One of the most popular arguments against online MBA programs is the lack of opportunity to network with your program peers. In my opinion, the need to network within your MBA program is subjective and variable; and I also have no way to compare the two experiences (online vs. face-to-face) firsthand. But I will share some tips that I got hip to a bit later in my MBA program that can help significantly in regards to networking with your peers. Hopefully you’ll discover this post early on and be able to apply these techniques throughout the duration of your online MBA studies.
#1 – Read, and preferably respond, to the student introductions given in your online courses. The vast majority of professors of online courses set up a special discussion board where the course participants can write some form of introduction and talk a bit about themselves. These introductions may be requested by the professor, but they are for your benefit as well. While it may not be mandatory or even suggested, if you find some common ground with another student…or admire something about their accomplishments (personal or professional), you should not hesitate to respond to their introduction. You may not be expecting to form a lasting relationship with them, but it will at least establish some type of rapport and help that person (as well as the professor and other students) get a complimentary picture of your personality.
#2 – Create a spreadsheet to log the people who are in all of your classes. This may sound tedious, but trust me…it comes in handy. When the semester is in session, you’ll have access to the rosters of your online courses. However once the class is over, then your access to it is gone. As you move through your program, you may have vague recollections of being in a course with someone else in the past…but it is better to know for sure. On this spreadsheet you should also note if you worked together with this person in a group, and perhaps a little note about your thoughts regarding their work ethic and style. Also if you know which courses you shared along with others, you have a bit of added insight as to their academic qualifications (i.e. the person has taken the Managerial Accounting course already, so you don’t have to worry so much about their abilities to handle produce and interpret financial statements).
#3 – Meet with your online MBA peers in-person whenever possible. This is especially applicable in online MBA programs at public state universities because even though they are online, many tend to draw a large in-state contingent (of course this largely depends on if the in-state students get a break on tuition). Set up group meetings at a local eatery or the library. You should also look for non-opportunities to meet up with your program peers as well, such as Graduate Student club events and on-campus employment fairs.
#4 – Play the virtual stalker. This may sound extreme, yet it works wonders in many instances. Your online MBA program peers have a life outside of their online MBA studies. They work for (or own) companies, they have social media profiles and they have hobbies and interests. Take the time to Google them; visit their websites and send them invitations to connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google +. If you do choose to connect with them or contact them, be sure to mention that you are an online MBA peer of theirs.
The ultimate results of your attempt to network with your online MBA peers will vary without a doubt (depending on how receptive your peers are to it). However one thing is for sure, networking in a 100% online MBA program will not happen all by itself. You’ll need some sort of effort and plan, and the earlier you execute them, the better your results will be.