Working Wounded: Are Online MBAs Worth It?

DEAR WOUNDED: I'm thinking about getting my MBA online. Any advice?

ANSWER: Your e-mail reminded me of my mom, who always spoke her mind. For example, when she felt that her daughter-in-law was too into designer clothing, she told a friend that her grandchild's first word was "Visa."

My mom couldn't pass on a putdown and didn't believe in wasting money on designer clothing. And these days, I feel the same way about brand-name MBA programs. Sure, Harvard and Stanford have cachet, but aside from those two, I'm not sure if it really matters. I've listed some questions to ask, below. For more, check out the "Idiots Guide to Getting Your MBA Online" by George Lorenzo (Alpha, 2005).

What do you hope to get out of the program? You wouldn't get a root canal just for the heck of it. Yet, many people sign up for MBA programs before they ask themselves some really hard questions about where their careers are headed. The clearer your focus, the higher the odds you'll end up where you want to be.

Do you have an outmoded view of online programs? Technology is changing everything at work. And to be effective today, increasingly you've got to communicate with co-workers you rarely see, work in virtual teams and conduct effective online research. Ironically these are all skills that you'll hone in an online MBA program. Many people still have a bias against online programs, but as time goes on they seem better suited to the actual skills we need to be effective at work today.

Do you contact the program directly through the phone or a visit? Just because the program is online doesn't mean that you can't give them a call or schedule a visit. Your education about the program shouldn't have to be totally virtual.

How important is a brand name? If you want to get a hot job on Wall Street or a top position at a consulting firm, chances are that a brand-name MBA program will help. But most of us don't need a brand-name school. Heck, many people are just going to continue working for the same company after they get their degrees. So ask yourself, is it worth the time, trouble and expense to graduate from a fancy program?

Is there life after the program? Before I enrolled in my MBA program, I contacted a number of graduates to find out what they liked and what they didn't like about the program. I think it's very important to do your due diligence before you make a two-year commitment to something. If the school hesitates to put you in touch with graduates, hold it against them. You need to go to the source to find out about the program.

We'd like to hear your thoughts about getting an MBA. I'll give an autographed copy of "Working Wounded: Advice that adds insight to injury" (Warner, 2000) to the best submission. Send your entry, name and address via: or via e-mail: Entries must be received by Wednesday, April 12.

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent online ballot:

How would you describe the last decade at work?

  • A great time, 24.1 percent
  • A mediocre time, 48.2 percent
  • A terrible time, 27.5 percent

Winning Strategy

Our winning strategy for surviving the next decade at work comes from B.L. in Philadelphia:

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