How Many Credits Do Online MBA Programs Require?


Online master’s of business administration (MBA) programs are as varied as the students who participate in them. Overall, standard online MBA programs typically start at 36 credits, but they can quickly reach up to over 70 credits, creating a range of programs with many variables that students should consider.

Quarterly or semester systems affect the total credit hours of a curriculum, as well as whether a program allows students to waive required courses because of their work experience or previous education.

Students who go on to pursue opportunities for dual degrees, specializations, or concentrations will see further fluctuation in the total credits necessary for graduation. To estimate the total number of credits one needs to complete an online MBA program, prospective MBA candidates must first have a broad understanding of the many options available to them.

Quarters vs. Semesters

While many programs operate on a semester-based program, others use a quarter system. A quarter system divides an academic year into four segments, as opposed to the semester system, which divides the academic year into two. This is an important distinction when weighing credit requirements. MBA programs that operate on a quarter system, like the one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, often require more credit hours, but that does not necessarily translate to a longer program. In the quarter system, classes are offered in ten-week sessions, allowing students to complete their credits faster than those enrolled in a traditional semester system.

Advanced Standing and Remediation

Some schools allow students to enter MBA programs with advanced standing if they meet specific criteria that prove competence in core business subjects. Criteria vary by school but may include an undergraduate degree in business, or good performance on subject-specific exemption tests, like those at Rutgers University. Students who enter a program with advanced standing can enroll in accelerated MBA programs, such as the one at the University of Dayton, which can reduce core requirements by half, thus reducing overall cost and time to graduation.

The opposite of advanced standing is remediation. Many programs require students who do not have prior business experience to take pre-MBA foundational classes in business-related subjects. For example, Southern New Hampshire University’s foundational courses include mathematics and statistics for business, economics for business, financial reporting and analysis, business law, and human behavior in organizations. This type of coursework is usually completed before the program start date and can take up to an entire semester to complete.

Core Requirements vs. Concentrations

Most online MBA programs dedicate at least 30 credits to core curriculum classes, such as accounting, financial reporting, business communications, organizational behavior, and marketing. The core curriculum usually comprises about two-thirds of a program’s total credits. The remaining credits are dedicated to elective courses, which can focus on a range of subjects, such as data analytics, global finance, branding, supply chain, and entrepreneurship, among many others.

Many online MBA programs offer the opportunity to concentrate or specialize in specific areas like healthcare management, financial businesses, or organizational leadership. In some instances, a concentration or specialization can be achieved simply by completing a unified set of classes within the elective criteria of an MBA program, with no additional credits necessary. Villanova University’s online MBA program can be completed in 48 credits regardless of whether students enroll in one of the school’s four concentrations (finance, marketing, analytics, international business, or strategic management).

Other programs may require a specific concentration module that does not entirely overlap with elective requirements, or may offer the option to specialize in more than one area (e.g., University of Delaware) such scenarios can add nine or more credits to the final total.

The Number of Credits in Popular Online MBA Programs

Here is a breakdown of the numbers of credits for 35 online MBA programs across the country:

Dual Degrees

Dual degree programs are offered through many schools for students who wish to obtain an MBA as well as a second master’s degree in a different field. Johns Hopkins University, for example, offers a dual MBA and master’s in environmental engineering for students interested in learning about the technology that drives environmental protection. There are many other dual degrees options across finance, healthcare, biotechnology, and more.

Dual degrees typically require an additional ten to 20 credits for graduation, depending on the school and the second degree. These programs are designed so that students can complete both degrees at the same time. The aforementioned Johns Hopkins dual degree requires the completion of 66 credits, while the MBA degree requires the completion of 54 credits.

A second option is to add a second degree directly following an MBA, which is offered at Johns Hopkins as well. The Carey Business School Second Degree program is designed for students who have an MBA to obtain a second master’s degree in just two semesters or for students who have a master’s degree to obtain an MBA in just three semesters. Another possibility is to add a graduate certificate to an MBA program, an option available at George Washington University.

While dual degrees or added certificate programs like these are the most time-intensive due to the number of credits required, they almost always provide a credit discount compared to what students would encounter if they pursued two degrees separately.

When In Doubt, Reach Out

Many other credit variables exist, such as corporate placements for credit, internship requirements, and other credit transfer possibilities. Students are advised to contact school representatives with specific questions so that they can receive tailored answers according to their scenario. This is especially true considering that sometimes the information available on a school’s website may not be entirely up to date. The business world is changing fast, and so MBA curriculums must as well. Don’t get left behind.

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

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