An online MBA program allows professionals to increase their earning potential in the fields of finance, marketing, and similar business disciplines with flexible learning options that work with busy schedules.
Because online MBAs do not need to be completed on campus, students can enroll in the top programs in their fields regardless of where they live. By picking and choosing the programs they want, MBA students can leverage their degrees to dramatically increase their salaries and overall value in the business marketplace.
We looked at dozens of online MBAs for this review based on reputation, quality, flexible learning options, specialization, and more. Here are our top picks.
The Best Online MBA Programs in 2021
- Best Overall: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Best for Working Professionals: Lehigh University
- Best for Human Resource Management: Pennsylvania State University
- Best for Finance: University of Maryland
- Best for Nonprofit Management: Johnson & Wales University
- Best for Marketing: Carnegie Mellon University
Best Overall : University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School is a top-ranked online MBA program offering five concentrations, over 25 electives, and an option to complete a degree in as few as 18 months, making it our choice as the best overall online MBA program.
25 electives and five concentrations
Ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report
Option to graduate in just 18 months
Two in-person summits required
Established in 1919, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA program provides students with challenging coursework to help them build leadership skills. The school was voted the number-one online MBA by U.S. News & World Report in 2021 and is our choice as the best overall due to its reputation, course offerings, and flexible graduation options.
UNC’s 62-credit online MBA program has one of the highest credit-hour requirements of any online MBA. In addition to core classes in five concentrations (entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, strategy and consulting, and data analytics and decision-making), the school also offers over 25 electives.
Although the program is typically completed in 24 months by taking two courses per quarter, students can earn their MBA in 18 to 36 months by adjusting their course load. The school also offers four annual start dates (January, April, July, and October), giving students the flexibility to start a program when it works with their schedules.
In addition to online courses, UNC requires students to take at least two in-person summits. While this can be discouraging for working professionals looking for a completely online MBA program, the summits are offered in cities around the world as well as on the UNC campus.
At the time of writing, the total program cost for full-time enrollment (both in-state and out-of-state) is $125,589.
Best for Working Professionals : Lehigh University
Leigh University offers a part-time, self-paced, 100% online MBA program with both real-time and streaming courses and three annual enrollment dates, making it our pick as the best for working professionals.
Live and pre-recorded online classes
One-year MBA option available
Three enrollment dates throughout the year
Two years of professional experience required
Takes 3.5 years to complete
Founded in 1865, Pennsylvania-based Lehigh University makes it easy to complete an MBA online, with multiple class-participation options and three chances to enroll throughout the year, which is why we chose it as the best for working professionals.
Lehigh University’s FLEX MBA is a 36-credit program that can be completed 100% online with a mix of evening, daytime, and weekend live classes to accommodate the schedules of full-time professionals. Some electives are also pre-recorded and can be viewed anytime. Students interact live with professors and other students during the live class or via email, discussion boards, or web-conferencing for pre-recorded classes.
Lehigh’s FLEX MBA program consists of 21 core class credits in seven concentrations (business analytics, corporate entrepreneurship, finance, international business, marketing, project management, and supply chain management) with the remaining 15 in electives.
FLEX MBA students typically complete their degree in 42 months and can take more or less time depending on their schedules. Lehigh also offers a one-year, full-time online program for working professionals who want to pivot their careers toward business. Each student is assigned a faculty advisor, an industry executive advisor, and a career coach who serve as mentors and assist with professional development opportunities.
At the time of writing, the total program cost for full-time enrollment (both in-state and out-of-state) in the FLEX MBA program is $41,595.
Best for Human Resource Management : Pennsylvania State University
Pennsylvania State University offers a top-rated online MBA program in human resources management that delivers an MBA with just three specialized, pre-recorded courses and is our choice as the best for human resource management.
Pre-recorded online courses
Option to start during any semester
No minimum GPA requirement
Three-day residency required
In 1998, Pennsylvania State University launched the Penn State World Campus, bringing the institution’s 150-year legacy of learning to online learners. The school’s online MBA program allows students to specialize in HR management with just three add-on courses to their core requirements, making it our pick as the best for human resource management.
Penn State’s 48-credit online MBA program includes 39 core credits and nine credits of concentration course work in one of 23 concentrations. The school’s human resources concentration requires just three classes: diversity leadership, human resource management, and positive organizational behavior and well-being.
All of Penn State’s online MBA courses are asynchronous, so students don’t have to log in at a specific time each week. Optional live discussions are also available for those who want more engagement. Students can interact with instructors and classmates through a dashboard that includes internal email, groups, announcements, and discussion boards.
Students of Penn State’s online MBA typically take 12 credits per year and are able to complete their degrees in four years. Although the school also requires students to start their online MBA programs with a three-day residency, this requirement is being offered virtually until the summer of 2022.
At the time of writing, the total program cost for full-time enrollment (both in-state and out-of-state) is $59,328.
Best for Finance : University of Maryland
The University of Maryland offers an online MBA in finance with multiple specializations, pre-recorded courses, and no work experience requirements, making it our pick as the best for finance.
Pre-recorded online courses
Offers five finance specializations
No work experience required
Two in-person residencies required
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is one of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park, which was established in 1856. The school’s online MBA in finance has no work experience requirements and offers five career-focused specializations, placing it firmly in the position as the best for finance.
University of Maryland’s online MBA in finance consists of 54 credit hours, 48 of which are core classes, including corporate finance and operations management, with the remainder made up of electives and two residencies. Students can choose either a general-track MBA or specialize in one of five areas of study: accounting, finance, information systems and business analytics, marketing, and supply chain management. Each program can be completed in as few as 24 months.
The University of Maryland blends its online self-paced courses with hands-on learning offered through two required on-campus residencies, one at the beginning of the program and one at the end. Although there are no work experience requirements, the program recommends that students have at least two years of professional work experience before applying.
At the time of writing, the total program cost for full-time enrollment (both in-state and out-of-state) is $88,776.
Best for Nonprofit Management : Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales University’s online MBA in nonprofit management is an accelerated program with multiple start dates and no GMAT requirements for a GPA of 2.85 or higher, placing it as the best for nonprofit management.
Program can be finished in 15 to 24 months
Four enrollment dates throughout the year
GMAT not required for 2.85+ GPA
No live online classes
Founded in 1914, Johnson & Wales University (JWU) offers 14 online MBA programs including an accelerated nonprofit management program that can be completed in as few as 15 months. The school also doesn’t require students to submit GMAT scores for GPAs of 2.85 or higher and has no residency requirements, making it our pick as the best for nonprofit management.
JWU’s program consists of 33 credits of fundamentals and up to nine credits of electives. The curriculum includes core courses in budgeting and financial management and decision-making and analytical techniques, as well as electives like social entrepreneurship, ethics, and social change. All students must also complete a three-credit capstone project. Although it typically takes 24 months to complete the MBA, JWU also offers an accelerated eight-week schedule that reduces the time to as little as 15 weeks.
JWU’s online MBA consists of pre-recorded course videos that can be watched when convenient to accommodate the schedule of working professionals. Although JWU offers no live online classes, some instructors offer optional live chat meetings or web conferencing sessions.
At the time of writing, the total program cost for full-time enrollment (both in-state and out-of-state) is $33,012.
Best for Marketing : Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University offers a part-time MBA in marketing with both live and pre-recorded courses and no residency requirements for full flexibility making it our choice as the best for marketing.
Flexible online class schedule
Live online classes meet just twice a week
Optional onsite learning weekends
Program takes 32 months to complete
Originally founded in 1900 by Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Mellon University offers both full-time on-campus and part-time online MBA programs through its Tepper School of Business. The school’s online MBA in marketing meets just twice a week and has no on-campus attendance requirements, securing its spot as the best for marketing.
Carnegie Mellon’s marketing MBA takes place in eight six-week-long “mini semesters,” with the entire degree taking 32 months to complete. The program approaches marketing disciplines using analytical methods from statistical modeling, data mining, machine learning, and operations. Courses include product marketing, market entry planning, social media, segmentation, communications management, sales forecasting, consumer behavior, and more.
Carnegie Mellon’s program features live online classes that meet only two nights a week, giving students plenty of flexibility to complete coursework on their own schedule. Although there are no residency requirements, the school offers six in-person access weekends in various locations so students can meet and network with classmates, other MBA students, and alumni.
At the time of writing, the total program cost for part-time enrollment (both in-state and out-of-state) is $140,000.
Online MBA programs are built around the schedules of working professionals, allowing them to earn their degrees in any number of business disciplines on their own schedules.
With literally hundreds of programs to choose from, we picked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the best overall due to its outstanding reputation and option to graduate in just 18 months. Lehigh University took the top spot as the best for working professionals with its choice of three enrollment dates and option to earn an MBA in just one year.
In terms of degree specializations, Pennsylvania State University comes out ahead as the best for human resource management with only three add-on courses to the program's core classes and no minimum GPA requirement, while the University of Maryland wins the best for finance category by offering five finance specializations with no work experience required.
Johnson & Wales University took our spot as the best for nonprofit management with a program that can be completed in just 15 months as an MBA with no GMAT score required for a 2.85 or higher GPA. Finally, we chose Carnegie Mellon University as the best for marketing due to its live classes that meet only two nights a week and no residency requirements.
|Program||Why We Picked It||Notable Features|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Best Overall||Top-rated MBA with the option to finish in 18 months|
|Lehigh University||Best for Working Professionals||Live and pre-recorded online classes with three start dates|
|Pennsylvania State University||Best for Human Resource Management||Pre-recorded classes with only three specialized courses|
|University of Maryland||Best for Finance||Five finance specializations with no work experience required|
|Johnson & Wales University||Best for Nonprofit Management||15- to 24-month MBA with no GMAT required for 2.85 GPA|
|Carnegie Mellon University||Best for Marketing||Flexible live classes with no residency requirements|
Frequently Asked Questions
What Do You Learn in an Online MBA Program?
Online MBA programs teach both theoretical and practical knowledge about business in a variety of disciplines, including marketing, finance, human resources, and more. Analytics and data are a central focus of these programs helping professionals interpret and use the vast amount of valuable data generated in the business world.
These programs are also geared toward working professionals with busy schedules who want to advance their earning potential or pursue leadership roles in the business world without taking time out of their careers.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online MBA Program?
Most online MBA programs are part time in order to accommodate the inflexible schedules of working professionals. As a result, most take up to three years to complete. Some, however, offer accelerated programs that can be completed in 15 to 18 months or even one year. A few also take longer (up to 42 months) and are best suited for students with very busy schedules or who aren’t in a hurry to get their degrees.
Are Online MBA Programs Worth It?
Online MBA programs are often the only and best option working professionals have to either pivot to a career in business or advance their business skills and knowledge in their field. In a recent survey by MBA job platform Relish, users reported a pre-MBA salary of $79,505 and an average post-MBA salary of $116,248.
Because these classes are offered part time and online, they allow students to work at their own pace and complete their degrees at their convenience.
How Are Online MBA Programs Different From Traditional Programs?
In general, online MBAs are nearly identical to traditional MBA programs in terms of standards and quality of education. Most follow identical curriculums delivered through either live or pre-recorded online classes rather than through in-person lectures.
Online MBAs lack most networking opportunities offered by interacting with fellow students and faculty. To compensate for this, many programs require students to spend a few days on campus through a residency requirement and offer opportunities to connect with other MBA students, faculty, and alumni through online networks.
How Much Do Online MBA Programs Cost?
In general, MBA programs tend to be more expensive than other master’s degree programs. With that said, the increase in salary an MBA provides can be greater than from earning a Master of Science or Master of Arts.
Our research shows that the least expensive online MBAs can cost around $7,400 for an entire full-time program, with most coming in under $20,000. A few, however, can be more expensive, such as Carnegie Mellon’s program which totals $140,000.
How We Chose the Best Online MBA Programs
We looked at dozens of online MBA programs for this review. Our first consideration was reputation as we wanted to choose schools that were highly respected and recognized in their field in order to give students the greatest return on their investments.
We also made sure to choose schools that offered a flexible online learning experience since most MBA students are also working professionals with busy schedules. This included self-paced courses and the ability to interact with other students and faculty in order to get as personalized of a learning experience as possible.
Finally, we looked at programs that offered the best MBAs for specific disciplines, based on recognition, quality, flexibility, and more.