An Online MBA Degree, Two Years Later
By Kelli Smith

An online MBA graduate reflects on her graduate program two years later, recalling the experience and discussing how the degree has helped boost her career in educational administration.

When it comes to career advancement, performance is only half the equation. The other half is education. But who has time to get a higher degree? Fortunately, self-paced online programs are helping more and more working adults build their credentials.

One of those working professionals is Amye Cole, Associate Director of Admissions at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Nevada. In 2005, Amye decided to go back to school for her MBA–while working full time. It’s been almost two years since she completed her online MBA program, and in that time she’s changed jobs, taken on more responsibility, and seen her career blossom. She talks about her online MBA experience and how it’s helped her come into her own in the business world.

Q: Why did you decide to go back to school for an MBA?

A: My undergraduate degree is in the humanities–in Religious Studies, with a concentration in gender issues. It’s such a focused degree and has no direct application to the job I do now. I felt I needed to build skills I could use in a business context. My job involves management and strategy, and I work closely with the marketing department. The MBA offered an opportunity to build my formal training in these fields.

Q: Why did you choose an online program?

A: At the time I lived in a small town, and there weren’t any MBA programs within driving distance. Also, I chose an online degree because of the variable hours. I needed to work on my own time schedule because I travel a lot. I needed the flexible schedule of an online program.

Q: There are a lot of online MBA programs out there. How did you choose yours?

A: I looked for accreditation. As a college admissions counselor, I know how important accreditation is. The school I chose is accredited by four boards. It’s based out of Salt Lake City.

Q: What was the basic format of your MBA program?

A: I did an accelerated program. It took a year and a half. I was only able to take one class at a time–two was too much, since I worked full time.

Q: Can you name some of the classes you took?

A: I took all these great courses on how to understand business from a management perspective: human resources, organizational behavior, financial management, and leadership.

Q: Describe an online education. How does it work?

A: You read a selection of textbooks, and post comments to a discussion board. We posted questions, or answered the professor’s study question, and chatted with each other online. There were weekly essays, and the professor gave feedback. The professor didn’t grade anything–there was a committee that reviewed all essays and gave everyone numbers, 1-5, that corresponded to a pass/fail grade.

There were also several major exams throughout the program. They were difficult, and you had to get a 75-80% score to pass. These exams were administered at a proctor-approved site. The last six months of the MBA was the capstone program, and then we took the standardized C-MBA exam.

Q: What did your MBA capstone project entail?

A: For the capstone I did a business analysis of my prior employer, Squaw Valley Academy. I analyzed the company’s business objectives from a holistic standpoint. The point of the project was to understand how everything fit together–budgeting, marketing, human resources, etc.

To back up a minute, in the MBA program we learned a 10-part plan for understanding how a business worked. The ten steps included accounting, finance, marketing, leadership, management, ethics, strategy, information technology, project management, human resources, operations, organizational behavior, communication, and business law.

For the capstone, I had to focus on each objective individually and describe how it applied to the business I was analyzing. So, for example, I talked about how the company decided to invest more in search engine optimization and Internet promotion. That marketing objective increased the number of clients, which in turn impacted human resources by increasing worker salaries.

Q: And then you took the C-MBA?

A: First I had an oral defense for the capstone. The defense was conducted over the phone–a conference call between me, my mentor, and a committee of faculty advisors.

Then I took the C-MBA test, a standard test that all MBAs can take. The C-MBA covered all the courses and objectives I had studied. Taking that test helped validate the rigor of my MBA program. I put on it on my resume, in fact. Some people question the value of an online MBA, so the C-MBA is an objective way to show potential employers that you mastered the material. I did exceptionally well in management and HR leadership, which were my areas of concentration in the program.

Q: In retrospect, are you glad you got your online MBA?

A: Without a doubt. There were certainly times when it seemed to take up every minute of my free time. I was traveling a lot for work, in a new relationship, and I would think ‘gosh, is it really worth it?’ My friends who had MBAs encouraged me to stick it out, though, and I’m so glad I did.

Q: Do you find that you use the degree in your current job?

A: I can’t say enough about how much I use it regularly. Organizational behavior courses in general were helpful to see how large organizations are set up. My former company had less than 25 employees; here it’s close to 60 total. So I find I’m using the perspective I gained in the MBA program–getting a chance to see how departments work together, and in some cases taking on those roles. The company is still small enough that I get to wear different hats.

In a large company of over 100 people, you tend to focus on your specific role within your department and lose sight of how it fits into what other people are doing. I think as an employee it can be easy to have a narrow focus on the day-to-day. I feel fortunate to have an MBA because I have a broader understanding now of how the business works as a whole. So for example, I work alongside the marketing department now, and I have a better understanding of how long it takes to get certain things done, etc. I can work more effectively with them because I understand their position.

Q: Since graduating you’ve switched jobs and been promoted. Do you think the MBA played a role in that?

A: Without a doubt, the MBA helped me change jobs. Employers appreciate that you have a degree in business–it gives you credibility. MBA folks are well known to have that general understanding about how a company functions on many levels. My undergraduate degree was so focused that it would have been hard to break into new industries without a practical degree. Also, the fact that I was working full time and going to school full time showed that I can balance many projects at once.

Q: So you would recommend getting an online MBA?

A: Yes. I feel like a got a solid, rigorous education. I have a much broader understanding of management, and as a result I’ve been able to take on a more active role at work. I’ve also increased my earning power.