Opting for an online MBA program over an on-campus experience offers a number of advantages. For working adults, the flexibility of online classes is often the biggest selling point, as it allows them to fit their studies into their busy schedules rather than trying to work around their classes. Without long commutes, struggles to find parking on campus or long class periods, online students are better able to manage their time and keep all of their plates spinning.
For all of these advantages, there are drawbacks to earning your MBA online. One of the most commonly mentioned is the fact that students who study online often feel disconnected from their school’s physical campus. When you can earn your entire degree without actually setting foot in a classroom, you may not always get the full experience of the college or program.
Because more students are opting to complete some or all of their MBA coursework online, many schools are creating new options to help them stay connected to campus. From in-person residencies to online student unions, there are plenty of ways you can immerse yourself in the campus culture, even if you never leave home.
Many of the top online MBA programs include a campus residency component as part of the curriculum. Ranging from a single weekend to a full semester, these residencies are designed to give MBA students the opportunity to work with their cohorts in person, meet their instructors face-to-face, get a better sense of the culture of the school and grow more entrenched into the traditions and offerings of the campus.
Although some students deliberately choose programs without a residency requirement, as the cost and time commitment can be prohibitive in some cases, opting for an MBA with some sort of residency can enrich your experience.
Even if you don’t have to complete a residency, taking the time to visit campus can make your MBA experience more “real” and help ground you to your school. If you’re enrolled in a school nearby, make a point of studying on campus when you can — you may also be able to take advantage of technology resources, libraries, study spaces and more.
Attend special events like lectures, games, exhibits or concerts, use the library and study spaces, or even grab a bite to eat in the campus dining hall. You’ll get a better sense of the place, especially if you can arrange to meet some of your online classmates or instructors in person.
If visiting campus on the regular isn’t possible, try to visit when you can. Make an appointment with an instructor to have coffee or lunch and visit the campus bookstore to grab a hat or sweatshirt or other gear. It will help you feel less isolated and build your “school spirit,” which in turn can help you perform better academically. It’s true – a 2014 study by Varsity Brands found that students with the most school spirit are generally happier and more engaged in their school and earn higher grades.
Online Doesn’t Have to Mean Alone
Visiting campus might be the best way to foster college student involvement, but it’s far from the only way. Universities around the country have found creative ways for online students to connect without leaving their homes.
When you begin your MBA program, don’t ignore messages that you receive from your school about online discussion groups and forums, social media pages and other services and features designed to help engage students. Some schools have created student-exclusive areas, essentially virtual student unions, where students can log in and join discussions. Typically designed just for students, these virtual areas allow online students to have informal conversations with others just as they would on campus.
Social media has also become a significant part of creating connections for online students. From Facebook pages and groups for specific programs or courses to Twitter hashtag conversations, there are plenty of opportunities for students to use social media to build networks with each other and stay connected to their schools.
Working in groups can also strengthen your connection to campus and your fellow students. You might groan and dread the idea of a group project, but it turns out that group work is even more vital for online MBA students, as it helps build the connections that form your network, while also exposing you to a wide range of perspectives. Reach out to some of your classmates to create a study group and meet virtually using Skype or a Google Hangout.
And remember, your involvement with your school doesn’t have to end after you graduate. Become an active member of your school’s alumni network. Many alumni groups offer special events in different cities where you can meet others from your school, as well as opportunities to volunteer, serve on boards or be mentors to other students. Don’t just collect your degree and go — become a part of your school’s community.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Perhaps the most important factor in connecting to campus is you. It’s easy – and it might be tempting – to just focus on your coursework and your own responsibilities and forgo the other aspects of your program. This is especially true if, like many online students, you already have a social circle, work responsibilities, and a busy schedule.
However, choosing to isolate yourself not only means that you’ll miss out on all that your MBA program has to offer, but you won’t build the network and relationships that are so much a part of any MBA experience. Even if you never make it to the physical campus, putting in the effort to stay connected allows you to be a part of the community and soak up every part of the MBA experience.