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.

Standard online MBA programs typically start at 36 credits, but they can quickly reach over 70 credits, creating many programs with many variables that students should consider. Quarterly or semester systems affect the total credit hours of a curriculum and whether a program allows students to waive required courses because of their work experience or previous education.

Students pursuing 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 understand their many options.

Quarters vs. Semesters

While many programs operate on a semester-based schedule, others use a quarter system. A quarter system divides an academic year into four segments instead of 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 only sometimes translates to a more extended program. The quarter system offers classes 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 without 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 coursework is usually completed before the program start date and can take up to an entire semester.

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 various 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, students can achieve a concentration or specialization 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 or dual specialization programs are offered through many schools for students who wish to obtain an MBA and a second master’s degree in a different field. Widener University, for example, offers a dual MBA and master of jurisprudence (MJ) focusing on corporate business law. There are many other dual degree options, bridging business to law, 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 simultaneously. The aforementioned Widener University dual degree reduces the total credits for both degrees from 62 to 48, which enables students to complete two master’s degrees in two years.

Adding a graduate certificate to an MBA program can benefit students seeking specialized skills and knowledge in a particular area. A graduate certificate can allow students to focus their studies on a specific topic, such as finance, marketing, healthcare management, or international business, allowing them to become highly skilled professionals. For example, George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences offers seven graduate-level certificates in healthcare quality, health sciences, integrative medicine, regulatory affairs, clinical research administration, clinical research practice, and clinical and translational research. With this specialized knowledge and skill set, graduates are well-positioned to excel in the job market and pursue meaningful career opportunities.

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 on a school’s website may not be current. The business world is changing fast, so MBA curriculums must also. Don’t get left behind.

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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