For busy working professionals considering an MBA, online programs can certainly have their appeal. Online MBA students get to avoid the daily commute to campus and keep their day jobs without relocating across the country.
But students who think they can complete their degree without ever filling up the gas tank or banking some air miles may be mistaken.
Some online MBA options – and many of the top programs – have residency components that require students to meet up at certain locations throughout the year. Students may spend days or weeks participating in seminars, socializing and learning from business leaders.
“For online MBA programs at any business school of national status, a required residency component (big or small) is predominant,” says Phil Powell, faculty chairman of Kelly Direct, Indiana University’s online business school programs, through email. “I think it has evolved as a common standard.”
While residencies can have a host of benefits, including making an online MBA program feel intimate, experts say they’re not always a viable option for prospective students in terms of time and money. Before students choose to pursue a program with a residency program, in other words, they should have a sense of what they’re getting into.
Among the potential benefits of online MBA residencies is the chance to build a professional network.
While establishing personal and professional connections is one of the most important parts of MBA programs, creating that network in an online program isn’t always easy. “One of the challenges of an online MBA is that you really don’t get that personal touch – it can be a bit distant,” says Hansel Rodriguez, a student at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill’s online MBA program, called MBA@UNC.