Feature Article: Will an Online Course Impress the Admissions Committee?

mbaMission writes a monthly feature for our friends at Beat the GMAT. The following piece was penned for BTG by mbaMission Founder, Jeremy Shinewald:  
It has been years since you were in college, and as you contemplate pursuing your MBA, you suddenly remember a few not-so-stellar semesters when your social life was far more important to you than your grade point average. We hope you are more innocent than that and that you worked hard and did quite well, but maybe you are in another category of student—one who has a degree in English literature, for example, and never took a single quantitative class. No matter which camp you fall into, with your business school applications on the horizon, you should definitely be considering taking a quantitative course or two to establish your competencies and make sure the Admissions Committees know that you are a changed individual and/or that you can handle a rigorous curriculum. In short, you should be planning to take these courses, work hard and earn A’s. But, you are busy now—you work, have community and family commitments and are studying for the GMAT, too. It would be easiest to take an online course, but would this be enough to satisfy the Admissions Committee? Are online classes taken seriously these days?
We approached several admissions officers at top MBA programs and found that the jury is indeed still out with respect to online education. Rose Martinelli, Associate Dean of Student Recruitment and Admissions at Chicago Booth, draws a distinction between learning for one’s own sake and earning grades that will make an impression on her, telling mbaMission,
If a student is just looking to gain skills, online classes are fine. If a student is trying to repair a poor academic record, than those classes should be at a comparable institution so that we see how well that student fares in a competitive, academic environment.

Similarly, Bruce DelMonico, Director of Admissions at the Yale School of Management, explains to mbaMission,

We don’t have a preference for where the class is taken in terms of school, but do like to see an in-person class as opposed to an online class.

Meanwhile, J.J. Cutler, Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton, is somewhat agnostic on the issue, telling mbaMission that the institution and medium are not as significant as the student’s performance and the rigor of the class.

[What is] important is the content of the class in which the student earned the A, the types of deliverables required and the values of the instructor. While the latter is extremely hard for us to know as outsiders, we can try to understand the content of the course and the type of work required.

Christie St. John, Senior Associate Director of Recruiting and Enrollment at Dartmouth Tuck, echoes these sentiments, stating,

The ‘prestige’ of a school really has no bearing on what the student learns. What we hope the applicant will do is learn the material, so that he or she is ready to participate in the classroom from the first day.

Tuck recommends that admitted students who have not previously taken basic quantitative classes sign up for accounting, statistics, economics or calculus courses “at an institution that works best for their schedule and their finances.”

Peter Johnson, Director of Admissions at Berkeley Haas, explains to mbaMission that online classes are “ok” and again emphasizes the class over the school. Johnson notes that if a student is trying to prove his/her quantitative abilities, then algebra, statistics and calculus are the important courses to take—not accounting and finance. Johnson is unequivocal in stating that students with weaker quantitative sub-scores on the GMAT (below 80th percentile) who take accounting and finance “convince me that they don’t have the necessary quant skills, don’t understand why they are necessary and are avoiding completing actual ‘hard’ quant courses, so it actually hurts their application.”

While the jury may still be out on the value of online versus in-person courses, all admissions officers agree that a class’s intensity and the individual’s performance in that class are the crucial factors. Admissions officers want to know that students have tested themselves and have risen to the challenge. So, regardless of venue, there are no shortcuts to proving that you belong at a top MBA program. You should choose your supplemental courses carefully and even inquire with your target business schools before taking a class to ensure that your proposed course of study will advance your cause. After all, that is what this is all about, isn’t it?

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