Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management: Two Views, One Business School

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Not only has Syracuse given me a wonderful education that is applicable to the times, a new set of best friends and travel companions, a broadened business acumen, and a seat at the NYC Syracuse Alumni board, but it’s also my biggest achievement in life today. Syracuse gave me the education, network, support, and courage to apply to my dream program at the University of Oxford. And guess what? I got in! To say I owe Syracuse a lot is an understatement.
Ashley Ruggiri, Upmarket Sales Consultant in Major Accounts at ADP

Deciding to get an MBA is easy. Most graduates double their salary, even in a financial downturn. The real puzzle starts when considering where to get that MBA. And it’s a puzzle that’s grown significantly more complex since the advent of online programs. It’s no longer just a question of where to get your MBA, but in what format to pursue it.

Online MBA programs have evolved significantly over the last decade. Advances in tech have allowed them to faithfully recreate on-campus curricula—and in some ways surpass them. Meanwhile, on-campus MBA programs have widened their offerings to include part-time MBAs, executive MBAs, and hybrid MBAs. The evolving landscape for business schools is defined first and foremost by flexibility and it’s up to students to decide where they slot in.

Consider Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Its online MBA program is ranked 11th in the world by Financial Times, and The Princeton Review puts it in the top 25. Alumni give it some of the highest marks in the country for online interaction and program delivery. Meanwhile, the similarly-ranked on-campus program offers a diverse student community, small class sizes, student organizations, and an equidistant position between two capitals of business: New York City and Toronto.

Whether you choose to attend online or on-campus, an MBA from Syracuse University is likely to be a shrewd investment in your career. But which format is right for you? The choice should reflect your goals, personality, and context. Read on to get the perspectives of two Syracuse MBA alumni: one who took the on-campus route, and one who took the online option.

The On-Campus View of Syracuse University: Deedi Brown

Deedi Brown

Deedi Brown grew up in the Syracuse area, and part of her always wanted to be a Syracuse student. For her, that meant taking advantage of everything campus life had to offer.

“I’m extroverted, a people person,” Brown says. “I wanted to find lifelong friends and other people who could form the foundation of my professional network. It’s possible to do that online, but I do think it’s easier and more natural when you’re on campus.”

She still had to juggle work with the full-time demands of a student. Commutes through the snow weren’t particularly fun. But Brown considers herself a process enthusiast and prides herself on finding structure in chaos. Syracuse had on-campus resources to help with that: study spaces, computer labs, restaurants, student organizations, and even a gym.

“On campus, you’re fully immersed in your degree; it’s your livelihood,” Brown says. “This focus can be really helpful.”

With her fellow on-campus students, she was able to meet, work with, and even help local small businesses. She joined student organizations and served in executive roles on them. This fast-paced, high-contact environment led to the quick formation of strong and meaningful relationships with classmates, university staff, and professors.

“I met lifelong friends during my MBA; I was even one friend’s maid of honor,” Brown says. “I still see many of my classmates today in the NYC area, whether we’re gathering on our own or at alumni networking events. It would have been hard not to become friends with them; we were thrust together, put through bouts of hard work and thinking outside the box. Some of my fondest memories are of just studying or working alongside one another in the graduate team rooms on campus.”

The on-campus MBA at Syracuse gave Brown a personal network, a professional network, a broader skill set, and an entirely new career. Before joining the program, she’d known she’d wanted to work in marketing, but wasn’t sure in what capacity. But through working with the school’s Consulting Club to help local entrepreneurs, she fell in love with digital marketing. She was then able to tailor her education at Syracuse towards the subject. Today, she writes longform content and manages SEO strategy at a fintech startup—a role which she considers the perfect marriage of her passion and her MBA.

Brown offers three pieces of advice to prospective MBA students:

First, take hard classes. This may be hard to hear, but the MBA is 100 percent about what you learn, not about getting straight As. Nobody cares if you get straight As. People care if you have glaring holes in your skillset. So take hard classes that challenge you and teach you something new. Second, get involved. I never would have found my way to a career I love if I hadn’t joined student organizations, because it was there—not in my classes—where I found and cultivated that passion. And, third, leave the building where your classes take place. Explore campus, use all the libraries, go to athletic events. But also get off campus and immerse yourself in the local community. Chances are there’s a heart of entrepreneurial spirit there; you just have to find it.

The Online View of Syracuse University: Ashley Ruggiri

Ashley Ruggiri

Ashley Ruggiri is an upmarket sales consultant in Major Accounts at ADP and she’s used to making tricky calculations. When it was time to get her MBA, she gathered the data, weighed her options, and went with the more flexible online format.

“You get what you put in to any program,” Ruggiri says. “I know a handful of colleagues and friends who went on-campus for their MBA. They would rush from work to class and then rush back home to attend to their families or go to the gym or run errands. They weren’t spending any time with their classmates out of the scheduled lectures. I thought to myself, what is the point then?”

The online MBA program at Syracuse offered a mix of live sessions, pre-recorded lectures, and in-person residencies. Ruggiri believes this gave her the best of both worlds: the ability to log-in from the office or from home, and the opportunity to go to campus whenever she liked. There were some knock-on benefits to the online option, too.

“With an online class, you have the advantage of having classmates from all over the country,” Ruggiri says. “This broadened my network more than any on-campus program could have. I have best friends in Las Vegas, Denver, and DC because of SU. Another perk of the technology is that our lectures were recorded so if I happened to miss a class I could re-watch the lecture. Even better, if I really didn’t understand something, I could go back and watch it again.”

Building a network and personal relationships in an online program took work. For Ruggiri, this meant both prioritizing the in-person residencies and making a concerted effort to reach out to her new classmates online. Sometimes the first interactions could be stilted, but Ruggiri wasn’t afraid to keep up the effort, and before long, digital interactions became the new normal.

“I created a whole network of friends online before I even met them in person,” Ruggiri says. “We would use Zoom to schedule group project meetups, and eventually this became such a norm that we would even schedule video happy hours.”

The professors in the online program had plenty of practice in connecting through a digital format to students juggling an enormously hectic schedule. Ruggiri relied on them for advice, feedback, and even just casual conversation. She maintains professional relationships with several professors from the program and uses them as a sounding board to this day. They are a major reason why she recommends the online MBA program at Syracuse to anyone considering it.

I have changed as a person more in the last two years then I have in the last ten. Not only has Syracuse given me a wonderful education that is applicable to the times, a new set of best friends and travel companions, a broadened business acumen, and a seat at the NYC Syracuse Alumni board, but it’s also my biggest achievement in life today. Syracuse gave me the education, network, support, and courage to apply to my dream program at the University of Oxford. And guess what? I got in! To say I owe Syracuse a lot is an understatement. I will forever be indebted to the students, faculty, and staff.

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Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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