3 Ways to Get a Legit Business Education Online


Business majors are in demand. A recent survey by Millennial Branding and Beyond.com found that 18% of companies are interested in hiring business majors — second only to the 27% of companies looking to hire engineering and computer majors.

There's a need for people with business degrees, or at least business skills. And the Internet offers a dizzying number of flexible, low-cost options for learning the ways of business. (See also: 8 Cheap Ways to Continue Your Education Without Going Back to School)

Here are three approaches to getting a quality business education online.

1. Earn a Degree

A growing number of schools that offer traditional undergrad and graduate degrees in business now offer completely or mostly online options for obtaining a degree. Such programs typically have admissions requirements that are just as rigorous as their on-campus degree programs, although some offer open admissions, meaning all you need is a high school degree or a GED. Participating in a degree program is, by far, the most expensive route toward an online business education. Still, if it's an actual degree you're after, online programs are less expensive than on-campus programs.

To help sort through the various online degree offerings, a few organizations list, rank, or help you search for programs that meet your needs or interests:

  • U.S. News & World Report ranks online programs in general (not by program) and graduate business programs, using criteria such as faculty credentials, student services, and student engagement (opportunities for interaction with other students and teachers).
  • TheBestSchools.org offers various online program rankings, from the 20 Best Online Bachelor's in Business Management Degree Programs to the 20 Best Online Bachelor's in Marketing Degree Programs. Its criteria includes academic excellence, return on investment, and "incidental benefit" (student satisfaction, graduation rates, campus safety, and more).

Of course, if there's a particular school you're interested in, just search on the name of the school and "online business degree" to find out if it offers such a program.

At the early stages, though, the below examples ought to give you a sense of how some school's online programs match up to there on-campus counterparts.

Penn State

Penn State offers numerous online undergrad and graduate business degrees through its World Campus. Tuition costs $518 to $559 per credit — almost 25% less than the in-state on-campus tuition. Compared to the out-of-state tuition, the online costs are less than half the price.

Indiana University

Indiana University's well-regarded Kelley School of Business, likewise, offers an online MBA (students need to spend one week on campus in Bloomington, IN for an "intense introduction to the program"). Tuition costs $1,175 per credit hour. With 51 credit hours required, that comes to nearly $60,000 plus about $100 per course for books and other course materials. By contrast, the school's on-campus two-year MBA program costs $104,000 for in-state students and $143,000 for out-of-state students, including tuition, fees, and room and board.

Northwestern University

At Northwestern University, you can't get an online MBA, but you can get an online Master's Degree in Integrated Marketing Communications. It costs $3,744 per class (13 classes required), $115 technology fee per class, and a $500 deposit for a total of a bit over $50,000. By comparison, the five-term, full-time on-campus Integrated Marketing Communications program costs over $130,000, including tuition, room and board, health insurance, books, and everything else.

University of Phoenix

And finally, a lower cost option is to obtain a degree from the University of Phoenix, which has been providing online learning for 20 years and is the nation's largest for-profit college. Beware, though, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, this school came under fire last year over questions about retention and graduation rates, some of its educational processes, and other issues. Ultimately, it was re-accredited, but told that it needs to make certain improvements.

2. Earn a Credential

If you don't need a full-fledged degree, but still want some type of credential to show for your efforts, there are several options.

Harvard CORe

Harvard just introduced a $1,500 online HBX CORe program (Credential of Readiness) consisting of three business courses: business analytics, economics for managers, and financial accounting. It's designed for undergrad students who want some business knowledge, non-business grad students, and those early in their careers. Right now, the program is limited to students who live in Massachusetts, but eventually the school plans to introduce additional business classes and make them available to students worldwide.

Extension Programs

Many schools offer certificate programs through their extension or continuing education programs. For example, UCLA offers numerous online business certificate programs, such as a Business Administration Certificate With Concentration in Finance for a total of just under $11,000.


Online platforms such as Coursera, NovoEd, edX, the Open University on iTunes U, and Udacity offer a huge number business classes, some of which offer the option to obtain a certificate for an additional fee.

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania now makes its first-year MBA classes, such as An Introduction to Financial Accounting, available for free through Coursera, including a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor and issued by Coursera.

Coursera and other online platforms also offer higher-level certificates that are issued by the platform and the partner university. For example, you can take a class from Vanderbilt through Coursera called Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations. The course may be taken for free. Or, if you want a Verified Certificate, that costs $49. While such certificates don't represent college credit, they may provide stronger proof that you successfully completed the course, a bit more prestige, and perhaps more help in obtaining tuition reimbursement from an employer.

3. Gain Some Knowledge

MIT's OpenCourseWare site offers MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) content from over 2,000 of the school's courses, including many undergrad and graduate classes from the Sloan School of Management. While you can't get a degree from completing the courses, they are all free. You can download lecture notes, assignments, exams, and in some cases, video lectures.

Many other universities, such as Stanford, make many of their courses available in similar fashion.

One of the more innovative uses of these free online courses can be seen in the experience of Laurie Pickard. From her home in Rwanda, where she works for the United States Agency for International Development, she's working through a handpicked assortment of free online grad school classes from some of the world's best business schools. While she won't receive an official MBA, she'll have what she considers to be the equivalent. She's chronicling her experience at an appropriately named No Pay MBA blog.

You'll find countless free online non-credit classes on the platforms mentioned earlier: Coursera, NovoEd, edX, iTunes U, Udacity, and others.

No Shortage of Online Learning Options

Online education is a fast-growing space, with a lot of experimentation going on among schools and platforms. Many questions are emerging along with that growth, such as how much value employers will place on an online degree versus a traditional degree, and how resume-worthy are non-credit or certificate classes. But for students looking for flexible, low-cost learning opportunities, there have never been so many options to choose from.

Have you taken an online university class? What's been your experience?

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Guest's picture

Nice article. Thanks for the shout out!-Laurie

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