UNC’s Kenan-Flagler: Two Views, One Business School

Deciding whether or not to get an MBA is one of the easiest calculations to make. Graduates of MBA programs enjoy a huge boost to their salaries, even in a financial recession. But since the advent of online MBA programs, applicants now not only have to decide where to get that MBA but also in which format.

In the nascent years of online MBA programs, there was a clear hierarchy: on-campus programs were considered the premier option, while online programs were considered second-rate. That hierarchy doesn’t exist anymore. Advances in tech, along with robust investments into distance learning programs, mean that there’s practically no difference between the quality and content of the online and on-campus options. And many schools have recreated their on-campus option faithfully in an online format, effectively doubling applicants’ options when choosing an MBA program.

Consider the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. U.S. News and World Report rates it among the top 20 MBA programs in the nation. The Economist places it in the top 30 of MBA programs across the world. Graduates of Kenan-Flagler earn an average 39 percent increase in their salary one year after earning their MBA.

Whether delivered in an online, on-campus, part-time, or full-time format, the MBA program at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler is committed to presenting a customizable, future-forward curriculum for its students. With tailored leadership development offerings, a career services team, and a world-class faculty, the school is fully invested in its students’ successes.

Read on to get the perspectives of two Kenan-Flagler alumni: one who took the on-campus option and one who took the online option.

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The On-Campus View of UNC Kenan-Flagler: Alex Cooper


Alex Cooper graduated from Kenan-Flagler’s on-campus MBA program in May of 2019. Prior to pursuing that MBA, he worked as a self-employed startup consultant. He knew from the get-go that he valued the in-person experience of attending an MBA program—perhaps even more than the graduate degree itself.

“The benefits of the networking, friendships, and time to make this my number one priority definitely exceeded the lost salary,” Cooper says.

For Cooper, the location of Kenan-Flagler had its charms, too. Good weather, a rivalry with Duke, and a huge selection of extracurricular and social avenues made the on-campus program a holistic and meaty experience that he could see, feel, and touch.

“I tried to get to know as many professors and students as I could during my time, so my interactions were as varied as can be,” Cooper says. “Among the students, I met close friends, casual acquaintances, future business partners, and likely future bosses. The interactions with professors were surprisingly even better. Each professor with whom I spoke gave me advice if I wanted it and help with the work if I needed it, so even just shooting the breeze with them was enjoyable. I am so happy I did the on-campus program because the in-person interactions with both students and professors made my two years.”

While at Kenan-Flagler, Cooper adopted the self-admittedly “cocky” goal of becoming an expert in everything. He joined school clubs, signed up for volunteer organizations, added a slew of academic concentrations, led school tours, and helped in mentorship and recruitment. A list of his roles and awards from his two-year period at Kenan-Flagler is almost comically long, ranging from intramural street hockey champion to VP of finance at the MBA student association, and about two dozen other listings in between.

Cooper doesn’t claim to actually be an expert at everything. At least not yet. But no one can accuse him of making anything but the most of his time on the Kenan-Flagler campus. And that will likely carry over to his new job at Boston Consulting Group.

“The MBA Program has given me opportunities I didn’t think were possible,” Cooper says. “After slacking through most of college, I thought my chance at a great job or starting my own company was gone, but Kenan-Flagler opened so many doors that I then had trouble deciding which one to take.”

The Online View of the MBA@UNC: Joe McNamara


Joe McNamara has plenty of experience in making strategic decisions. Before graduating from Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA program (MBA@UNC) in 2018, he served in the Marine Corps and studied military joint operations and planning through the Expeditionary Warfare School.

“I chose MBA@UNC because it offered me the rigor of a top MBA program, flexibility for my family, and technological skill sets to navigate the future of business,” McNamara says. “Originally, I pursued an on-campus MBA program due to the ‘traditional path’ mindset and desire to be part of a top program, but it wasn’t worth the cost of moving my family and quitting my job. MBA@UNC delivered far more than just flexibility on those two issues.”

For McNamara, the benefits of the online option were many. First, the use of technology in the virtual classroom mirrored the experience that many global companies now implement: working on complex business cases with multinational partners across different time zones and continents. Second, he and his classmates being able to keep their current jobs meant that they could apply what they’d learned instantaneously and bring back their experiences to the classroom the next day. This integrated, global perspective is one that McNamara values highly.

“I was initially skeptical about the virtual aspect of the program, fearing I would miss out on the important in-person relationship aspect that an on-campus program offers,” McNamara says. “But my interactions with my peers and professors were not limited at all; in fact, it might have been easier. As a result of the technology, we could meet anytime and any place by simply logging on.”

There were pain points, too, however. While the online program was flexible, there were still only 24 hours in the day—juggling a family, a job, and a top MBA program at once wasn’t easy. The fast-paced, no-compromise aspects of Kenan-Flagler forced him to rapidly develop his skills in areas like prioritization and time management. But support was available in McNamara’s professors and peers.

“Professors were always accommodating to meet with us and discuss questions/office hours, and my classmates and I met just about seven days a week,” McNamara says. “While the immersions were a necessary part of the program—I do believe you still have to have that in-person connection aspect—the best relationships were forged with my classmates virtually, both in class and in team meetings. We still meet regularly even after graduating and some have even started businesses together.”

For McNamara, the online MBA at Kenan-Flagler gave him more than an education. It gave him a safety net, a support network of accomplished peers, a handful of meaningful relationships with his professors, and the continuing and ongoing support of Kenan-Flagler’s career resources.

“Do it,” McNamara says in his advice to those considering the online MBA at Kenan-Flagler. “Knowing what I know now, if I were accepted to MBA@UNC and any elite on-campus program, I would still select MBA@UNC. They have paved the way for a top-ranked, rigorous business school to deliver an undiluted education in the virtual format. Virtual technology and distance learning is the way of the future in both business and education. Take advantage of the opportunity to hone your skills at a program like UNC Kenan-Flagler; it can only give you an edge to accomplish all of your professional and personal goals.”

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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