One of the main reasons people pursue an MBA in the first place, is networking. It’s meeting new people, making friends, and developing relationships that could turn into business or career opportunities in the future.
This is made possible because if you’re doing an MBA on-campus, you’re likely doing it full-time, and all you’re doing, is going to class, studying, recruiting, and meeting new people.
With online MBAs, you’re likely doing the program part-time, as you have work and other obligations, and when it comes to networking, you might think, as did I, that there’s really no meaningful networking that could possibly happen.
Having been in such a program for 2 years, I can tell you, I was way, way, WAY OFF. Not only can you network, I’d argue that it has the potential to be as good as a full-time on-campus MBA program.
Now like every other article/video I’ve done on the value of an online MBA, a lot of the value, depends on the university and where you go.
But as far as networking goes, there are many opportunities to do so, some of which the university offers, and others you may have to go about setting up those opportunities on your own.
So, let’s break them all down:
- Social Media Platform. This is foundational to networking in an online MBA, you’ve got to have a familiar and easy to use social media platform that, hopefully the university provides; the University of Illinois where I attend, uses Workplace, which is owned by Facebook, so looks and feels familiar.
But this is where you introduce yourself, where you ask questions, get to know others virtually, join subgroups for classes to discuss class material to better understand it, but also subgroups for just about any other topic, could be common interests like sports, or could be career related.
Point here is that social media is where you break the ice in an online program and you start getting involved and seeing names on a regular basis.
- Group Assignments. This is another area that I think may be overlooked, but in almost all, if not all, of my classes, there is a group work component, so you get assigned a group that you’ll work with for the entirety of the course and since you’ll be spending time with the group on chat and video conferencing, it’s a great opportunity to get to know others that way.
And here’s the deal with group assignments – if you’re in an MBA program to change companies or careers, you have an opportunity to make a good impression in someone else who might be at a company you’re interested in. So if you do great work, your peers will remember that.
Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t do great work anyway, you should always put your best foot forward regardless, but in an online MBA program making a good impression is important. Because you can’t just sit around and not contribute – that would be a sure way to draw a negative perception on your brand.
- University-sponsored Meet Ups & Conferences. So let’s say you’ve been active on whatever social media platform your university uses, and you’ve done some group assignments and have gotten to meet some folks through that.
The next opportunity is through university-sponsored meet ups & conferences. At my school, they host a 4-day weekend conference once a year where everyone is invited to the campus, and we’ll have a series of different lectures, we can attend classes in person if you happen to be taking a course whose class falls on one of those days, and we’ll have more formal networking time during that conference.
Most importantly, there’s the social part of this where you get to meet many of the peers you’ve been talking with online for all this time, and you get to go out, spend time with everyone, particularly on the free time you have outside of the conference (sporting events, restaurants, etc).
Not only do they do those centralized events, the university may host some regional mini-conferences or get togethers, depending on how many students are in the program, and if enough of them are concentrated in a particular city, the school may decide to host something to get people in that region involved.
Apart from that, we also get the option to do what’s called a “global immersion” trip, where they host a number of students to go visit another country, explore and learn about the culture, visit with some of the major companies there, and spend time with your peers.
Again, all of this was optional in my case, as there are expenses that you may have to pick up, but again, if you want the networking, whatever expense it is, it’s worth it.
- Student-led regional meet ups. This one is very common where if there are enough students in a particular city, there will often be subgroups as I mentioned earlier on the social media platform where students can join one for a particular region or city, and schedule their own meet ups.
I’ve done this quite a bit, and for an online MBA, meeting up with folks in the area makes the program quite a bit more personal and not so distant because there are people nearby in the same boat as you. Of course, this depends on you living in, or near, a major city where there happens to be a number of other students, but if that is the case, getting involved here is certainly makes the program a bit more personal and far more connected because you live near people going through this same program.
Now everything I mentioned, in an online MBA, you definitely need to be proactive in order to network and make the most of the resources the university provides. On-campus MBAs, it happens more naturally because everyone is seeing each other around, going to class together, etc, so in an Online MBA program, you need to consider every single in-person opportunity and put yourself out there as much as possible.
I myself have had a great experience doing many of these, and I honestly don’t feel like I’ve truly missed much, if anything, in terms of networking, so I hope you look at these programs with a different light because you can really get a lot out of it.