There was a time in the not-so-distant past when online degrees were thought of as less-than compared to a conventional on-campus degree. Those days are long gone. Online degrees have shaken off their stigma and become legit, even at the highest levels of academia. This is particularly true for business degrees; on-campus components are typically unnecessary and even the biggest b-schools in the country — Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School and the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago now all offer online business degrees.
So with the stigma gone and the advantages clear — flexible courses and cheaper tuition — how do you go about getting the most out of your degree? Here are a few tips.
- Find the Right Online Business Program
Of course, you’ll want to take the usual steps to track down a business degree that fits your career goals, whether it’s finance, management, accounting or market analysis. You’ll want a respected, regionally accredited program and you’ll want one with coursework and concentrations that are in line with your plans.
Online degree programs are as unique as their schools, so you’ll also want to look for things like this:
- Asynchronous vs. Synchronous. Synchronous online programs ask students to log in at certain times to “attend” class virtually, while asynchronous programs allow students to learn course content, turn in assignments and take tests whenever it’s convenient for them. Some prefer the often-richer interactions synchronous program provides while others love the flexibility they get with an asynchronous program.
- Support Services. Look for online business programs with support services like 24/7 tech support, online student academic advising, tutoring and career counseling. Not all programs have these; the ones that do typically boast higher success rates.
- Check out stats like graduation rates, student-to-faculty ratios and student loan default rates, which are all unmistakable signs of a solid program. Info like this can be found at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
- Don’t Skimp on In-Person Components If You Can Help It
While the lion’s share of a business curriculum is textbook-based, succeeding in the real world of business means developing soft skills like communication, leadership, teamwork and emotional intelligence. Honing these skills on your couch in your pajamas can be a challenge, so many schools offer on-campus workshops or internships that can help you fine-tune your soft skills. If you don’t live near campus, some of the best online schools have connections to help you find one close to home. Others might have virtual meetups where students can work on mock projects together.
Even if it’s not required for graduation, it’s a good idea to take advantage of these opportunities. Not only will they help you get a more well-rounded education, but they may also provide networking opportunities that could net you a job.
- Accelerate Your Degree
Some students might love to take their sweet time in business school, but we’d wager most want to get their degree as quickly as possible. You’ll find a variety of ways to do that:
- Get Credit for Work and Life Experience. Many business schools will let students use life or work experience for college credits. If you’ve worked in a business setting or one where management/leadership skills were front and center (e.g. the military), check with your school to see if you can opt out of any classes.
- Take Truncated Semesters. Some schools use a system with shorter, more intense semesters that let you knock out more credits in one academic year; sometimes as much as a third more, which can help you finish a bachelor’s in business in 3 years and a master’s in business in just a year. You’ll finish quicker and you’ll save beaucoup bucks on tuition.
- Get a Dual Degree. If you know you want to end up with a master’s degree in business (like an MBA), you might consider a dual degree that fast tracks you through a bachelor’s and a master’s. Doing it the traditional way takes at least 6 years but going the dual degree route can typically save you a full year; and that extra year can get you a jump on your career.
Here’s the takeaway — there are tons of respected, academically rigorous online programs in business out there to help you launch a career in the field. Take your time to find a program that fits your learning style and career goals, take advantage of experiential learning opportunities and use your programs’ unique features to knock out your degree faster.
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