In both, the primary components of applications — GMAT or GRE scores, essays, transcripts and letters of recommendation — are essentially the same. The main difference, experts say, is the applicant pool, as online MBA students are usually older – with many in their early 30s – and have at least a few more years of professional experience than those taking the traditional route.
This distinction oftentimes causes online applicants to portray themselves differently in their applications than on-campus students do, and plays a role in determining the questions that admissions officers ask.
Traditional applicants “are going to a full-time program to leave their job and maybe pursue another avenue, versus an online program – you’re going to be staying in your job as a working professional and moving through that program,” says Dan Bursch, program director of MBA@UNC, the online MBA at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
To ensure that their application process is successful, online MBA applicants should consider the following five tips.
1. Set aside ample time for your applications: Especially for online learners, who are oftenbalancing other responsibilities with their education, it’s essential to set aside enough time to give the application their best effort.
Applications that tend to shine are those where it is clear that the applicant really took the time to complete it, says William Rieth, director of graduate enrollment management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
“You should know when the application deadlines are for the program, and you should be setting a goal to complete different application documents along that timeline,” Rieth says.
When Scott Grady, a student in Temple University’s online MBA program, completed his application, he blocked off time in his daily schedule to understand what it’s like to have to juggle academic responsibilities with other obligations.
“The way I scheduled the time I spent working on those essays helped me to kind of replicate for my family what it would feel like if I locked myself in the home office for a good bit of every day or so,” the 38-year-old says.
2. Emphasize work experience: Online MBA program applicants should highlight their work experience and detail how online learning will allow them to continue their career success, experts say.
“The more seasoned you are, the more valuable you are to the MBA program,” says Phil Powell, faculty chair of online graduate programs at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “If you’ve worked for some top-notch companies, that also helps your case.”
In addition to ensuring that applicants can balance their job with their online education, admissions officers also want to know that a prospective student will be able to “tether the concepts that they’re learning in the classroom back to the experience that they’ve had in business,” says Rieth, of Temple University.
Grady says highlighting his work experience was an essential part of his essays.
“I wanted to make sure that I was able to give a pretty solid, accurate picture of what kind of employee I am and what kind of person I am,” he says.
3. Know why you are enrolling in an online program: During the interview and application processes, admissions officers may want to know why applicants are pursuing a program in the online format and how they plan to balance work and school, experts say.
Bursch says an applicant’s reasoning becomes part of his or her larger story. Applicants should also note how the technological skills they would gain through an online program would benefit them in their career, he says.
“In today’s business world, that additional skill set is critical to the multinational and global corporations we see a lot of our students in,” he says.