Who You'll Meet in an Online MBA Program

Networking is a critical element of career development. Online MBA students should choose programs that connect them with diverse and driven professionals.

A young man smiles as he video chats with a young woman.

This blog post was originally published in October 2022, and was revised in June 2023.

Networking is not a distinguishing skill but remains a critical factor in career success because ‘who you know’ still matters. According to Zippia, 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networks, and 40 percent of new hires come in via referrals. However, the benefits of networking transcend access to opportunity. Business professionals with extensive networks do more inter-organizational/inter-industry collaborating, have broader perspectives and can tap their connections for creative ideas and insights. Proactive networking has self-reinforcing benefits – the bigger someone’s network, the easier it is to make new connections.

There was a time when building a broad network in a Master of Business Administration program required making a full-time commitment. Today, highly-ranked graduate business school programs offer networking opportunities on par with those of on-campus programs. For instance, network building is a core facet of SMU Cox School of Business’ MBA Direct and Online MBA programs. 

SMU Cox delivers a comprehensive networking experience via live class sessions that prompt discussion and collaboration, in-person immersions in domestic and international business hubs and a global network of alumni 42,000 members strong. Faculty are accessible, and students pursuing online MBAs for working professionals at SMU Cox meet a wide variety of people who can help them grow successful careers.

Five Kinds of People You’ll Meet in an Online MBA Program for Working Professionals

The people you meet in an online MBA program will include driven peer professionals from diverse backgrounds and established domain experts from various industries. This network can positively shape the future of your career if you tap into it during your MBA journey.

Thought Leaders

Studying with experts leads to a deeper understanding of strategy, leadership and innovation across business functions and industries. The faculty at SMU Cox includes authorities in organizational behavior, financial management, human resource management and data analytics. Arjan Singh, adjunct professor at the Cox School of Business, has worked extensively with Fortune 500 clients as a strategy and competitive intelligence consultant. Small online class sizes and diverse elective courses let students build relationships with faculty and dig deep into the specializations that interest them most.

Instructors regularly publish research in their functional areas and connect their students with fellowship opportunities at leading organizations and SMU. For instance, students can take part in impactful and world-changing research via the Albert W. Niemi Center for Economic Growth and Leadership Development, operated by Maribeth Kuenzi, an associate professor of Organizational Management. 

Ambitious Career Advancers

An MBA degree is a stepping stone to higher-level management positions, and open executive positions often require candidates to have an MBA or similar. Many students in the Online MBA program at SMU Cox pursue their degrees to qualify for the highest-level corporate positions. Others plan to use their newly acquired skills and knowledge to pursue entrepreneurship opportunities. These students choose SMU Cox MBA programs partly because of the career support distance learners receive. Online MBA candidates work with career coaches through the school’s Career Management Center (CMC) to identify career goals, develop a personal brand, improve their resumes and map out long-term plans to land their dream jobs. 

Online MBA students at SMU Cox have different levels of professional work experience, but they are all driven to succeed and eager to tackle new challenges. The most ambitious among them have a lot to offer their MBA cohorts. They provide insights and inspiration other students can tap into when career planning and drive their peers to think bigger when it comes to professional objectives. They also spread optimism in their cohorts, building the confidence of new leaders as they step into their first leadership roles. What starts as a network of lower-level managers and talented individual contributors evolves into a network of top executives and thought leaders over many years.

Peers With Diverse Perspectives

People with diverse perspectives and backgrounds can help each other think about and solve challenges in new ways. Network diversity is highly beneficial in the professional world because expansive thinking fuels innovation and inclusiveness. In MBA programs, students from a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds – and all walks of life – bring their experiences, ideas and solutions to classroom discussions and project work. MBA graduates who proactively build broad, diverse networks can apply a range of perspectives to their personal and career growth. 

The SMU Cox School’s online student body includes learners from many academic, professional, social and cultural backgrounds. Many have undergraduate business degrees, but others hold bachelor’s degrees in cyber security, communications, economics or engineering. They come from many different industries and belong to social groups traditionally underrepresented in MBA programs – and corporate leadership. Thirty percent of our online MBA students belong to minority groups, and forty-two percent of online MBA students are women.

Veterans and Servicemembers

Military veterans and servicemembers bring unique skills to online MBA degree programs because they come to class with established leadership skills and self-discipline. These students often earn their degrees later in life than traditional students. They have more real-world life experience than their peers in addition to years of professional experience in military roles.

Other MBA program students can learn a great deal from veterans and servicemembers. “If you’re the officer in charge, you’re the one making the decisions, and you go seek out advice, then you execute,” says former field artillery expert and SMU Cox Online MBA student Bobby Panchisin. MBA candidate John Reece, a First Lieutenant in the Air Force, attributes his productivity and flexibility to his military experience. “I’m already used to having a lot on my plate and still being able to stay productive,” he says.

Military veterans and servicemembers are well-represented in the SMU Cox School of Business Online MBA program, making up 12 percent of the typical cohort. Veterans interested in the Online MBA program at Cox should research the Yellow Ribbon Program, a federal resource covering graduate school tuition and fees not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Career Changers

Many people from non-business backgrounds enroll in on-campus and online MBA programs to learn broadly applicable administrative and strategic management skills. Some come from technical backgrounds in engineering, information technology or the sciences. Others have years of work experience in graphic design, marketing or public relations. Many seek business degrees to move into leadership roles in their industries or to break into a general management career in the business world. Still others want to launch interdisciplinary careers that meld business, engineering and entrepreneurship.

Some MBA candidates may not have the same initial level of business knowledge as other students yet have a lot to teach their peers who are business professionals. They can share industry-specific knowledge that students won’t typically learn in an MBA program and bring a unique perspective to the MBA coursework. After graduation, contacts outside the corporate world can extend an MBA graduate’s network into multiple industries, sparking partnerships and creating opportunities to launch new ventures.

How SMU Cox Helps Online MBA Candidates Network Before and After Graduation

All online MBA programs teach essential skills, such as business analytics, decision-making, supply chain management and corporate finance, but only the best online MBA programs prioritize networking. The Economist has ranked SMU Cox among the top 20 universities in the U.S. for networking potential and the Cox alumni network No. 28 worldwide for global breadth and effectiveness. 

Online students at SMU Cox grow their professional networks via synchronous lectures, simulations, group projects and virtual events such as the SMU Cox School of Business speaker series. They connect with future and established leaders through the SMU Cox alumni network and connect with members of top companies through the Career Management Center. Distance learners enrolled in SMU Cox business school programs aren’t limited to online learning. They can also attend live workshops, company information sessions and networking events sponsored by CMC Services, just like on-campus students. 

Online MBA students studying part-time at SMU Cox also participate in international and domestic immersions, where they work in teams to develop business solutions in areas relevant to their careers. The 2022 domestic immersion in Seattle focused on concepts such as human-centered design, work in ambiguity and the world-renowned Seattle innovation ecosystem. These immersions provide unparalleled opportunities beyond online courses for students to connect with peers and industry leaders.

At SMU Cox, you aren’t just dropping other online students into your Contacts list for later. You are building relationships with driven leaders who can contribute to your professional growth and support your career advancement from day one. “The caliber of people that are in the program is unreal,” adds SMU Cox MBA candidate JT Hale, citing his peers’ desire to connect and how well students work together. 

If you are ready to grow your network and your influence, apply to the SMU Cox Online MBA program today.