Online MBA programs that offer the best value

BY Jason ArmestoNovember 19, 2021, 2:32 PM
Illustration by Martin Laksman

For people who are busy with work, family, and the other responsibilities that life throws at us, the prospect of traveling to and from class every day may not be realistic. An online MBA program allows individuals to get an education and advance their careers from the comfort of their own home. Not only can that save you time and logistical headaches, but online programs can also save you a lot of money. 

“If you think about the cost that it takes to run a campus, a Zoom session is just a lot, a lot cheaper,” says Scott Edinburgh, founder and CEO of Personal MBA Coach. Being off campus means using up less resources and saving a literal on-campus classroom—benefits that are reflected in the online program price tag, not to mention some additional savings.

“If you’re doing a part-time MBA and you’re living in Kentucky and traveling to Chicago every week, you’ll have general cost of living changes. Or people that go to school in New York have to travel there to get a new apartment and cancel the lease on their existing one,” says Edinburgh. “With an online program you really don’t have to do any of that.”

Still, some online MBAs aren’t cheap. Carnegie Mellon University, for instance, has an online MBA price tag of nearly $140,000. That could be a deal breaker for many prospective candidates even though its online program is ranked No. 3 by Fortune. However, among the top 25 schools in Fortune’s ranking of the best online MBA programs, there are plenty of high quality programs that won’t break the bank. It’s just a matter of finding an option that’s the right fit for you. 

Indiana University—Bloomington 

The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University—Bloomington is ranked No. 2 by Fortune for its online MBA program. Don’t live in Indiana? Don’t worry; 90% of students who have enrolled in the Kelley Direct online program live outside of the state, and all 50 states are represented. Plus, there’s a significant international element, as students from 29 non-U.S. countries have been through the program in its history. 

You’ll be able to choose from seven different majors, and half of your classes will be electives. Alumni of the program have found success; 64% report a promotion while enrolled and a mean base salary of $122,000 upon graduation. Tuition isn’t cheap—the 51 credits required for graduation will total more than $70,00—but the two-year program is a relatively affordable online option, particularly when compared to many top-ranked full-time MBA programs

University of Florida

If your budget is closer to $60,000, the online MBA program at the University of Florida (Hough) is worth consideration. You can choose between the two-year program or the accelerated one-year program, and either way, classes are limited to 65 students to help provide quality student-professor interactions. Candidates at the No. 5-ranked school are also encouraged to utilize resources like the University of Florida MBA Association and Networking Nights to connect with alumni. The cost of tuition is $59,808.

University of Arizona

A slightly cheaper online option is the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona (ranked 16 by Fortune), with a total price tag of $51,525. Candidates can choose from six areas of concentration and the school emphasizes flexibility. There are six separate start date options each year, and you can complete the degree at your own pace, ranging from 14 months to 30 months. The school has an active alumni base with 3,600 MBA alums throughout the world. 

University of Pittsburgh

The part-time MBA program at the Katz School at the University of Pittsburgh offers an online option, and you can even attend some classes in-person if you’d like a taste of the on-campus experience. The program, which is ranked No. 7 by Fortune, allows students to individualize their education by selecting electives that coincide with their career interests. Students can also choose to complete a Katz Credential, which gives students hands-on experience in one of nine different areas of business. At $35,190, the cost of tuition is half that of some other programs.

University of Massachusetts—Lowell

The online MBA program at the University of Massachusetts—Lowell is even cheaper. For just $19,650, candidates can earn an MBA in as little as 12 months in a program that’s ranked No. 18 by Fortune. You can customize the program by selecting one of nine business concentrations or choose a general program with broader electives. The school’s website states that students can earn an average salary of $83,000. 

Factors to consider aside from cost

A program’s price tag and ranking matter, but they’re not the main factors you should consider when choosing a program. “I wouldn’t get too caught up in the rankings, especially if you’re looking at online MBAs,” Edinburgh says. “I think small differences in price I wouldn’t worry about. This program may be $15,000 cheaper than the next one, but if the next one is going to get you a better job then that $15,000 could end up being a rounding error,” he says. 

Edinburgh advises online candidates to be more concerned about the career outcomes that previous students have had after completing the program, as well as classroom dynamics. That includes how many people are in your class, what they are like, and how they compare to you. Additionally, it’s important to consider what school resources may be available to you as an online student, such as mentorship, resume, and interview clinics. 

“There’s education, there’s classes, and then there’s what’s actually coming out at the end and how’s the school going to help you get there,” Edinburgh says. 

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.