The Best Online MBA Programs in 2021

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The second you look at the price tags of online Master of Business Administration programs, you’re likely to think one thing: is this really worth it? The best online MBA programs offer excellent curriculums, networking opportunities, and earnings potential. 

In this article, I’ll take a close look at the factors that make a good online MBA degree program for students—and the programs that meet these criteria.

Keep in mind that even the top programs won’t be a good match for everybody. To help you decide, I’ve explained the pros and cons of each school.

Top Online MBA Programs: First Look

  1. Best online MBA program overall – Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business Online MBA
  2. Best hybrid online MBA degree – Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business
  3. Best MBA online school curriculum – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler School of Business
  4. Best faculty support in an online MBA course – University of Southern California Marshall School of Business
  5. Best accelerated online MBA program – University of Florida Hough Graduate School of Business


1. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business Online MBA – Best Online MBA Program Overall


  • High promotion rate
  • Relatively low tuition
  • Higher average student age


  • Large online cohort
  • 48-month average to finish

Consistently ranked at the top of online MBA program lists, the Indiana University program deserves its spot for its cost-benefit ratio. With total tuition and fees at $74,520, it costs students about half as much as equivalent programs. Meanwhile, the average starting salary for an Indiana University MBA graduate is $121,000.

Though the online enrollment is higher than some other online programs, Indiana University ensures that online MBA students get a thorough education with their in-person faculty online. The degree takes students 24-48 months to complete and includes 50% elective courses.

More proof of Indiana University’s effectiveness? 64% of Indiana University MBA students are promoted either while they’re still in school or within six months of graduation.

2. Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business – Best Hybrid Online MBA


  • Very small cohort
  • Mirrors in-person learning
  • Easy transfer options


  • Few electives
  • High tuition and fees

Offering small class sizes, Carnegie Mellon University’s online program features a tiny, select group of students: only 125. However, these students benefit from the unique format. They’ll take both live classes two nights a week, asynchronous classes when it suits them, and meet in-person six times a year around the country.

Overall, the program takes students 32 months to complete and costs $141,320. 

The Carnegie Mellon University School of Business uses the same STEM-driven curriculum, focusing on analytics and data, that the in-person school program does. This does limit students’ elective options. However, students do have the chance to transfer to an in-person program at the university with relative ease.

3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler School of Business – Best MBA Degree Curriculum Online


  • Higher average age
  • Higher starting salary
  • Live virtual classroom


  • Higher tuition and fees
  • High credit hour requirements

Requiring 62 credit hours of synchronous and asynchronous courses, the University of North Carolina School of Business has high standards. Within these hours, however, students are able to take not only core courses but also numerous electives, independent study projects, and concentration classes.

Most students complete the University of North Carolina online MBA in 24 months, but you’ll have the option to schedule more or fewer classes each semester to finish in 18 or 36 months instead.

The price tag for a University of North Carolina online program is on the higher side, at $125,589. However, it’s important to balance this against your earnings potential after completing school. The Kenan-Flagler graduate has an average starting salary of $134,235! 

4. University of Southern California Marshall School of Business – Best Faculty Support in an Online MBA


  • Higher average age
  • Very small cohort
  • High average starting salary


  • No electives
  • Relatively high tuition

With an online enrollment of only 178, the University of Southern California’s students benefit from the same professors as their in-person counterparts at USC. In the 21 months the average student takes to finish the degree, they’ll have access to the engaged, available professors for phone calls and 1-on-1 meetings.

Another benefit of University of Southern California classes is that they offer students interdisciplinary focuses. This ensures that students can apply their knowledge to their professional field, no matter what it is. 

While the tuition at the University of Southern California is relatively high, at $109,428, potential students should balance this against the average starting salary for graduates: $189,154. This is the highest of any top online MBA program.

5. University of Florida Hough Graduate School of Business – Best Accelerated Online MBA Program


  • Relatively low tuition
  • Affordable online MBA program
  • Relatively high starting salary
  • 12- and 24-month options


  • High workload for faster track
  • Required weekend residencies

Quickly climbing up the list of top online business programs, the University of Florida offers students a low price tag ($59,807) and a high average starting salary ($150,505).

Beyond its stats, however, the school is investing in its future by offering students extensive scholarships and financial aid, which is rare among online MBA programs. This financial aid can make all the difference for students in a cost-benefit analysis of completing an online MBA.

The University of Florida also minimizes the time investment students need to make overall by offering an accelerated, 12-month program. Take note, though, that though your classes and assignments will be online, students still have to come to campus every four months for weekend residencies.

Choosing the Best MBA Online: FAQ

What Is an Online MBA Program?

An MBA is a Master of Business Administration. In other words, it’s a master’s program focused on building skills and opportunities for those in the business world. To apply, potential students generally need an undergraduate degree or equivalent work experience.

Because of the nature of the degree, most business programs don’t accept students immediately out of college. Instead, the programs are designed for experienced business professionals. They require that students have several years of work experience under their belts to benefit from the case studies and methodologies they’ll learn in the program.

While business programs have traditionally required the GMAT test for admission, some are increasingly allowing students to submit the GRE instead. For most online MBAs, you’ll also need to submit your transcripts from your undergraduate school, letters of recommendation, and essays.

How Long Do MBA Programs Take to Complete?

It depends on which program you choose. While an online degree can take as much as 48 months (at Kelley) or as little as 12 months (at Hough), most programs fall somewhere in the middle.

On average, you can anticipate spending around 24 months, or two years, getting your degree online. If you’re able to take more classes each semester, you can shorten this time at many programs.

However, if you have other responsibilities, like full-time work or family obligations, you may need to take fewer classes each semester and spend longer overall getting your degree. 

Options for time-to-completion vary enormously by program, so ensure you do your research before enrolling!

What Types of MBA Courses Are Available?

While an online MBA typically focuses on a core set of courses applicable to business careers generally, others allow students to concentrate or “major” in a particular field. These can include:

  • Legal
  • Leadership
  • Information tech
  • Personnel management
  • Finance
  • Marketing

If it’s important to you to pursue a specialized degree or even to take courses in one or more of these areas, it’s vital to review the curriculums the schools post for online MBA students.

For example, online MBA students in the two-year online program at Hough are required to take courses in financial accounting, professional writing and communication, organizational behavior, and eight additional areas.

However, they can also choose from a variety of electives for two additional courses, including Introduction to Real Estate and Business-to-Business Marketing.

Similarly, Kelley MBA students can pick from seven majors: strategy and leadership, business analytics, finance, digital technology management, marketing, supply chain and operations, entrepreneurship, and corporate innovation.

How Are Online MBA Programs Accredited?

Accreditation is a type of review that ensures educational programs meet well-established quality standards. It’s important to make sure an online MBA program is accredited before enrolling, as unaccredited programs have far less value for your career.

Independent accrediting agencies review online MBA programs to accredit them. Three agencies do this.

These are: the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB); the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is the largest of these.  

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business has accredited all of the programs listed above.

Why Should I Enroll in an MBA Program?

Because they target people who already have significant work experience, it can be easy to dismiss MBA programs as unnecessary. However, completing an MBA program has multiple benefits for your professional life.

Getting this degree can give you much more career flexibility. If you intend to pursue management or consulting as a career, a master’s is a huge plus—and often required. In many fields, like financial services, you may find that you hit a career ceiling without a master’s. 

At the best online master’s programs, MBA graduates also get an increased breadth of knowledge. You’ll take courses in a number of different areas, from finance to writing, that will build upon the knowledge base you’ve already built through your work experience.

Finally, MBA programs provide you with hands-on experience in business through internships and independent study opportunities. This is one reason looking for a good alumni network is important: this is often where a program’s internship and work experience opportunities come from, in addition to jobs for MBA graduates!

Will Completing an MBA Course Help Me Secure a Good Job?

It absolutely can—but how “good” that job is depends on what you’re looking for in a career!

There are some jobs, particularly in management and consulting, that require applicants to have these degrees. Even when you do an MBA online, you’ll still be qualified to apply for these jobs. 

Your concentration within your program also has a lot to do with potential career opportunities afterward. Salaries for different jobs vary widely. Here’s a quick snapshot of what you can expect to earn on average by industry after graduation from a full-time MBA program, according to the U.S. News & World Report:

  • Consulting: $140,187
  • Financial Services: $130,001
  • Technology: $120,784
  • Real Estate: $112,086
  • Manufacturing: $102,867
  • Human Resources: $92,046
  • Nonprofit: $86,840

One crucial factor to evaluate in an online MBA program is its networking opportunities. Schools with strong alumni networks often have much higher success rates in securing high-paying employment for their graduates.

Will My Company Pay for Me to Take an MBA Course?

Some will. It depends entirely on your company. The catch, of course, is that companies may require you to continue working for them for a set period of time after you complete your degree, so it’s worth looking into growth opportunities before taking the tuition money!

Will My Company Promote Me or Grant Me a Raise if I Complete an MBA Course?

Again, some will, but different companies have different policies. In many companies, a master’s is a bonus or even a requirement for management positions, so it’s key to research your company before making a commitment.

Check with your Human Resources department to find out what job opportunities and financial benefits you can expect after completing your degree. Be sure to confirm whether these are guaranteed, whether they depend on your performance, or whether they are simply possibilities.

Top MBA Programs Online: Thee Takeaway

The best Master of Business Administration online is one that builds your knowledge base in both breadth and depth while increasing your earning potential and career opportunities. Because of this, it’s crucial to evaluate programs for their curriculum, costs, networking potential, and time commitment.

Better programs will always be willing to provide this information. For example, a program like the Kelley School of Business online master’s is up-front about its costs and its students’ average starting salary so that you can effectively evaluate the benefits of attending. 

Do you want to pursue your MBA online? What universities are you considering? The Best Online MBA Programs in 2021