This sponsored article is brought to you by Purdue University’s online MBA program.
A Master of Business Administration degree can be a passport to broader career horizons—especially for ambitious young (and young-ish) engineers.
While 80 percent of applicants for graduate management education do say that earning more is their top goal, business school applicants also say they want work that lets them live and travel abroad, move to senior positions, manage projects and people, become a CEO, switch companies, work for themselves, and switch careers to new job functions or new industries (according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council GMAC Prospective Students Survey: 2022 Summary Report).
Earning a respected MBA demands big investments of money, time, and energy. How do applicants weigh their alternatives as they decide where to make that investment? And how does an online MBA from Purdue University stack up?
What Are the Most Important Factors in Choosing an MBA Program?
GMAC surveys business school applicants annually to find out how they evaluate the programs they’re considering, what their concerns are, and a host of other factors that go into the decision to apply. The survey says that MBA applicants’ primary criteria are (in approximate order of importance):
- Reputation. How strong is the school’s reputation, its quality—the sum of its accreditations, rankings, its faculty’s prestige.
- Finances. How much will the student have to pay for tuition, fees, room and board, and travel? What is the cost of lost earnings or job opportunities during study? Is the program eligible for employer tuition programs? Are grants and scholarships available?
- Program. How is the program structured? Does the program’s length, location, format (e.g., in person, hybrid, or online) match the student’s needs?
- Curriculum. Does the school offer courses or specializations in the areas most important to the student? Are there innovative course offerings? Can students draw from a wide range of programs in the business school and the university at large?
- Career Support. Does the institution offer career services, job placement, coaching, networking, and other resources?
- Diversity (student class profile). Will your classmates be diverse in gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, and experience? Will you learn different approaches to problem solving from your peers?
- Culture. Is the atmosphere competitive or collaborative? Is the emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or on the humanities and social sciences?
Figure 1 shows how applicants for online MBA programs, specifically, rated these factors. Let’s take them in turn, and look at how the Purdue online MBA can offer significant advantages in each category.
Figure 1. How applicants for Online MBA programs rank prospective programs.
Reputation: Top-Tier in Business and Technology
In announcing the new online MBA in September 2019, David Hummels, Dean of the School of Management, said, “We believe the Purdue online MBA is a perfect fit with the strengths of Purdue University. The program has a focus on technology and innovation that will be ideal for students with a STEM background or any student seeking career-changing opportunities with high-tech companies.”
Purdue Online MBA, 2021
First Vice President, Investments, Raymond James
Says 2021 MBA Adam English (now First Vice President, Investments, at Raymond James), “Quality was one of my number-one concerns entering the program.” He adds: “I asked the question, ‘Is it the same program and experience you would get on campus?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes.’’’
Purdue University is one of the country’s and the world’s best STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) schools. U.S. News & World Report ranks Purdue’s undergraduate engineering program #9 in the nation for 2023; the graduate engineering program ranks #4.
Purdue is also among the country’s 10 most innovative universities, per U.S. News & World Report, and in the top 20 for the most graduates working at leading Fortune 500 companies, according to Forbes.
Program: Flexibility—Anytime, Anywhere, Online
The Purdue online MBA is 100 percent remote; no on-campus residency is required. Lectures are asynchronous, pre-recorded so that students can watch and listen when their schedules permit. Courses also include optional live sessions for deep dives and office hours. A March 2022 Fortune Education article noted that, “live sessions might include group discussions or visits from guest speakers,” and quoted Dilip Chhajed, Associate Dean for Online Programs: “We know not everybody can come to these synchronous sessions, but that’s why they’re doing the online MBA.”
Nearly all online MBA candidates continue to work while they study, so the self-scheduled, all-remote approach is a tremendous benefit. This flexibility is what made it possible for many of Purdue online MBA students to earn their degrees, and it ranks at the top of the list of reasons Kristin Zalewski (class of 2021), Matthew Kern (class of 2022), and Christian Coakley (class of 2023) chose the program.
Purdue Online MBA, 2022
Senior Systems Engineer, Lockheed Martin
“Purdue’s program was one of the few high-ranking schools that offered a fully remote program,” says Zalewski (now Risk, Compliance, and Medical Device Operations Manager at Google), “and I wanted the flexibility to continue my work and personal goals in addition to obtaining my MBA.”
“That’s where the Purdue program has been so helpful for me — the flexibility,” agrees Kern (now a Senior Systems Engineer at Lockheed Martin). “I truly could not [have been] in a course that would require me to be sitting in a classroom twice a week.”
And Coakley says, “What stood out to me in this program was the flexibility. And at the time I knew I was working in a position where I was traveling a lot. If the program is online, I can study from anywhere in the world.”
Curriculum: Data-Driven and STEM-Focused—With a Flair
The Purdue online MBA has been designed from the ground up to be data-driven and STEM-focused.
“With our online MBA, we’re offering a number of courses jointly with faculty from one of the best engineering colleges in the entire world at Purdue,” Dean Hummels told Poets&Quants in November 2021. “So, we’re doing, for example, frontier courses in artificial intelligence and cyber security, where students have the opportunity to get exposed to some of the best engineering and computer science faculty in the world. Students get to see the technology piece, but then also understand the business opportunities that are created or destroyed by these new technologies. Those collaborations are feasible in an online and a hybrid environment.”
The online MBA is a 48-credit hour program that students can take over as few as two years or as many as four. The course offerings include:
- Foundational courses like microeconomics, strategic design, and basic management accounting.
- Core courses such as macroeconomics, financial management, operations management, business analytics, and IT innovations and competitive advantage.
- Specializations—Purdue online MBA students can specialize in four areas:
- Business Analytics, including coursework in spreadsheet modeling and simulation, and data mining.
- Innovation and Technology Commercialization, including courses in collaborative innovation, new-venture financing, and “Lean Startup: Idea to Impact.”
- Global Supply Chain Management, including classes in operations management, supply chain management, and electives like global supply chain management and supply-chain analytics.
- Leadership, Negotiation and Change Management, with classes in leadership, negotiations, change-management, and human capital consulting.
- Capstone course in business simulation.
- Electives, in subjects like communication and leadership, spreadsheet modeling and simulation, data mining, financing new ventures, and the new “Frontiers in the C-Suite.”
Students can also immerse themselves in innovative programs like the new class, “Frontiers in the C-Suite.” Through interviews and interactions with C-suite executives, students learn first-hand about the challenges of running a company, from the CEO’s perspective.
Purdue Online MBA, 2021
Risk, Compliance, and Medical Device Operations Manager, Google
“We created this course by bringing in leaders from many different industries and walks of life and having each contribute to one topic,” says Associate Dean Chhajed. “This makes the course much richer and helps reflect more diversity of opinion rather than the voice of a single expert.”
According to Zalewski, “The curriculum is fantastic! There is a balance of mathematical and business classes and I even got to specialize in Technology Innovation which really allowed me to pursue my interests further and develop in my current industry. The program has helped me increase my business knowledge and will help me continue to move up.”
Finances: Pared-Down Costs, High Value
While finances rank third as a selection criterion for MBA programs, program costs and future debt are the main sources of anxiety among applicants.
Any MBA program is a significant investment. The online MBA from Purdue University, however, offers real economic advantages, particularly when compared to resident programs: lower overall cost, the ability to keep working while learning, and overall high return on investment.
The school’s financial aid page lists current costs. It also offers helpful resources for finding financial aid, tools to help students persuade their employers to provide tuition assistance, and advice on financial help available to armed forces personnel, veterans, and their families.
Tuition for the two-to-four-year Purdue online MBA runs right in the mid-five-figures as of December 2022. A two-year residence at a top-tier business school averages some $140,000-$160,000, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 ranking of MBA programs.
CNBC ranks Purdue #4 on its list of the U.S. public colleges that offer the best return on investment. And the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education 2022 College Rankings rate Purdue #7 for “Best Value.”
Career Support: Helping Students Succeed During and After Business School
According to Dean Hummels, Purdue “designed the program to be flexible and student-centric, to feature extensive engagement with the same faculty who teach in Purdue’s highly ranked residential programs, and to go beyond the classroom with experiential learning in our corporate and technology commercialization consultancies.”
Accordingly, the Purdue online MBA program affords much of the personal contact and support of a resident program, from the virtual study sessions to professors’ office hours to the dedicated Success Coaches.
Each master’s student gets a Success Coach, who is a mentor trained to help guide students through issues like work-school-home balance, re-sharpening academic skills, navigating the online environment, finding resources for professional development, disability accommodations, veterans’ services, and much more—including just having someone to talk to while navigating the sometimes intense demands.
“The program has a focus on technology and innovation that will be ideal for students with a STEM background or any student seeking career-changing opportunities with high-tech companies.”
—David Hummels, Dean of Purdue’s Krannert School of Management
The system works. “There were some adjustments in the beginning,” says English, “and I did reach out to our success coaches. I got to work with other students to get acclimated. Once everything was adjusted, it was pretty smooth.”
The certified Executive Coaches from the Krannert Professional Development Center also assist students before and after they have their degrees, offering personalized career planning, exposing students to university and corporate research tools, and helping students identify any weaknesses and improve their leadership, networking and skills.
Purdue’s online MBA students also have access to resources like the Purdue Foundry (an incubator that helps move ideas to market fast), the Purdue Discovery Park (where researchers from across campus collaborate to create solutions), and the Krenicki Center for Business Analytics and Machine Learning.
The Krenicki Center, unlike many other programs in this space, “places equal emphasis on technologies and techniques, the twin requirements for success in the emerging world of Big Data.” The Center aims to spark “data-analytics-oriented initiatives spanning all areas of business and economics” and to connect with other data-centered efforts at Purdue.
Diversity: The Value of Many Points of View
Purdue’s online MBA program is a relatively tight community, so students get to know and work with a large cross-section of their classmates. They have real-world experience (an average of 8 years of work) but at an average age of 32, have most of their careers ahead of them. Twenty-one percent come from under-represented minorities, and 40 percent are women.
Dean Hummels is vocal about the value of diversity: “You get five people who are trained identically, and who think identically, you’re going to get the same answer,” he says. “Whereas, if you bring five people from widely different backgrounds, you can come at things in completely different ways. One of the ways we see this is when we put together case competitions in data dives. When we are more successful at bringing in students from diverse functional backgrounds, from diverse country backgrounds, they are more likely to come up with solutions… It’s pretty fun to watch that happen.”
Culture: Close Collaboration, Lifelong Relationships
The Purdue culture fosters the kind of collaboration that leads to lifelong relationships, according to recent students.
English noted that, although he studied during the height of the isolating Covid-19 pandemic, the network he is building is impressive and diverse. “I think it’s important to make connections with people from different backgrounds and industries,” he says. “It allows us to pool resources and talents.”
“My interaction with my cohorts was a very positive experience,” he adds. “Everyone was working hard and collaborating. I had a great experience. I made a lot of friends through the program that are probably life lifelong relationships.”
Purdue Online MBA 2023
Senior Analyst, United Airlines
Kristin Zalewski says, “I’m really passionate about building women in leadership in STEM more and more, so I think getting my MBA will help me in those skill sets. It’ll help me become a leader and be able to be more of a mentor.”
Christian Coakley, a current student, says, “Almost all of my classmates are also full-time employees. When it comes to team projects, everyone tends to be flexible. It’s been easy to get along with my classmates, which makes the coursework a lot less stressful.”
“People are working, people have kids, people have family obligations,” he adds. “The professors respond quickly, and lectures are prerecorded. And then there’s also discussion boards where you can interact with students.”
A Great Place to Be
That’s how the Purdue online MBA stacks up: It offers a world-class reputation, affordability, high value, extreme flexibility, a quantitative and tech-oriented curriculum, strong career support, a diverse student body, and a collaborative culture.
As Dean Hummels says, “We don’t think there’s a right program for everyone. Different programs are right for different people. We created a program that is going to be perfect for some folks, and not the right fit for others, and that’s okay, because there are a lot of great programs out there.”
“But for the kinds of people we want—people who have strong STEM backgrounds and want to lead organizations, or who want to go into technology companies—we think it’s a great program,” he adds. “If you want to be at the frontier of data science applied to business, we’re a great place to be.”