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Admissions Expert: How Prospective MBAs Can Use Moocs To Their Advantage

Former Harvard admissions officer unpicks everything you need to know about Massive Open Online Courses

Fri Nov 4 2016

By Chioma Isiadinso

It's no secret that the world of higher education is in a state of flux right now. Prices are steep, competition intense, and while the return on investment for an MBA remains high, the path to admission can be both grueling and expensive. 

In my role as admissions consultant for applicants hoping to be admitted to top-caliber business schools, I work with a lot of people who are looking for any possible edge over the competition. For some applicants, MOOCs can be the way to get that edge.

What is a MOOC?

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. When the term was initially coined, in 2008, it referred to a specific type of online course that was completely open to the public, with all the information available free and unlicensed, and typically fairly interactive. 

These days, MOOCs run the gamut in terms of size, selectivity, cost, and teaching style. They can be found on platforms from YouTube, to iTunes, to dedicated e-learning sites like Coursera, Udemy, and edX. 

How can MOOCs help me get admitted to business school?

A lot of what you'll see when you're looking at MBA MOOCs is people using these classes to essentially “earn” an MBA for free. But that doesn't have to be the only way to use these courses. 

You don't have to completely buy into the idea of replacing your entire MBA with MOOCs in order to get some value from the classes. Here are just a couple of ways you can benefit from taking an online business course, even if you plan to go on to a regular brick and mortar MBA program:

Get an overview or intro to a complicated course, so that you'll be more confident when you take the class in business school

Build a strong foundation of quant skills in order to score better on the GMAT and to shore up a resume or undergraduate degree that was not particularly quant-heavy (this works best with classes that have official, proctored tests)

Gain familiarity with a particular school's teaching style

Learn from a specific professor

Demonstrate your enthusiasm for business school and your commitment to continuing to learn and improve yourself

Try out a course of study you're not sure about with less stress

Prepare for an industry change

Top-ranked business schools like Harvard and Wharton that offer MOOCs and online courses typically tout their courses as a way to get exposure to business foundation, but make it clear that completing their courses does not guarantee admission. 

The Harvard CORe (Credential of Readiness) site explains: “While applicants to the MBA Program at HBS will have an opportunity to inform the Admissions Board of non-degree preparatory coursework (including CORe), this is one of many application elements and will be considered in the larger context of a holistic selection process.”

What kinds of MOOCs are available?

MOOCs cover a wide range, from single lectures to courses to complete MBA packages. While many top-ranked business schools offer some form of MOOC, video lecture, or online learning options, it can be challenging to sort out all the options. Aggregators like OpenCulture and MOOC List are good ways to search a broad spectrum of courses to find the ones that will be most useful for you. 

At MOOC List, you can search by instructor, category, university, and more, allowing you to search for your target schools to learn more about what they offer. For example, IE Business School is currently offering a specialization in Marketing Mix Implementation delivered through Coursera. Learners have the option to audit one or more of the five courses in the specialization for free, take individual courses for certification for $79, or complete the entire specialization for certification for $355. Certification does not convey academic credit at IE Business School, but it can be included on a resume or LinkedIn profile as a demonstration of skills. 

For those from non-quantitative backgrounds, MOOCs can boost your profile. Taking courses like Introduction to Finance or Accounting are a good way to show the admissions board that you are prepared to handle MBA courses. 

Further along the spectrum, the University of Illinois recently released a completely online MBA delivered through Coursera, and priced at just under $22,000. The fully-accredited degree is designed to be more accessible for aspiring MBA students, both because of the lower price point and because the program does not require applicants to submit a GMAT or GRE score. 

The Verdict

Are MOOCs and online MBAs about to upset the apple cart and replace traditional business schools as the primary provider of graduate-level business education? Definitely not. Or at least, not yet. But for students who are looking for a bit of extra edge, they can be a great resource. 

Whether you want to punch up your skills or try out some classes in order to see whether business school is right for you after all, MOOCs can be a good way to get started. 

Ultimately, they will probably be most useful for candidates who are not yet ready to commit to business school, or who need to improve their skills and resume before applying. 

Given the wide variety of free and low-cost MOOCs available, though, it's worth a look for anyone who wants to get admitted to business school. 

chiomaChioma Isiadinso is an education entrepreneur and co-founder/CEO of EXPARTUS, the first MBA admissions consulting firm to integrate personal branding into every aspect of the MBA admissions process.

She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.

Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.