and drive multiple complex projects simultaneously. MBA programs empower graduates with methodologies that apply across fields—from tech to health care to finance—and teach skills that graduates will use when:

  • Establishing objectives
  • Creating strategic plans
  • Delegating tasks
  • Overcoming barriers
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Monitoring and measuring progress
  • Evaluating performance (both individual and team-wide)

Starting a Successful Business

Starting a business is an exciting and inherently risky endeavor. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study of annual business openings and survival rates from March 1994 through March 2021, only 66%–70% of new businesses remained open after their second year, and only 50% still existed after five years.

Because so many new businesses fail in the early years after their founding, business leaders need to possess diverse knowledge on a variety of business topics to manage risk and steer their companies toward success. An MBA provides a solid foundation for a wide array of business skills that can be the make-or-break factor for entrepreneurs as they:

  • Conduct research and development (R&D)
  • Seek out new investments
  • Develop products
  • Launch marketing campaigns
  • Hire and train employees

Network with Driven Industry Professionals

In addition to teaching savvy business practices and skills, MBA programs present opportunities to network with industry professionals who can act as potential mentors, colleagues, and collaborators with the next generation of business leaders.

MBA students often enter graduate school with years of work experience, bringing insight into industry best practices and growth opportunities. By returning to school for an MBA, professionals can create learning communities and business partnerships that can last long after graduation.

The Rise of Online MBA Curricula

The popularity and proliferation of online MBA programs have grown in recent years. More full-time MBA students were enrolled in online programs than in-person ones during the 2020–21 academic year (45,038 students in online programs vs. 43,740 in-person), according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the trend toward online programs for graduate studies in business. Workers’ needs for alternative career options coupled with graduate schools’ more flexible admissions policies resulted in an online MBA boom: between 2016 and 2022, the number of accredited business schools offering MBA programs in a fully online format soared by 85%, according to the AACSB.

Once a traditional in-person program, Washington State University’s MBA is now offered exclusively online. The program is ranked as one of the 25 best online MBA programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

The Benefits of Earning an Online MBA vs. an In-Person MBA

Prospective students may be interested in exploring the many benefits of an online MBA degree, including:

  • Potential cost savings
  • Easy access to innovative technology
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Matching salary and career projections
  • Global job opportunities

Potential Cost Savings

Traditional MBA programs often come with inherent costs beyond tuition, such as paying for transportation or housing, as well as spending time commuting to campus.

For students who continue to work while earning an MBA online, the flexibility of an online program may afford meaningful cost savings. Students can take advantage of work-from-home jobs to continue employment with companies several states away from their graduate schools, without expensive relocation costs.

Additionally, students can choose online MBA programs that best align with their goals and interests—even if they’re through out-of-state schools. Online programs allow students to earn a degree without having to settle for a less desirable option.

Access to Innovative Technology

Online MBA programs offer students around the world access to innovative technologies without ever needing to set foot in a campus lab or library.

With remote access to cutting-edge data analytics tools, cloud computing, university servers, and software, online students are well-equipped to learn the technological skills they’ll need to succeed at top tech companies, health care organizations, and consulting firms.


For many prospective students, the primary benefit they consider when weighing an online MBA vs. an in-person MBA is the flexibility afforded by the former. In-person MBA courses may be offered only once a day—late at night after working hours or in the middle of the work week.

Online MBA programs empower graduate students to complete their coursework when and where they want, often without having to take time off from work. That leaves more time for learning and personal commitments.

Salary and Career Projections

Multiple studies show that the MBA has a great return on investment. The GMAC projects that individuals with MBAs may earn $3 million more over a span of 35 years compared with those who only have bachelor’s degrees—whether they earned an MBA in person or online.

For students who earned an undergraduate degree in a non-business field, such as the humanities or sciences, an MBA can sway hiring managers to consider applicants who don’t necessarily have robust marketing, sales, or finance experience. And with online degree programs becoming more popular at top schools across the country, companies are less concerned about whether a candidate earned their degree online or in person.

Global Job Opportunities

The online MBA opens up a range of job opportunities both domestically and abroad. Graduate students can earn their degrees while traveling, working, and networking internationally—laying a foundation for a long and successful career in or outside of the United States.

Select online MBA programs even offer international field studies, meaning that graduate students can gain experience working on projects in international markets while earning their advanced degrees.

Launch Your Business Career with an Online MBA

Online MBA programs can help provide the management skills and experience graduates need to excel in business and take their careers to the next level.

Beyond the typical online MBA program benefits of flexibility and potential cost savings compared with traditional programs, Washington State University’s Online Master of Business Administration program teaches cross-cultural fluency to future business leaders so they can succeed in the global marketplace. Discover how WSU’s Online MBA program—which offers concentrations and certificates in various areas of business—can help you launch the next phase of your career.


Recommended Readings

5 Hidden Benefits of Getting an MBA

Executive MBA vs. MBA: What’s the Difference?

Post-MBA Certifications and Courses



Forbes, “The Best MBAs for Salary and Prestige Jobs Are Not the Same”

Graduate Management Admission Council™, Demand of Graduate Management Talent: 2021 Hiring Projections and Salary Trends

Inside Higher Ed, “Online MBAs Overtake Residential Programs”

Investopedia, “Is an MBA Worth It?”

The Wall Street Journal, “MBA Starting Salaries Are Soaring”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 7. Survival of Private Sector Establishments by Opening Year