How International Students Can Find the Right Online MBA in the U.S.

As someone who has studied and lived overseas since her early 20s, British national Grace Atkinson was ready to tackle her next ambition: an MBA program. Living in the United Arab Emirates at the time, and having last attended university in person 14 years ago, she wanted an online MBA program that met her criteria of being flexible and adaptable to unexpected changes in her living and working circumstances.

“It’s fortunate that I considered all of this when selecting a program,” says Atkinson, now two semesters into the online MBA program at Indiana University–Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business, and living in Bermuda.

“Coupled with the ability to major in one of six areas, and/or use the credits from the MBA to continue and obtain a dual degree, it was the clear winner for me,” says Atkinson, who has a joint honors degree in French and German from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

The U.S. has many universities that offer flexible online MBA programs. Here are four steps prospective international students should take when searching for the right online MBA program:

— Evaluate program and curriculum.

— Find out if a school attracts a diverse student body.

— Find out about course delivery.

— Check career services for international students.

[See: Top 20 Best Online MBA Programs.]

Evaluate Program and Curriculum

Finding the right fit means considering an online MBA program and curriculum that matches an international student’s career goals and is applicable to the region in which he or she plans to work.

The online MBA offered by the Questrom School of Business at Boston University has six modules that students take over six semesters to complete their degree, says Paul Carlile, senior associate dean for innovation and associate professor of management and information systems.

He says each module has multidisciplinary content that focuses on business problems that exist in the real world. Module topics range from a manager’s role in creating and capturing value for a business to how to develop and leverage global opportunities.

“We conducted a massive global study of the essential business capabilities that managers would need in the next decade and built our modules around those. So our offering is a generalist MBA but yet it covers all the topics deemed important in an integrated fashion,” Carlile says.

Similarly, the curriculum for the online MBA program at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business is designed to provide a comprehensive, generalist MBA education, says Suh-Pyng Ku, vice dean for graduate programs and professor of clinical finance and business economics. The program is meant to be completed in 21 months and provides students with the structure, general management knowledge and professional network they need to be successful, she says.

“All of our courses are thematic, integrating several business disciplines in each semester. For example, our economics, strategy and finance curriculum explores the issues and opportunities that firms encounter when they expand internationally,” Ku says.

Find Out if a School Attracts a Diverse Student Body

Online MBA programs with a large number of international students provide opportunities for interaction with future business leaders from all parts of the globe — another aspect prospective students may want to consider while researching their options.

“Collaborating with people from a broad range of different backgrounds gives me the opportunity to learn from them firsthand,” says Chinese national Yufan Shen, who is in the USC Marshall online MBA program. “It also helps me to expand my knowledge about the business world, and especially those parts of it that are not part of my own personal experience.”

[Read: 5 Things to Expect From Your Classmates in an Online MBA Program.]

Carlile says the program at Boston University is very diverse, with 32 states in the U.S., 57 countries of origin and 20 out of 24 time zones represented, and a student body that is 39% female.

“International students are naturally global by orientation, so our very internationalized student body appeals to them, and they feel comfortable knowing they are surrounded by peers who value an internationalized, global view of business, economies and cultures,” Carlile says.

Find Out About Course Delivery

When selecting an online MBA program in the U.S., prospective international students should carefully review whether it provides all tests, assignments, lectures and course materials through a completely online format and if any on-campus meetings are required, experts say. Depending on the university, classes may be offered in a synchronous format, where students view live lectures online and interact with fellow students, as well as an asynchronous format, in which students complete coursework on their own time.

“Our courses contain live weekly virtual sessions, 75 minutes per week, per course,” says Will Geoghegan, interim chair of Kelley Direct Programs and clinical assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “There is substantial value to attending the synchronous classes including the development of a peer network, deeper engagement with our world-class faculty and the ability to share experiences with colleagues of the highest caliber.”

He says students in the program are also typically required to go to the campus in person twice for a week of activities, including a live case competition to develop a solution for a business challenge facing a real company. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the in-person requirement is currently on hold and virtual options are available instead.

In the USC Marshall online MBA program, there is typically a required one-week Residential Intensive at the beginning of the program where students work face-to-face in teams while participating in a case competition. But this is similarly on hold and offered virtually for now due to COVID-19. USC’s international student services office helps students with pursuing a temporary visa for the week on campus, says Philip Griego, assistant dean for online learning and program director for the online MBA.

In terms of course delivery, the USC program curriculum is comprised of 55% asynchronous material and 45% synchronous sessions, Ku says.

“We use the flipped classroom approach where each week students complete asynchronous content — prerecorded videos, team projects, assignments, discussions boards — at their own pace and then meet as a class in two weekly live, synchronous, online class sessions,” Ku says.

She says the program holds the synchronous class sessions from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, making the program accessible for students based in Asia and North America who are working full time.

Check Career Services for International Students

Prospective international students may also want to check if the online MBA programs that interest them offer career services that fit their needs.

[Read: 4 Student Services Online MBA Students Need.]

In the USC Marshall online MBA program, all students have access to the professional services of career consultants dedicated to the program, Ku says.

“Students in our program can expect expert coaching in the areas of salary and promotion negotiations, resume reviews, cover letter reviews and career pivots across industries and business functions,” she says.

Shen, who has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California–Irvine and worked as an electrical engineer at Qualcomm in San Diego, says she wants to use USC’s career services to explore various opportunities in China or globally.

“With my increasing exposure to the business world, I developed an initial understanding of management’s importance on corporate survival and came to realize that I want to grow to be a business leader,” Shen says.

At the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, the online MBA program has dedicated career coaches and online resource modules — which are credit- and noncredit-bearing classes that have asynchronous and synchronous components — accessible by both U.S. and international students, Geoghegan says.

The resource modules cover a variety of topics, such as offer negotiation, personal branding, interview preparation and social media strategies, and may include prerecorded videos from coaches that explain different career phenomena or live sessions where students attend a workshop on a specific career component, he says.

“Students meet with their career coach one-to-one throughout their journey, while also benefiting from career onboarding modules and the integration of career services and resources directly into our curriculum,” he says.

Atkinson says she plans to use those career services when deciding on a major or whether to pursue a dual degree so she can understand how that choice can support future career aspirations.

“For me, the availability of such career advice wasn’t a deal breaker, but is certainly the icing on the cake for this program,” Atkinson says.

Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.

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