Looking to transition to a new field without having to plunk down the tens of thousands of dollars it costs — or commit the two years it takes — to get your MBA degree? Then you might want to consider earning a professional certificate or credential through an online MBA program.
One particularly effective program is Harvard Business School Online. The HBS Online program currently offers 14 courses on a broad range of topics and is based on the same case-based model that Harvard Business School (HBS) uses. The program also offers an option called the online Credential of Readiness ( CORe), which consists of three courses (Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting) plus a final exam. By completing CORe, in addition to receiving the credential, you can also earn undergraduate credit.
Students enrolled in HBS Online can select to either complete coursework on their own time through the school’s course platform or participate via a “real-time online classroom,” which allows them to log in at specific times for live engagement with HBS faculty and other classmates.
Many students choose the online route at HBS not just for the flexibility but because it’s comparatively cheap. While the average price tag of MBA programs is between $50,000 and $80,000 (and can go up to $150,000 at top schools), many of HBS Online’s courses can be purchased for just $1,600 — the CORe program is priced at a relatively reasonable $2,250.
Harvard Business School told Business Insider that to date, more than 50,000 people have taken at least one of the HBS Online courses, and they’re reporting some head-turning career advancement. According to research conducted by City Square Associates for the school, eight out of 10 people surveyed felt taking a HBS Online course made a positive impact on their professional lives, with 89% of participants stating that they acquired new business skills and 93% of participants believing that the experience bolstered their resume.
Additionally, these outcomes led to very concrete results in participants’ careers, with half attracting more attention from recruiters, more than half receiving added responsibility at work, and a quarter earning a promotion or title change. What’s more, a full 30% of students leveraged what they learned in the courses to transition to a completely different career.
“Since we teach vital business concepts, I was not surprised when our past participants reported career advancement as a result of taking our courses, but I was surprised by the number and scope of such advancements,” says Patrick Mullane, executive director of HBS Online. “Traditional MBA programs are usually associated with outcomes like this, and while I am a firm believer in the unique value of an immersive MBA program, our experience has shown that people with an undergraduate degree who augment their education with a certificate program while working can see some wonderful outcomes, too.”
Enrique Garcia-Rivera, formerly a graduate student at Harvard Medical School, is now the head of oncology research at nference, where he works with companies to bring advanced analytics to the drug discovery process. He credits the CORe program — which he took while still enrolled in graduate school — for playing a major role in his ability to transition out of an academic environment and into the biotechnology space after having previously worked as a laboratory technician at MIT.
“My main objective was to learn the language of business, and at the time I was considering alternative careers in science,” explains Garcia-Rivera. “As part of CORe, I successfully learned important topics in economics, accounting, and business analytics. More importantly, I gained confidence in pursuing careers with high exposure to management and strategy.”
Garcia-Rivera emphasizes that the specific learning he gained from the online business program has had an undoubtedly positive impact on his career, both in how he performs and how he communicates with others. “Not only can I understand good science worth pursuing, I can now also consider the business implications of these investments,” he says. “This is critical to arriving at the best strategies to pursue.”
While Garcia-Rivera had considered other options, including pursuing a full-time MBA, he found that the time and financial commitment required of business school would have taken away from the work he wanted to complete on his own. He chose HBS Online over other online programs in part because of the quality of the teaching staff. “The technical advances of HBS Online, coupled with excellent professors, were a welcome surprise,” he says. “I found the quality to be on par with in-person education.”
J. Holden Gibbons was also a CORe participant who leveraged the program’s learnings to catapult himself into executive positions, as well as entrepreneurial opportunities. He is currently the CEO of KarmaBoard, a San Francisco Bay Area-based tech startup that he describes as an “AI-powered life assistant,” as well as the principal and co-founder of the full-service technology and IT recruiting firm Kroenellis, both of which he developed after serving in the U.S. Army. He also launched a nonprofit organization, Veterans Combating Child Hunger.
When Gibbons enrolled in CORe back in 2015, it was the only course available on HBS Online, which meant he was in the school’s second cohort — but he maintains that he would have still selected it today even given the more expanded menu of choices: “CORe was what I needed — a solid core foundation to underpin the intuition I had to diagnose a market need and ideate solutions.”
He explains that like Garcia-Rivera, while he had considered going the MBA route to develop his business expertise, he chose HBS Online because it allowed for time savings and greater flexibility around his schedule.
“I had to ask myself, ‘Is it worth two years of my time?'” he explains. “When I have lots of actionable steps in front of me, no.”
For Gibbons, the choice of HBS Online over other online programs was a no-brainer: “I’ll put it this way, having a certificate from HBS will never hurt you,” says Gibbons.
He feels that the CORe online curriculum was instrumental in his successful transition from military life into entrepreneurship, and unequivocally believes investing in an online education benefited his professional life. “Whether it’s speaking to a city or donors about the nonprofit, or investors and others regarding a for-profit institution, you are 10 times more likely to get whatever buy-in/outcome you wanted from an interaction if you can demonstrate you not only have mastered your space and niche, but that you have the general business skills taught in CORe,” he explains.
Jenna Pollack, a dancer who trained at The Julliard School, explains that she took CORe courses because she felt like she needed business skills to make the transition from being a performer to becoming a choreographer who runs her own business.
“Dance is a field comprised of women but run by men, so being able to talk about the business side of what I want to do gives me more credence,” says Pollack. “It gave me the skills and confidence to back up my ideas and get people to pay attention. I’m now able to reach out to the organizations and the people I want to work with.”
While getting an MBA degree didn’t make sense for Pollack, she believed that an MBA education could be incredibly relevant for her field. “CORe was sort of a perfect middle ground to pursue information at an entry point appropriate for my career,” she says. “I felt that the [specific] HBS Online curriculum helped to frame the larger picture in learning the ins and outs of producing.”
Figuring out how to fit studying into a busy schedule is challenging no matter which type of program you choose, whether you’re pursuing a full-time MBA or taking a few online courses here and there. To be successful requires setting aside time to focus, communicating your needs to others, and staying dedicated to a rigorous schedule.
“I knew that to fit CORe into my schedule, I would have to tackle it at least two to three times a week,” says Pollack. “Thankfully I’m a night owl and would be able to work at the end of the day, but it was definitely difficult to stay sharp, especially as [the courses] got harder.”
Gibbons advises online students who are also working to ensure that coworkers — including managers — as well as family and friends are fully aware of your academic undertaking. This way, no one is caught off guard when your classwork becomes a conflict.
He recalls a day when his responsibilities were split between work and school commitments. “[We] were siding a house we had bought in Cleveland in the 100-degree humid heat,” says Gibbons. “During large chunks of that job, I was inside the house, not contributing to the immediate task of siding [because I was doing my HBS Online coursework]. But my associates were well informed about my [school] commitments and how it would help the business in the long run. This helped ease any tensions due to my temporarily divided attention.”
Garcia-Rivera also credits the structure of online learning itself with helping to create more balance in a hectic life. Because you set the rules, you can learn on your time — not someone else’s. His strategy was to routinely set up his scientific experiments for his job during the day, and while they were progressing, log into CORe. In the afternoons when he was more available, he would carve out a couple of hours to do the more time-consuming exercises, such as quizzes and evaluations.