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Online MBA Programs: Master of Business Administration Degree Programs

Business administration encompasses the operational, management, and leadership roles associated with running businesses and other types of organizations. It includes the core functional areas of business, which are typically defined as accounting and finance, sales and marketing, production and/or service delivery, human resources management (HRM), purchasing and asset management, and administration/operations management. Success in business may also hinge on professional communication and decision-making skills, as well on a range of qualitative attributes associated with organizational leadership. In addition, navigating the complexities of business administration can require specific technical knowledge in areas like corporate law, taxation, data technologies, and communications platforms. Master of Business Administration or MBA degree programs are designed to prepare students for business careers by providing training and instruction in these vital areas of business leadership and management.

What Is an MBA Degree?

The MBA is a professional degree created as a vehicle for a curriculum that integrates the various facets of analyzing, operating, and guiding a business. The MBA curriculum is grounded in the premise that, in spite of the many variables that contribute to the relative health of a business, there is a core body of knowledge and proven methodoloy for problem solving that lead to successful outcomes when applied properly. Students in an MBA program learn about the various business functions, including accountancy, finance, marketing, HRM, and operations management. They cultivate proficiencies in areas like written and verbal communication, quantitative analytics, and data-driven decision-making. They study economic models, business law and ethics, and theories of organizational leadership. And they practice applying the knowledge and skills they learn to the challenges of managing businesses in the real world.

Online MBA Programs

An online MBA program is a program set up to provide MBA training through the use of distance learning technologies. While some online programs incorporate a limited number of campus visits for orientations, educational activities, and networking opportunities, all or most of classroom instruction in these programs takes place online. Students in an online MBA program attend class by logging on to a learning management system (LMS), which is a platform designed to support the delivery of lectures, assignments, and other course activities. They participate in discussion groups and contact instructors through the LMS, which often provides students with access to a variety of supplemental educational resources.

How Identifies and Classifies Online MBA Programs

Master of Business Administration degree programs are well standardized and are clearly designated as MBA programs, rather than as Master of Science, Master of Arts, or Master of Professional Studies programs. conducts independent research into these programs and classifies them based on several criteria. Programs on the site must be offered by a regionally accredited, non-profit college or university with a business school or program that has additional accreditation from one of three nationally recognized bodies: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), or the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE). Programmatic accreditation from AACSB International, the ACBSP, or the IACBE indicates that the program has the resources to provide comprehensive instruction and training in the field of business administration. also examines the structure and format of online MBA programs to ensure that all or most of the required coursework is offered online. Programs that require students to attend more that two campus visits per year are currently not included on the site.

Online MBA Program Specializations

Many MBA programs offer students the option of specializing in one or more areas of business administration. Generally, this means taking several courses that focus on a particular business function (e.g., accountancy, finance, HRM, marketing), a particular business field (e.g., healthcare, hospitality, international business), and/or specific business concerns (e.g., cybersecurity, financial fraud, project management, taxation). Students in these programs complete the core MBA curriculum in addition to this specialized coursework, which provides more in-depth instruction in subjects that warrant additional training. currently includes online MBA programs with designated specializations into the following areas:

  • Accounting: These programs provide students with specialized coursework in financial and managerial accountancy, financial reporting, and advanced topics in accounting.
  • Analytics: This specialization centers on the use of big data and data mining technologies to inform business decisions and may include coursework in business IT systems, marketing analytics, and/or financial analytics.
  • Criminal Justice: A criminal justice specialization prepares students for administrative and leadership positions in correctional institutions, law enforcement agencies, and the court system with classes in subjects like forensic science, legal systems, and organized crime.
  • Cybersecurity: An MBA in cybersecurity, information security, or cybersecurity management includes specialized coursework in IT security systems, security compliance, and information security management and governance.
  • Entrepreneurship: An entrepreneurship specialization may include classes devoted to business consultancy, franchising, and the application of general business knowledge and skills to the challenges of running small companies and start-ups.
  • Finance: MBA programs with a finance specialization typically include advanced courses in investment and portfolio analysis, corporate financial management, and financial reporting.
  • Financial Fraud: A specialization in financial fraud, fraud management, or forensic accounting includes coursework in areas related to identifying and preventing financial crimes, fraud investigations, and the legal framework for prosecuting cases of fraud.
  • Healthcare Administration: An MBA in healthcare administration or management generally includes courses in healthcare informatics, healthcare systems, and healthcare policy and finance.
  • Hospitality Management: Hospitality and/or hotel management MBA programs have coursework designed to familiarize students with organization structures and management issues in the hospitality and tourism sector, including hotels, resorts, restaurants, and cruise lines.
  • Human Resource Management: A human resource management (HRM) specialization covers topics related to workforce and employee management issues, including labor relations law, recruitment and staffing strategies, and workforce assessment methods.
  • International Business: An MBA in international business covers topics in global finance, global marketing, and accounting procedures for businesses that operate internationally.
  • Marketing: An MBA in marketing generally includes advanced coursework in market research, brand management, and global marketing.
  • Operations & Logistics: An operations management, logistics, or supply chain management specialization typically includes classes that focus on quality control systems, manufacturing systems, inventory management, and strategies for improving efficiency in product and service oriented businesses.
  • Organizational Leadership: MBA programs with an organizational leadership specialization teach students about organizational behavior, the psychology of effective leadership, and communication tools for resolving disputes, negotiating deals, and motivating staff.
  • Project Management: An MBA in project management includes courses that focus on team leadership, budgeting, and resource allocation for business managers overseeing complex projects.
  • Public Health: Public health and public health administration involve managing programs, organizations, and government agencies that conduct research and implement policies aimed at improving community health, and an MBA program with this specialization includes coursework in these areas.
  • Real Estate: Real estate specialization coursework in an MBA program generally focuses on real-estate asset management, development, financing, and marketing.
  • Risk Management & Insurance: MBA specialization courses in risk management and/or insurance focus on assessing and mitigating risk to businesses and international corporations using strategies that protect an entity’s assets, including insurance and investment diversification.
  • Sustainability: An MBA in sustainability and/or environmental compliance generally includes coursework devoted to the energy sector of the economy, environmental law, and business strategies for natural resource management.
  • Taxation: A taxation specialization in an MBA program typically includes coursework in areas like corporate taxation, partnership taxation, and the federal income tax system as it relates to businesses.

Note: In addition to the programmatic specializations listed above, there are several other types of online MBA programs that have specific admissions requirements and are formatted for students who meet certain educational and/or professional work experience requirements. There are one-year MBA programs, which are generally designed for students who have completed introductory business coursework and/or hold an advanced degree or certification in another field (i.e., a JD, MD, MHA, or MPA degree). There are also Executive MBA programs, or EMBA programs, which are designed for students who already have experience working in business administration and who may have sponsorship from the company with whom they are employed. Many EMBA program require applicants to have up to ten years of professional experience.

What Students Learn in an Online MBA Program

While there is some variation in how online MBA programs address various topics in business administration, the core MBA curriculum is well established. Students in an MBA program receive instruction in key functional areas of business, including accountancy, finance, human resources, marketing, and operations management. They study managerial economics, business strategies, and theories of organizational behavior, leadership, and decision-making, and are introduced to business analytics methods and data systems. The MBA curriculum also includes coursework in business law and ethics, and typically incorporates a capstone project in which students apply what they have learned to a real-world business problem. Students who are not enrolled in a formal specialization may be required to choose from electives in specialized areas of business administration, including global business, entrepreneurship, project management, and operations management.

Core MBA Courses

The table below offers an overview of courses that are typically part of the core MBA curriculum. The course titles and descriptions are derived from actual online MBA programs.

Course TitleCourse Description
Managerial EconomicsThe application of economic theory to business planning, decision-making, strategic marketing, and financial management.
Leading Organizations & PeopleThe human capital side of business management, with a focus on an organization’'s mission, vision, goals, and values, organizational culture, and governance structures.
Financial Decision MakingAn examination of financial statements and accounting procedures, the use of these tools in operational decisions, and various strategies for optimal budgeting, strategic investing, and effective project management.
Managerial AccountingThe analysis and utilization of accounting information to make data-driven business decisions.
Marketing ManagementAn overview of the marketing process, with a focus on market analysis methods, marketing strategies, and the development and implementation of marketing plans.
Business EthicsThe legal, ethical, and political concerns in business management, including social responsibility, legal compliance, and internal and external regulation.
Strategic Decision MakingApplying the knowledge and tools of business administration to various challenges, including organizational realignments, geographical relocation, and the introduction of new products and services.
Operations & Supply ManagementAn examination of the operational side of business and various operations management issues, including quality control, product development, and project oversight.
Innovation Through Marketing & TechnologyPrinciples of marketing and the use of business technologies and data systems to identify opportunities, assess risk, forecast returns, allocate resources, and implement a business plan.
Strategic Management CapstoneCreating strategies for business success utilizing various management tools and integrating the knowledge and skills of business administration.

Admissions Requirements for Online MBA Programs

Admissions policies and criteria vary by program, so prospective applicants should research admissions criteria to determine whether or not they meet a program’s requirements. In general, applicants to online MBA must have a bachelor’s degree and submit undergraduate transcripts to the program. Some programs prefer candidates with a GPA above 2.5 or 3.0, and there are programs that require students to have completed certain undergraduate prerequisites (college algebra and statistics courses are common perquisites). The submission of GMAT test scores is required by many online MBA programs, while others may accept the GRE. There are also programs that do not require the submission of standardized test scores. In addition, applicants to online MBA programs may be asked to submit two or three letters of recommendation and/or a short personal statement, and some programs take into consideration a candidate’s prior work experience.

Online MBA Program Format Options

There are several variations in the format of online MBA programs that may be important considerations for prospective applicants. While online programs are generally designed to accommodate students who are working while earning their degree or who may have other significant commitments outside of school, structural variations can affect the relative convenience and/or flexibility of an online program. The primary considerations in this regard include the method of online instruction, full- and part-time enrollment options, and whether or not a program requires students to attend on-campus sessions.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous and asynchronous instruction are the two primary delivery modes for online courses. Students in a course that utilizes synchronous instruction must attend virtual classes by logging on to the school’s LMS at designated times for lectures and other activities. Students in a course that utilizes asynchronous instruction are free to access lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. While asynchronous instruction offers more flexibility than synchronous learning, it requires more self-discipline, as students are responsible for making sure they view lectures and fulfill other course requirements according to set deadlines. Synchronous instruction does not afford as much flexibility as asynchronous instruction, but it may be preferable for students who require or desire a more structured learning environment.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Traditional MBA programs are designed to be completed in two years of full-time enrollment, or four academic semesters. While there are online MBA programs that are formatted in this way for full-time students, there are also programs that offer part-time enrollment options and that are formatted in ways that differ from the traditional academic calendar. For example, some online programs have terms as short as five weeks, during which full-time students complete one course at a time, and there are programs with ten-week terms, during which full-time students take two courses at a time. These programs may allow students to complete the degree requirements in less than two years, or 16-to-20 months. There are also programs that are designed for part-time enrollment, which take two or more years to complete. Programs with flexible enrollment options often cap the number of years students can take to finish the degree requirements at five-to-seven years.

Campus Visits: Some online MBA programs integrate campus visits into their instructional curriculum. These on-campus sessions may be used for orientations, seminars, workshops, networking events, and other activities. They may also give students an opportunity to meet face-to-face with instructors and interact with other students. However, campus visits require travel, which may cause scheduling problems and can add additional expenses to the base tuition for an online MBA program. Prospective applicants who would prefer not to travel to a campus or another designated location for these sessions should look for online MBA programs that do not require campus visits. does not currently include MBA programs that require more than two campus visits per year.