Weigh Online Degrees in Management

Julianne Metzger researched online master’s degree programs with a clear goal in mind: transition to a higher-up role in her field.

Currently a strategic communications analyst for the Army, the 33-year-old already has some managerial experience. But earning a master’s in management will qualify her for more senior-level jobs, she says, and doing so online allows her to continue working while completing her education.

“I feel like the master’s degree will help prepare me for the civilian world and for larger teams,” says the Virginia resident, who’s pursuing her online master’s with a public relations specialization at University of Maryland University College, where she previously earned her bachelor’s.

[Discover three facts about working while pursuing an online degree.]

Not every manager job requires an additional credential. But there are plenty of online options for those aiming to advance in their fields – whether it’s a general business management degree, either with or without a specialization; a certificate; or an MBA.

In a 2017 survey by Aslanian Market Research and the Learning House, 80 percent of prospective, current and recent students cited career-related reasons for pursuing their online degree.

Though requiring strong self-discipline and time-management skills, management online degree coursework can teach students to supervise and collaborate with remote employees virtually, says Crystal Fey, a senior program manager at the University of Wisconsin—Extension, which offers management programs in health and sustainability for distance learners.

“Building relationships online, communicating online, even having a discussion, a two-way argument online, is really important, and it helps them when they actually have to do it live,” she says.

The fact that online students generally work while getting their management degree may increase their chances of a promotion at their current company, says Bruce Gilmore, a professor of practice at the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business – though it could also lead to employment elsewhere. ASU Online offers a range of online management degrees and certificates.

[Learn how to choose between online graduate certificate and degree programs.]

While in the U.S. an MBA is the more widely recognized credential among employers, an online management master’s often takes less time to earn and for certain aspiring managers may be the right choice.

Generally, an online MBA covers “all of the skills necessary for general management,” from finance to strategy to operations, says Thomas Boyd, vice president and dean of business and information technology at the for-profit Kaplan University, which delivers many degrees online. To compare, the school’s Master of Science in management and leadership aims primarily to help students develop leadership styles based on their strengths.

“The curriculum is much more focused on management theory and leadership,” Boyd says.

For undergraduates, Gilmore says, online programs in management often allow them to gain the basic qualification needed for a manager role. That was the case for Wisconsin resident Nate Tillis, who earned a sustainable management bachelor’s online through UW—Extension.

Tillis, now 38, had a two-year degree from a Wisconsin technical college. But, he says, he felt his lack of a four-year degree was holding him back. He started exploring general business degrees online but ultimately took a different route.

“I wanted something that was more direct toward the field,” says Tillis, who got a job as a maintenance supervisor for the City of Waukesha in Wisconsin upon earning his degree after working elsewhere.

When exploring undergraduate or graduate online degree options, prospective students may also encounter both general and specialized management programs. For those who want to focus on leadership more generally, the broader management program may be best, though this depends largely on their career aspirations, says Anna Seferian, vice dean of business and management at the UMUC graduate school.

[Assess your long-term goals when choosing an online bachelor’s program.]

“It’s not uncommon for students to go from one to another,” she says. “They would start with a general management degree, take a couple of classes and then realize there is something really interesting in one of the functions.”

There may be significant overlap in required foundational courses for specialized online management degrees, experts say. This can provide greater flexibility to switch programs.

Some online universities also offer management certificates. ASU Online, for example, has graduate certificates in clinical research management and corrections management.

Generally shorter in length than online degree programs, certificates may allow for a more immediate career boost, says Boyd, of Kaplan.

“You need to look at the big picture in your organization or in your career path,” he says. “If somebody can identify the specific knowledge or skills that they need to get to that next level, then a certificate or a course is very possibly enough for them.”

But there are also downsides to smaller online credentials in management, Boyd says.

“Certificates can be great for getting that next job,” he says. “But it doesn’t necessarily open doors for future advancement.”