Distance Online MBA | TopMBA

Online MBA education has come a long way in recent years, both in terms of the quality of provision and the format’s reputation. Advances in learning technology, increased connectivity and the entrance of bigger players into the market all add up to mean that an online program can no longer be considered a poor relation to its full-time equivalents.

The online MBA is a part-time MBA format largely undertaken by students who wish to remain in their current role while they study. Employer-funded candidates are common; however, most students will be self-funded candidates who have taken the initiative to pursue an MBA but can’t afford to forgo their salary or to relocate – or simply don’t wish to.

This is where the real appeal of an online MBA becomes apparent. While traditionally a part-time MBA candidate would be limited to schools in their local area, they can now choose to study at a highly-respected international business school, enjoying the benefits of the school’s network, access to world-class faculty and the ability to put a prestigious, globally-recognized school on their résumé.

Distance online MBA


Online MBA Format and Popularity

Technological advances have allowed for great progress and innovation in delivery. In traditional distance learning, as recently as 15 years ago, schools still needed to send out physical copies of textbooks and contact would have been relatively slow-paced.

Today, the format is very different, with video content, podcasts, e-books, instantaneous 24-hour contact, social media and apps. Indeed, much of the technology that once would have been associated solely with online provision is now also used in full-time MBA teaching.

Partially because of the huge leaps made in provision, the online MBA has grown hugely in popularity. QS applicant research shows that as many as 24.5 percent of applicants consider online MBA study.

The idea of an online MBA is most attractive to applicants from Africa & Middle East and Latin America (perhaps because of the relative lack of prestigious schools in these regions compared to North America and Western Europe). However, there is still considerable interest in online programs from North America and Western Europe, with 18 and 21 percent of interested respondents respectively coming from these regions.


Distance Online MBA – top schools

The 10 top business schools for an online MBA, as per the QS Online MBA Rankings, are listed below:

  1. IE Business School           
  2. Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London
  3. Marshall School of Business
  4. Warwick Business School
  5. Kelley School of Business
  6. Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM)
  7. MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business
  8. Alliance Manchester Business School
  9. Hough Graduate School of Business
  10. Durham University Business School

What makes a top online MBA program?

A key differentiator between the ‘diploma mill’ model of low-quality online provision and the distinctly more credible programs on offer from reputable schools is a face-to-face component.

One of the factors considered for the QS Online MBA Rankings (see our ranking of the world’s top 40 online MBA programs here) is whether the programs require students to attend campus, allowing them to interact with faculty and their fellow students in person.

Even a small amount of contact makes it considerably easier to put a face to one’s fellow students and goes a long way to improving the quality of interaction. As well as face-to-face interaction, the rankings also consider how well served students are with synchronous classes, live group discussions, access to learning apps on mobile/tablet and 24/7 tech support.

What else makes a top program, beyond interaction? The keystone of the online MBA rankings is student profile, which considers the applicants/place ratio, number of students enrolled on the program, the average years of work experience students have, plus female and international representation. The importance of this indicator reflects the importance of your program cohort to your overall online MBA experience.

Another key indicator is employability – measured through the credence given to programs by actively-hiring MBA employers around the world. While many online candidates will remain in their current roles, employers still provide a solid benchmark by which one can measure the quality of a program.

Then, our rankings look to a school’s commitment to their online program(s), to ensure that it’s not simply an afterthought but a valid inclusion to their provision. The faculty/student ratio is obviously key, as is the proportion of faculty who are also involved with the school’s full-time program. Completion rates stand as a good indication of how well students are guided and progress through the program.

See the full methodology here.


In terms of career benefits and outcomes, we must consider that there are some key differences between your typical online student and a full-time MBA student. The former is likely to remain in their current role while they study, potentially receiving sponsorship from their employers.

Generally, they will have more experience than full-time candidates; 10 years’ work experience on average for programs in the rankings, which is much higher than on most full-time programs. Indeed, at some schools, online provision isn’t too far removed from executive MBAs, and there is no shortage of crossover programs available.

The globalization of the MBA market has also contributed to the online MBA’s rising popularity, with prospective students in areas of the emerging world where quality provision is harder to come by being given the option to study with a globally recognized name.

In all cases, the career benefits are straightforward – those who previously may not have been able to can now enjoy the advanced business education of an MBA.

They will gain the same rounded overview of business and gain skills across the same range. They’ll tackle the same challenges and cases and be given opportunities to participate in projects. There will be no difference in the difficulty – an online program is certainly not an easy option.

At the end of the day, online candidates are still equally able to write on their résumé that they have gained an MBA and possess the business expertise which is the same as graduates of any other format. Indeed, the self-motivation and drive required to undertake this format of learning can serve to emphasize the drive of graduates.

They will now also be able to enjoy the global and diverse MBA network that comes with the degree – not just those with whom they studied, but the school’s larger network.

Of course, one does lose out on some of the face-to-face aspects of an MBA, which are undeniably important. However, with globalization showing no signs of slowing down, being able to work with people all over the world is a valuable skill. This may be particularly appealing to those working in the online space, given that skills needed here demonstrate an engagement with the digital world.

Finally, as with any other format of part-time MBA education, online MBA candidates will be able to apply the skills directly and instantly in the workplace, passing on the benefits to their team members along the way. Schools often report high percentages of students gaining promotions while enrolled on the course.