How Hard Is an MBA Online?

Take Your Next Step

Connect with an advisor to discuss career outcomes, curriculum, and get your questions answered.

Step 1 of 2


A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree can represent a few different things for a working professional. It is a widely recognized sign that you have deepened your knowledge of key leadership concepts and the best practices of corporate operations.

The lessons you learn in an MBA program may echo throughout your professional life. Completing coursework and attending lectures by expert faculty add to your knowledge and experience, and they can make you a more confident, well-informed businessperson. The skills you gain in an MBA program may apply directly to the decision-making scenarios you face in your day-to-day work.

FUStudying for an MBA also provides a chance to meet and network with fellow professionals, whether they’re faculty members or classmates. This applies to 100% online degree programs just as much as those with an in-person component, as today’s remote learning options allow for group work and communication in and out of classes.

Of course, despite all of these potential advantages to earning an MBA, it’s still important to do your research before committing to a program. You need to not only ensure an MBA is the right degree for you but that the college or university you’re applying to matches your needs and suits your interests.

This process of self-guided research starts with a few general queries about the MBA’s place in your life and career. Your introspection then expands to encompass three vital questions about the way your goals align with the program you’re considering.

Taking this kind of analytical approach to starting your MBA journey is worthwhile and can help you get what you’re hoping for out of the experience.

How Hard Is an MBA Online, and Is It Worth It?

Every MBA program is a little different, and there are things you should verify when comparing them. Some general MBA knowledge is important at the start, however. Namely, if you begin an MBA program, how likely are you to complete it? And furthermore, what are the benefits of getting an MBA? After all, you are investing your time and money, and you want to get a good return.

How Hard Is an MBA Online Program?

The question of difficulty may come down to your ability to find time in your schedule for the lectures and classwork that make up an MBA curriculum.
While today’s online MBA programs are designed to be undertaken alongside a full-time job, it will be up to you to ensure you balance the lessons and projects with your other commitments. When considering how hard an online MBA is, remember that the work you’ll be expected to complete includes individual assignments, group projects, and likely an involved capstone that simulates real business conditions.

As to whether students tend to finish MBA online programs once they have begun, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides promising information.

In 2022, the NCES reported that over the previous decade, U.S. colleges and universities had awarded more graduate degrees in business than in any other subject area. Nearly a quarter (23%) of all graduate degrees completed in 2019–2020 were in business.

How Much Does an Online MBA Cost?

The cost of an online MBA varies by institution. At Washington State University, for example, the cost of the program ranges between $31,536 and $45,552 for 36 to 52 credit hours.

An MBA program’s return on investment can be significant. The median starting salary for all new MBA hires is $115,000, according to a 2022 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey of employers who recruit from business schools. The GMAC also reports that an MBA degree can lead to $3 million more in earnings over the lifetime of a graduate, compared with the lifetime earnings of individuals who have only a bachelor’s degree.

Salaries can vary quite a bit, however, depending on the position. MBA graduates can work in many different roles and industries, which accounts for a wide range of salaries. For instance, the compensation website Payscale reports that chief financial officers with MBAs earned a median annual salary of about $154,600 in August 2022. Other jobs where the median pay for those with an MBA is in the six-figure range include director of operations and marketing director.

What Impact Does an MBA Have?

In addition to the high-salary potential associated with the degree, it may be easier to secure an interview for a leadership position if you have an MBA on your resume. An MBA from a high-quality school with a top reputation can be even more valuable, as company leaders know holders of these diplomas have worked through a particularly rigorous, enriching program.

Benefits of Getting an MBA Online

Beyond salary potential and expanded career opportunities, there are many hard-to-quantify potential benefits of getting an MBA. These include:

  • Advanced business knowledge, which provides expertise that is valuable in leadership roles in many industries
  • Increased confidence, stemming from the respect and credibility that earning an MBA often confers
  • Additional networking contacts, with opportunities to make professional connections as part of classwork and other MBA program activities
  • Keen international perspective, from the insight into the global marketplace that an MBA can provide
  • Enhanced job security, with the expertise and skills that an MBA can provide serving as a foundation for roles in the ever-changing business world

3 Things You Should Know Before Applying to an MBA Online Program

Once you’re confident you have an understanding of how hard an MBA online is, it’s time to get into specifics regarding your program of choice. Performing some research on the many schools that offer online MBA programs will yield plenty of options.

First, you should verify that your career objectives and interests match what the program offers. Not every MBA program has the same areas of focus in terms of study tracks or specialties. Then you should make sure the schools on your shortlist are accredited and well-regarded institutions that offer high-quality education. Finally, it’s time to check out what the school provides beyond the classroom.

By creating a perfect match between your ideal MBA experience and the offerings of the programs you’re considering, you can create a smoother path and set yourself up for a new stage of your professional life and career. Asking the following questions is a good way to make the right choice.

1) What Is Your Career Goal?

Where do you want to go with your MBA? Do you feel well suited to financial leadership roles? Are you most interested in negotiating international deals? Is there a particular field you’re hoping to become an executive in, which will inevitably bring unique regulations and requirements?

It pays to remember that online MBA programs often contain several tracks. If you have a strong idea of what you want to accomplish after graduation, you should choose a school with a concentration that suits the type of knowledge and experience you’ll need.

As an example of the type of educational tracks that are often available, the following are the four concentrations in Washington State University’s Carson College of Business Online MBA. These concentrations are in addition to the general MBA track, which focuses on concepts of leadership and business decision-making that apply across many industries.

  • Marketing: By examining both theoretical and real-world concepts behind selling and consumer behavior, the marketing concentration equips graduates with the ability to understand their audiences and help their businesses increase their appeal. Securing a loyal, reliable customer base is a fundamental practice today, and that all begins with a well-designed marketing strategy.
  • Finance: This concentration is designed to equip students with an in-depth knowledge of financial practices, both globally and domestically. With elective courses tackling investments, futures, interest, and more, you’ll be able to handle even complex financial transactions and decisions with more confidence.
  • Hospitality Business Management: Companies in the hospitality space are unique enough in their operations and best practices that they merit their own MBA concentration. The coursework within this track prepares students to operate a hospitality business in general, provide customer service, and effectively attract international clientele.
  • International Business: In an era of increasingly global business operations, where companies of all types and sizes are operating across borders, it makes sense to take a deeper dive into the world marketplace. This is the purpose of the international business concentration, which helps students adjust their domestic operational practices to succeed in overseas markets.

Determining how hard it is to earn an MBA online may depend on the length of the program as well. These concentrations are not just available as sets of electives within the MBA program, but can also be taken on their own as graduate certificates. These shorter certificate offerings allow you to prove that you have taken a deep dive into a specific area of business operations, even if you’re not at a place in your career where you have time to take a full MBA course load.

You should also note that the general MBA track is an option, in addition to the specialized concentrations. This includes a wide-ranging set of classes that can prepare you for roles from management analysis to human resources leadership. Because today’s management positions are often closely intertwined with technology, up-to-date information technology security coursework is also included.

2) What Is the Status of Your Chosen Program?

Once you have verified that a school’s MBA program curriculum reflects your career goals, you should check a few other details about your university or college of choice. Hiring managers will know whether your degree came from a high-quality, accredited institution, and the insights you gain in classes will be defined by the instructors’ knowledge and experience. You can break this assessment down into three categories: accreditation, ranking, and faculty.

A. Accreditation

Is your institution of choice accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)? This is an important question to ask early in the school selection process. AACSB accreditation can tell you a lot about the standards a college or university holds itself to.

The organization’s requirements for accredited schools of business are not just about those institutions themselves, but rather the whole field of corporate best practices. Ideally, graduates from accredited programs will go on to become the business leaders of the future, driving industries forward.
The AACSB standards require schools to live up to 10 principles. These principles relate to:

  • Strategic management and innovation
  • Learner success
  • Thought leadership
  • Engagement and societal impact

Schools must also demonstrate they are continually adhering to the AACSB’s standard and keeping their quality of education high.

The Carson College of Business at WSU is not only AACSB accredited, but also holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, a body responsible for maintaining high educational standards in the Pacific Northwest.

B. Rankings

There are many different lists of online MBA programs. By comparing these lists, you can find a school that stands out among the hundreds of business institutions operating today. Here, too, the Carson College of Business’s Online MBA program has a strong presence.

  • In the U.S. News & World Report Best Online MBA rankings for 2024, WSU is No. 22, in the top 10% nationwide. That ranking is even higher—No. 20—on the list of top online MBAs for veterans.

This level of recognition demonstrates that the program is up to high standards of academic rigor and student experience. Prospective employers may be especially happy to work with graduates from such high-achieving universities.

C. Faculty

While a business school’s name and reputation can get students in the door, it’s the faculty members who truly make a difference in the quality of education. Because MBA programs and all school offerings related to them are so closely tied to professional competencies and job opportunities, it can pay to find professors who maintain deep ties to the world of business and can deliver both theoretical and practical knowledge.

A well-balanced and capable faculty will consist of instructors who have had lengthy careers performing cutting-edge research and leading companies of their own to success. They can use their experience to help students through realistic problem-solving scenarios and keep them up to date on the latest practices in both domestic and global business.

The Online MBA faculty at the Carson College of Business consists of Ph.D. holders in every facet of modern corporate practices, with acclaimed research to their names and distinguished careers in both academia and administration.

3) What Additional Resources Does a Business School Offer?

Another determinant in your choice of business school is the offerings outside of the classroom. Does the online MBA program have a strong network of faculty available for networking? Does its program maintain relationships with other institutions around the world, or with organizations in the regional business community? The purpose of an online MBA is to engage in the education alongside a professional career, rather than interrupting a career. That means business connections are especially important.

The Carson College of Business offers international experience opportunities, allowing Online MBA students a chance to discover business competencies outside their regions and experience. Combining such experiences with the ability to interact and network with the Cougar MBA community, and WSU’s dedication to its students’ experience is clear.

Explore the Value of an MBA Online

You’ve considered how hard an MBA online is, as well as its costs, benefits, and some key program features. Now, you’re ready to do your own research into the WSU Online MBA program.
With multiple concentrations to choose from, opportunities for international study, and the flexibility of online learning, the program can provide you with a solid foundation to pursue advanced roles in business. Discover how WSU’s Online MBA program can help you achieve your career goals.

Recommended Readings

Benefits of Executive Coaching: What It Means for Leadership ImprovementOnline MBA Information SessionWork-School-Life Balance for MBA Students


Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, 2020 Guiding Principles and Standards for Business Accreditation

Graduate Management Admission Council, “Is Business School Worth It?”

Indeed Career Guide, “Why Get an MBA? 10 Benefits of an MBA Degree to Consider”

Inspira Futures, “How Hard Is an MBA?”

National Center for Education Statistics, Graduate Degree Fields

Payscale, Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree

Washington State University Carson College of Business, Current Rankings and Awards