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by Sarah Daren | April 29, 2020

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As unfortunate as the COVID-19 epidemic is on pretty much every level, there are some silver linings. One is that many full-time and part-time students have discovered that remote learning is not only doable but in some cases even better than classroom education. As a result, even after COVID-19 no longer makes them necessity, remote classes and online degrees will likely gain in popularity.

One advanced degree that’s been available online for years is the MBA. And now, with the economy struggling and businesses and offices nowhere near opening (or getting back to normal if they do open), it might be the perfect time to get an online MBA to boost your career—or switch careers. Whether you want to run your own online business, start up a brick and mortar company, or just be a more marketable corporate professional, an MBA is a great tool. And today, there are many different types of online MBAs available.

Certificate programs

A decade ago, getting a traditional MBA where you had to exit the workforce for two years to attend classes was a popular route. However, in recent years, the traditional MBA’s popularity has fallen a bit. The millennial workforce grew up in a work climate where internships and experience were deemed most important by employers, and alternate routes of education were more and more accepted. Concerns about financial and time commitments also contributed to the drop in MBA enrollment. However, the MBA is still very much alive—and has evolved to fit modern professionals' needs.

According to James R. Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business, “The MBA is not dead. It’s not even dying. Indeed, although MBA enrollments are down nationwide, the degree is still among—if not the—most popular graduate program on many campuses.”

One way schools are dealing with the time and financial commitment issue is through “certificates.” Certificates, like these options from NYU’s Stern School of Business, provide an alternate option to students concerned about the intensity of a two-year program. Certificates allow students to take a handful of courses in an area of study like finance or marketing, as opposed to having to take a full course load over a two-year period.

A certificate is shorter, more streamlined, and costs less than a traditional MBA. A certificate is a short program of study in a particular subject. It’s more focused, practical, and economical than a master’s degree, but it can’t take the place of a degree in an employer’s eyes. Certificates are good tools for those looking to enhance skills to further a career, get new skills to change careers, or meet state or national licensing requirements.

Specialized degrees

On the other hand, many students opt for specialized master’s degrees such as MBAs in marketing or data science. Specialized master’s degrees are a collection of courses programmatically designed for middle ground—part certificate, part degree. The traditional MBA is a generalized degree, with more than 50 percent of credits often coming in core disciplines. Many students aren’t interested in that. They want to focus on business analytics or human resources without the encumbrance of required financial accounting, corporate finance, or marketing classes. The key is figuring out which version of the MBA fits best with your personal career trajectory.

An MBA for your startup

It’s no secret that some degrees are just boxes checked along the way to a desired career, but when it comes to business, especially at the postsecondary level, knowledge is power. A large number of MBA students are pursuing the degree so they can have all the tools needed to start their own companies. Management, planning, and financial handling information learned in an MBA curriculum is nearly essential for young entrepreneurs who don’t have the overhead to pay salaries to individuals in those fields.

Even though it might not check a box for an employer (if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur and you anticipate working for yourself), an MBA is a great piece of hardware to have when selling yourself or your product to potential clients. In addition to the knowledge gained, the presence of an MBA will also add a layer of confidence to a sales pitch—it’s a good way to tell any future investors and employees that you know what you’re talking about. A confident leader tends to be a courageous leader, and leading with courage is even more important when someone is the be all and end all of a small company.

An MBA to boost earnings

If you don’t fancy the entrepreneur life, an MBA is still a tool that can ultimately increase your earnings. Some corporate positions will simply give you a raise for earning a MBA, without any questions. Generally speaking, professionals with MBAs make roughly double what their counterparts who haven't pursued postsecondary education receive.

In addition to increased earnings, MBAs can open up some very interesting career paths for people who may have been otherwise “stuck” in their positions. As the degree programs touch on HR practices, stats, technology, economics, and finance, those who earn their MBAs have greater opportunities for lateral movement within their organizations. Often, this lateral movement can set up people for more opportunities for advancement in the future.

Where and how to start

If you’re thinking an online MBA is something you’d like to pursue to better yourself as an employee or entrepreneur, you have many different options. Depending on the school, per-credit prices range from less than $1,000 to upwards of $2,500, so weighing your finances is the first step. There are hundreds of business schools that offer online-only MBA programs and degrees, so the next step is to find out which programs offer the certificates or degrees you’re interested.

After that, make sure you're familiar with the requirements that program. Some programs might require the GRE or GMAT, and some schools may waive that if your work experience qualifies. No matter which route you take, be sure to do your research and speak with professionals in your network.

As a final note, once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us, there will be significant opportunities for small businesses and professionals to help the economy get back on track. And an online MBA or certificate program could be just the thing that helps you help others, giving your career a big boost in the process.

Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach. 

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