The University of Washington's Michael G. Foster School of Business: Two Views

Despite the fact that many of our meetings and working sessions were done virtually, I feel that the relationships I developed with my classmates were just as strong as if we had been in the same physical space.”

Nathan Chapel, Head of Design-to-Value at Blount International, UW Foster Hybrid MBA Graduate

The decision to get an MBA has always been one of the simplest parts of the process: MBA graduates typically enjoy a significant boost to their salaries, even in a financial recession. Figuring out where to get your MBA, on the other hand, has always been difficult. And, since the boom of online and hybrid options from top business schools, the number of choices has effectively doubled.

Those looking to get their MBA today not only have to decide where, but how. While the old-school way of thinking said online MBAs were for those mid-career and on-campus MBAs were for those fresh out of undergrad, the old-school way of thinking is woefully outdated. Students can attend MBA programs part-time, full-time, or in a hybrid fashion. In each case, the curriculum is faithfully recreated to the point that one isn’t choosing between programs that are better overall, but programs which are better for them, personally.

Consider the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Its part-time MBA program ranks 12th in the country, according to US News & World Report, while The Economist puts Foster as a whole in the top 25 of business schools globally. Furthermore, Foster has one of the highest job placement rates of top business schools, with 98 percent of graduates securing positions within three months of graduation.

Especially when combined with the school’s low tuition rates, the return on investment is high, and Foster grads enjoy an average salary increase of 122 percent (a statistic second only to Yale). Add in the fact that Foster has one of the biggest commitments to diversity of any American business school and you have an attractive option for getting your MBA.

But which type of MBA? Foster offers a wide array of formats that go beyond the simple binary of online or on-campus: a full-time MBA, an evening MBA, an executive MBA, and a hybrid MBA, to name a few. Each format is nuanced and differentiated for a particular set of needs. Which one is right for you? Read on to get the perspective of two Foster alumni: one who took an on-campus option, and one who took an online option.

The On-Campus View of UW Foster: Eva Chow

Eva Chow

As a Seattle native, Eva Chow was no stranger to UW Foster. She got her degree in finance and international business there before spending four years at Boeing. She’s currently a senior financial analyst at Expedia Group, where she started working while enrolled in Foster’s evening MBA program.

“Being on campus gave me the ability to network and build more personal relationships,” Chow says. “I also believe a large part of learning comes from participating in classroom discussions and, to be honest, I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus well in an online program. To be in the same room with others going through the same thing as me was the support and environment I needed to push through.”

It’s never easy to balance both work and school. And, in some ways, the on-campus option made it tougher. There was the commute, the search for parking, the late classes and long nights, and often she wouldn’t get home before 10PM to start getting ready for the next day.

But in other ways, the on-campus amenities made things easier. She had the school’s study rooms, IT support, and library. She had in-person networking with professors and partnered companies. And, perhaps most importantly, she had a sense of school camaraderie, which she credits as helping her get through some of those long evenings.

The key to balancing it all, she says, was time management.

“There isn’t really a pause button,” Chow says. “You go to class during the scheduled times, you are subject to everyone’s schedule and availability in your teams to do group work, all while
balancing the rest of your life demands.”

But you don’t go to an on-campus program to spend time at home. So Chow involved herself as much as possible with the on-campus life, going to as many events as time would allow. She went to Foster semi-formals, dressed up for themed occasions with her classmates on Fridays, and even squeezed in a few happy hour meetups. She also joined the board of the Evening MBA Association in her second year as the VP of alumni affairs, helping create events and govern decisions to make the program more enriching for students.

“Working with different people for group work helped me learn and adapt to different dynamics and personalities,” Chow says. “My interactions with professors stayed mainly within the classroom, although there are a few that I would feel comfortable reaching out to after the program for advice and feedback.”

The evening MBA at Foster has benefited Chow both personally and professionally. She’s gained a few lifelong friends, and also gained a breadth of knowledge and experience in tangential but important areas like operations and branding.

“Foster has opened up my career potential,” Chow says. “I now feel that I have the tools and skills to pivot my career and do something different.”

In her advice to those deciding between an on-campus an online MBA, Chow stresses the importance of thoroughly assessing both one’s personal goals and one’s personal context.

“Think about what you plan to do in the next two to three years,” Chow says, in her advice to those considering an MBA. “Do you want to travel? Do you want to have kids? Are you considering moving out of state? Are you planning to get married? These are things that should be factored in as it will have an impact on your time and how much you can dedicate. This is not only a journey for you but your significant other, kids, etc. Make sure everyone is on board because it will impact their lives as well.”

The Online View of UW Foster: Nathan Chapel

Nathan Chapel

Getting an MBA from a top-ranked program was important to Nathan Chapel. He’d spent 11 years at PepsiCo, progressing to the role of senior manager for global productivity and lean Six Sigma. But he wasn’t certain he could balance his career with his MBA aspirations at first.

“I am the primary income earner for my family, so quitting my job to attend school full time wasn’t something I was willing to do,” Chapel says. “To pursue an MBA meant that I needed to find a program that would allow me to do both work and school at the same time. I had always wanted to attend Foster, but living several hours away from Seattle meant I would need to spend a lot of time on the road to partake in an option like the executive MBA. Then I heard about Foster’s new Hybrid MBA program, and was thrilled that Foster had created a program that would work for my needs.”

Chapel thought the program was going to be a lot of work, but he didn’t really know what it would be like until he was in it. He admits he was unprepared for the level of strain the combination of work and school could place on his family, even with the hybrid option. But, in his mind, the pros outnumber the cons. The content was rigorous and thorough. The price, compared to other MBA options, was hard to beat. And concerns about interactions with classmates and teachers proved to be less of an issue than one might think.

“Interaction with my classmates was outstanding,” Chapel says. “Despite the fact that many of our meetings and working sessions were done virtually, I feel that the relationships I developed with my classmates were just as strong as if we had been in the same physical space.”

On-campus immersion weeks each quarter set the foundation for each term, solidifying goals and relationships for the tasks ahead. From there, the work was handled remotely, and completed largely on one’s own schedule. Professors and TAs remained accessible and responsive and students stayed in touch virtually (or occasionally in-person) to discuss assignments or even just to hang out.

“I think I came into the program with some decent work experience; that is, I think I knew certain aspects of a business pretty well: operations, supply chain, continuous improvement,” Chapel says. “However, there were several functions that I hadn’t had as much exposure to: marketing, finance, accounting. The Foster MBA is structured to cover the key fundamentals of every major part of business and then test what you’ve learned through application. Through the courses, I closed many gaps that existed in my skill set. I feel that now that I’ve completed the program, I can confidently participate in practically any meeting with any team at my job.”

Chapel believes that his MBA experience was in no way diminished by the choice to go with a hybrid option over a more traditional on-campus option. And the skills it’s given him have transferred over to his new position as head of design-to-value at Blount International.

“Hybrid or online does not equal easy,” Chapel says. “In fact, the hybrid program is probably harder than an on-campus program. The hybrid MBA covers the same material and moves at the same pace as the full-time program, but it comes with the added challenge of less interaction with professors and TAs, meaning you’ll have to figure things out on your own more, and, at least for most people, you’ll also have to juggle your job and life as well. Be prepared to work hard for two years. It will be challenging but rewarding.”

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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