Online MBA Programs in California

Online MBA programs offer a convenient way to boost careers, increase earnings, and gain knowledge. Whether the goal is to start a new venture, move up the corporate ladder, or transition into a new and more rewarding career, the business schools in California offer a wide variety of ways to make it possible at nearly any price.

Thanks to technological advancements, earning an online MBA in California is not substantially different from sitting in a campus classroom. As the demand for MBA programs grows, so do the resources and energy that universities are funneling into them. Most schools proudly assert their regular faculty are heavily involved in their online offerings. Thanks to the video conferences, even in-class mainstays such as group work are readily available to remote learners.

But not all programs are created equal. The Online MBA programs in California vary in cost, duration, customization options, admission requirements, and graduate outcomes. Choosing the right online program means comparing and contrasting the most important assets of all programs to find the very best fit.

This guide was created to help put many of these pieces together. It outlines the online MBA programs in California, then categorizes them in several ways to let prospective students analyze the data that is most significant to their program search: affordability, programs with the lowest debt rate, schools with flexible GMAT requirements, programs with the highest graduation rates, and programs with the highest acceptance rates. Further, the data is then compared to statewide and nationwide averages for each category, offering a comprehensive look at the online MBA options available throughout California.

In order to provide the most help, this article limits its scope to regionally accredited public or nonprofit institutions. This focus helps to ensure that the programs covered here are high-quality, student-serving offerings that meet the standards that business colleges believe lead to a relevant, skill-boosting educational experience. The data used to evaluate and compare programs comes from the schools listed, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Common Data Set, publications such as U.S. News & World Report and the PrincetonReview, and accreditation databases including the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.


Compare Online MBA Programs in California

Deciding to pursue an online MBA can be a life-changing commitment. One that transforms regular career opens networking doors and gives entrepreneurs the right skills to succeed where many others have failed. Here is a quick breakdown of how online MBA programs in California stack up.

The table below outlines the available online MBA programs in the state of California. All these California business schools are accredited public or private institutions offering MBA programs for experienced professionals and entry-level workers alike. While these business schools vary in terms of their tuition costs, graduation rates, average student debt rates, acceptance rates, and admissions requirements, they all offer high-quality MBA studies providing the flexibility that many students need to complete their education while also handling other responsibilities of life.

SchoolCityAccred.Accept. RateTuitionGPAGMAT3yr. Grad. Rate
California State University-Dominguez Hills (Discontinued)Carson58%$4973.249078%
Brandman UniversityIrvineACBSP100%$6603.461%
California Baptist UniversityRiversideACBSP90%$6623.354%
California State University-San BernardinoSan BernardinoAACSB97%$7503.080%
Fresno StateFresnoAACSB58%
National UniversitySan DiegoIACBE100%$4303.161%
Pepperdine UniversityLos AngelesAACSB89%$1,8153.254183%
Santa Clara UniversitySanta ClaraAACSB96%$1,1503.0557
St. Mary’s College of CaliforniaMoragaAACSB100%$1,5503.096%
University of La VerneLa Verne40%$8853.1
University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesAACSB57%$1,9803.162797%

Affordable Programs in California

Receiving an advanced degree is an investment of both time and finances. That means affordability is certainly an important factor when considering an online MBA. Students want not only a quality educational program but also one that isn’t cost-prohibitive. This can be a challenge because the average cost per credit hour for an online MBA is significant, both in California and nationwide. The average cost for an MBA in California is $1038 per credit hour, while the national average is $820 per credit hour.

Fortunately, California boasts several online MBA programs that cost significantly less per credit hour than both the in-state and national averages. Currently, the most affordable online MBA in California can be obtained at National University. This private, San Diego-based institution offers its online MBA program for $430 per credit hour, a whopping $608 less than the California average.

Following closely behind National University is California State University San Bernardino and their Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration. Their online MBA comes in at $497 per credit hour. Two other private California universities also offer online MBA programs for under $700 per credit hour, which is still less than both the in-state and national averages. Irvine-based Brandman University offers their online MBA at $660 per credit hour, while the California Baptist University of Riverside provides their online MBA at $662 per credit hour.

These online programs show that not all California MBA options are exceedingly expensive. The affordability of the MBA programs at National University, California State University San Bernardino, Brandman University, and California Baptist University may be attractive to prospective students who must work while attending graduate school or will not receive any educational stipend from their employer.

Affordable Online MBA programs in California:

  • 1. National University – $430
  • 2. California State University – $497
  • 3. Brandman University – $660
  • 4. California Baptist University – $662

Programs with Lowest Debt at Graduation

Taking on debt is certainly another contributing factor for many considering an online MBA program. Prospective students may wonder about the debt load they will carry post-graduation and if it will be worth the investment. They may also need to consider how long it will take to erase the debt.

It’s about paying money now to reap future rewards. So, when weighing potential programs, applicants should consider the amount of borrowing each program will require. These thoughts aren’t surprising considering the number of business school graduates that incur debt upon completing an MBA program. Currently, 46.6% of business school students throughout the country carry debt at the time of graduation. The percentage is even higher in California at 68%.

However, the investment is usually worth the sacrifice. MBA graduates report increasing their incomes significantly. After finishing an MBA, the average graduates increase their salary by 77%. That can mean a jump from less than $50,000 per year to over $80,000. The most prestigious programs love to tout that their graduates typically earn more than $100,000 after earning their degree.

But no matter the salary, debt is a serious issue.

Not surprisingly, three of the four California programs with the lowest percentage of students who graduate in debt are also the four least-expensive programs. At the low-cost leaders of Brandman, California State, and California Baptist universities, about two-thirds of students graduate with debt. Specifically, 58% of Brandman graduates, 66% of Cal State San Bernardino graduates, and 67% of California Baptist graduates finish their degree programs in debt. However, the University of Southern California — one of the most expensive schools —ranks as the second least-indebted school for graduates, with only 64% of graduates finishing the program with school-related debt.

Online MBA programs in California with the lowest debt at graduation:

  • 1. Brandman University – 58%
  • 2. University of Southern California – 64%
  • 3. California State University – 66%
  • 4. California Baptist University – 67%

No GMAT Required

Now more than ever, many online MBA programs in California are omitting all standardized test requirements for admission. Usually, this means the GMAT (the Graduate Management Admissions Test), although some schools also accept GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores.

For many years, standardized tests were the gold standard by which potential students were judged. Acceptance into nearly every California MBA program centered around specific test scores. Universities used this model because it was thought to be a reliable predictor of student success. Increasingly, however, colleges are re-thinking that strategy. With the rise of online classes, post-secondary education has become available to a wider range of students. Many established workers, especially those who are more than a decade removed from college, who wish to pursue an MBA may not want the added hassle of studying and passing a GMAT.

However, just because schools do not require a GMAT does not mean they do not accept them. In fact, only three schools on this list — National University, California Baptist University, and California State University, San Bernardino — do not use GMAT scores in weighing admissions. (Other schools have joined the list during the pandemic but may revert after normalcy returns.)

The most common way online MBA programs in California use GMAT scores is to accept but not require them. This allows universities to rely on their old ways of assessing student qualification while opening the door to a wider variety of students. Schools that accept but do not require GMAT scores are Brandman, Santa Clara, and the University of La Verne. The most prestigious private schools on the list — Pepperdine and Southern California — require GMAT scores in all but the rarest of circumstances.

Who benefits from programs that do not require a GMAT? Applicants with long work histories, high college GPAs, or less concerned with school prestige can save time and money (the GMAT costs $250 to take) by applying to programs with more liberal admissions criteria.

Highest Graduation Rate

Earning an online MBA is an investment – for both students and universities. Students gain specialized knowledge and skills that command higher salaries and responsibilities in the workforce. Universities stake their reputations and ability to charge higher tuition on the successes of the graduates. It’s in everyone’s interest for students to graduate — but that’s not always the case.

California MBA programs are in the business of helping their students complete their studies. On average, 76% of students who begin a California program stick with it through graduation — a good deal more than the national average of 68%.

The state’s top two programs graduate all but the smallest fraction of students. The University of Southern California graduates 97% of students while St. Mary’s College of California has a 96% graduation rate. Clearly, both the schools and students at those institutions go to great lengths to ensure completion. Rounding out the top four are Pepperdine (with an 83% rate) and California State University (80%).

What separates the top-tier programs from others? It’s not price. California State University, San Bernardino, has one of the least-expensive programs but one of the highest graduation rates. The difference in graduation rates comes from student selectivity, culture, and commitment. Schools with high graduation rates typically invest a lot into keeping students on-track and focused on completion. Those who feel they may need extra help staying motivated during their online MBA studies should seriously consider graduation rates as part of their selection criteria.

Online MBA programs in California with the highest 3-year graduation rates:

  • 1. University of Southern California – 97%
  • 2. St. Mary’s College of California – 96%
  • 3. Pepperdine University – 83%
  • 4. California State University – 80%

Highest Acceptance Rates

Many students worry over acceptance rates. After all, applying to an online MBA program requires time and money, two resources that shouldn’t be wasted. But while the national average of MBA program acceptance is 79%, many California MBA programs take more students than that. Statewide, California programs accept 83% of their applicants — meaning that the majority of MBA seekers find programs willing to take them. It’s a fair bet that many candidates who get rejections from one program have applied to another program that issued an acceptance.

Some programs issued an acceptance to every applicant last year. And that was a year in which MBA applications were up, on the whole. Why do acceptance rates matter? On their own, acceptance rates can reliably predict how selective a program is. But when combined with other information, it can show how committed a school is to its students, hint at how many resources it invests in keeping learners engaged and enrolled and imply the level of individual attention a school will provide.

Three schools of our top four schools with the highest acceptance rates — Brandman University, National University, and St. Mary’s College of California — accepted 100% of their applicants last year. But only one of the top four, California State University, San Bernardino, with its 97% acceptance rate, also placed among institutions with the highest graduation rates.

Online MBA programs in California with the highest acceptance rates:

  • 1. Brandman University – 100%
  • 2. National University 100%
  • 3. St. Mary’s College of California 100%
  • 4. California State University 97%

California Online MBA Program Profiles

Choosing the right online MBA program means considering each program as a whole. While price, acceptance rates, and entrance requirements should be carefully considered on their own, choosing a program means committing to the program as a whole. What follows is a simple breakdown of every school considered in this article, including the high and low points for each program to aid potential students in overall assessments.

Brandman University

Master of Business Administration Online (MBA)

School Info

Business Accred:ACBSP
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(877) 516-4501
Email:apply@brandman.edu
Website:brandman.edu
Location:Irvine, CA

Ranking as one of the top four least-expensive programs and boasting a 100% acceptance rate, Brandman University’s program is a lean, cost-efficient, and easy way to earn an MBA from home.

Students pay just $670 per credit hour for tuition in a program that runs between 36 and 48 hours, depending on academic waivers. Without financial aid, in-state students can expect to pay $24,120 and $32,160 in total tuition.

For that price, students have the option to customize their course of study by adding an area of emphasis in accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, human resources, business intelligence, organizational leadership, and data analytics, as well as in more specified areas of health administration, e-business strategic management, public administration, and international business marketing.

To apply, students need either a 3.0 GPA over the most recent semester credits (or 45 quarter credits) in a baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate program including a credentialing; a 2.5 to 2.9 GPA and a GMAT score such that when added to two hundred times the GPA is greater than 1,000; a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, or a portfolio showing of writing samples, professional achievements, letters of reference and a letter of explanation. Brandman does not require GMAT scores but will accept and consider them. It boasts class sizes capped at 25, but one of the lower graduation rates of 68% after three years.

California Baptist University

CBU Online MBA – Management

School Info

Business Accred:ACBSP
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(951) 343-3900
Email:cbuonline@calbaptist.edu
Website:cbuonline.edu
Location:Riverside, CA

Offering an affordable, biblically rooted education, California Baptist University provides an online MBA program that many students can complete in just one year.

The online MBA program offered by California Baptist comes with a low price tag of $23,832 at a rate of $662 per credit hour for 36 hours. Students can choose from two separate MBA degrees: the MBA-M, which includes a specialization in management, or the MBA-ACC, which adds an accounting specialization.

Application requirements include a minimum GPA of 2.5 (2.75 for unconditional consideration) and a 500-word personal statement. Except in rare situations, the program also requires real-world work experience and an undergraduate degree in business. No standardized tests are required. Last year, California Baptist University accepted 90% of qualified applicants.

California Baptist University has one of the smallest classes, only taking 135 students per cohort. It is a fully online program that requires no in-person instruction or events whatsoever.

California State University, San Bernardino

Cal Stat San Bernardino MBA Program

School Info

Business Accred:AACSB
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Public
Phone:(909) 537-5703
Email:mba@csusb.edu
Website:csusb.edu
Location:San Bernardino, CA

The program at California State University, San Bernardino, is officially called the MBA Online for Executives. It’s aimed at professionals in their early- to mid-career arcs seeking to expand their knowledge and sharpen their skills.

Designed exclusively for professionals who work full- or part-time, Cal State San Bernardino’s fully accredited program holds the highest acceptance rates — at 97% of qualified applicants — while maintaining an enrollment figure of 161 students.

To be accepted, potential students must have an undergraduate degree and a GPA of 2.5 or higher with 60-semester credits or 90 quarter credits. Applicants who have garnered 12 semester hours or 16 quarter hours of graduate credit must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or write an appeal to the admissions offices.

The program is part of the large and well-admired California State University System and is fully accredited by the nation’s most rigorous institution, the AACSB. It can be completed fully online.

Fresno State

The Craig School of Business Online Blended MBA program

School Info

Business Accred:AACSB
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Public
Phone:(559) 278-2107
Email:mbainfo@csufresno.edu
Website:fresnostate.edu
Location:Fresno, CA

The Online Blended MBA program run out of Fresno State University’s Craig School of Business is a 36-credit-hour program that includes 12 courses.

Designed for working professionals, the online program is taught completely asynchronously, with all classes available for online viewing at each student’s convenience. However, as its name implies, the Online Blended MBA can include in-person courses taught at the Fresno State campus.

The school makes no distinction between the traditional MBA program and its online counterpart. That means typically in-person online options, such as the opportunity to participate in study abroad programs during the summer, are available to online learners. But it also means that certain programmatic features, such as orientation and final capstone presentations, may not be doable online during non-pandemic times.

Hopeful applicants must submit a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and Fresno accepts about 30 percent of applicants. The entire program is usually completed in three to four semesters.

The program’s tuition runs $2,492 for students who take up to six units and $3,998.50 for students enrolled in seven or more units per semester. That does not include a Professional Program Fee of $270 per unit that applies to every MBA course.

National University

NU Center for Management and Entrepreneurship MBA

School Info

Business Accred:IACBE
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(855) 355-6288
Email:advisor@nu.edu
Website:nu.edu
Location:La Jolla, CA

Created exclusively for adult learners, National University offers a 100% online MBA program that’s wallet-friendly, convenient, and customizable.

Through an interesting format, National offers students a chance to take one course in one month or take three courses simultaneously over three months. Courses run $470 per unit — the least-expensive cost of any online MBA program in California.

It boasts the highest enrollment of any listed program, with a class of 547 and a 100% acceptance rate. However, it does have a lower graduation rate, with only 61% of students have completed their degree three years after beginning their studies.

National University does not require standardized test scores or work experience for admittance.

Students can complete the program fully online and choose from one of 12 specializations: Accounting Professional Skills, Financial Management, Bank Management, Human Resource Management, Integrated Marketing Communication, International Business, Management Accounting, Marketing, Mobile Marketing and Social Media, Organizational Leadership, and Supply Chain Management.

To qualify for graduation, students must have completed 54-63 quarter units of credit. The school suggests students budget three years to complete an MBA but notes that it can be done in a little as 12 months.

Pepperdine University

The Graziadio Business School Online MBA

School Info

Business Accred:AACSB
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(310) 506-4100
Email:PGBS.admission@
Website:pepperdine.edu
Location:Malibu, CA

Offering a general track and five concentrations — business analytics, finance, marketing, digital innovation and information systems, and leadership and managing organizational change — Pepperdine’s Graziadio Business School offers a prestigious online MBA program that students can complete in as little as 20 months.

The program ranks as the second-most-expensive on the list, running $1,815 per credit hour. The program has a high graduation rate, however, with 83% of students completing their studies after three years.

To apply, students must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, pay a $150 fee, write a statement of purpose, and provide a resume. Except in rare circumstances, applicants must complete either the GMAT (the average score for last year’s class was 541) or the GRE and have business-related work experience.

Pepperdine’s program is not completely online. While courses are taught remotely, the program requires a weekend immersion program at the outset — although that may be postponed due to Covid-19 gathering restrictions.

Santa Clara University

The Silicon Valley Online MBA

School Info

Business Accred:AACSB
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(844) 554-2425
Email:onlinemba@scu.edu
Website:scu.edu
Location:Santa Clara, CA

The Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University offers a fast, flexible option for professionals eager to expand their earning potential and skillset. The school touts its proximity and close ties to Silicon Valley and uses technology throughout its courses. It also has one of the smallest class sizes, with only 106 students registered in last year’s cohort.

The program takes approximately 18 to 24 months and costs $83,510 for both in- and out-of-state students. Due to certain required special events, the online MBA program cannot be completed fully online.

Students at Santa Clara University can choose from the following concentrations: science and business analytics, finance, marketing, and leading innovative organizations.

To be considered for admission, applicants must pay a $148 fee, submit their GMAT or GRE scores unless granted a special waiver, hold a four-year bachelor’s degree, write three essays, two letters of recommendation, and submit to a personal admission interview.

St. Mary’s College of California

The Online MBA For Emerging Leaders

School Info

Business Accred:AACSB
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(925) 631-4000
Email:smcmba@stmarys-ca.edu
Website:stmarys-ca.edu
Location:Moraga, CA

The Online MBA for Emerging Leaders from St. Mary’s College of California is a 12-month, accredited program made specifically for students who want to continue their careers while earning a post-secondary education.

St. Mary’s is the only school on this list to feature a hard deadline instead of a rolling admission process. All applicants must submit materials by April 15 to be considered for the next year’s class. Only in very rare circumstances are late materials accepted for consideration.

Although it boasts the smallest class size of any online MBA program on the list at 59, St. Mary’s had a 100% admission rate for last year’s cohort.

To gain admission, applicants must have completed undergraduate studies at an accredited institution but do not need to have majored in business. Applicants must demonstrate a history of real-world professional work. Standardized test scores, however, are not considered in admissions, although real-world work experience is mandatory in all but the rarest of cases.

Full tuition for the program runs $45,480.

University of La Verne

The University of La Verne’s Career MBA

School Info

Business Accred:
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(909) 448-4317
Email:rlazarian@laverne.edu
Website:laverne.edu
Location:La Verne, CA

Created exclusively for adult learners, the University of La Verne’s Online MBA for Experienced Professionals prides itself on convenience and flexibility. With a reasonable price tag of $885 per credit hour, the online MBA program ranks among the most affordable on this list.

To apply, potential students must have at least three years in the post-collegiate workforce and an undergraduate degree in business. Standardized test scores are not required but are accepted and may be a smart move. Last year, the University of La Verne accepted only 40% of applicants.

At La Verne, students take a minimum of 33 credit hours (depending on academic waivers) and must spend 12 hours in elective courses. These include accounting, finance, information technology, management and leadership, supply chain management, and health services management. Also, students may pursue a concentration in one of four areas — organizational development, human resource management, nonprofit management, or aging students.

All classes in the program are taught asynchronously, and most students finish the program in one to three years.

University of Southern California

The USC Marshall Online MBA (OMBA)

School Info

Business Accred:AACSB
Regional Accred:WSCUC
School Type:Private
Phone:(213) 821-6800
Email:onlinemba@marshall.usc.edu
Website:usc.edu
Location:Los Angeles, CA

The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business offers a prestigious online MBA program that can be completed in as few as 21 months.

Competitive and high-priced ($1,980 per credit with a 58% acceptance rate), the online program demands approximately 20 hours per week, even for part-time students. Online MBA students also have the option of joining the study abroad opportunities that include trips to Singapore or Dubai.

Successful applicants must have a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited institution and two years of real-world work experience. Typically, the school requires either a GMAT (with average scores of 627) or a GRE. However, some exceptions are made. For instance, during the pandemic, the school has stopped requiring standardized test scores because so many testing centers have been shuttered.

Besides, applicants must write two essays, send in a professional resume, pay a $155 application fee, and produce three letters of recommendation — one of which must be written by a professional business contact. Before being accepted, all students must sit for a video interview.

Importantly, the program is not fully online. A one-week session on campus at the beginning of the program is required (although it may be canceled during the pandemic).


California Career and Job Outlook for MBA Graduates

According to California’s Employment Development Department, the state’s occupational employment will add over 2.4 million jobs, for a total of 18.7 million jobs by 2022. Professional and business services industry sectors figure among the top 50 list of the fastest-growing occupations.

Many students and professionals pursue an MBA in California to get into the executive suite. Examples of top executives include CFOs, CIOs, and COOs. Most people in these positions have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business administration or an area related to their work field. According to statistics from BLS.gov, the 2014 average pay for top executives was $112,490 per year. The demand for top executives is expected to grow by 14.1% in California between 2012 to 2022, compared to just 5.9% in the rest of the United States. Figures from Career InfoNet reveal that the national median hourly salary of chief executives is $83.33, while that of California executives is higher, at over $90.

The top three industries with high employment levels in management-related occupations include companies and enterprises, elementary and secondary schools, and the local government. California tops the list of states with the highest employment level in this management line of work. Los-Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division, is one of the metropolitan areas with the highest employment level in this occupation. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara is also among those with the highest concentration of management-related jobs. This metropolitan area also boasts the highest reported pay in this occupation.

On the topic of salary, here are some additional statistics from PayScale.com:

  • The median salary of California employees with an MBA degree is $100,934, the highest of any state in the country.
  • An MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business attracts an early- and mid-career pay of $118,000 and $175,000, respectively.
  • The same degree from Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley pays an early-career starting salary of $123,000 and a mid-career salary of $169,000.
  • Among the top 15 California business schools with the best salary potential are Anderson School of Management at UCLA, Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, Graduate School of Management of University of California Davis, and Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California.

The average salaries of MBA holders in various occupations are listed below:

  • Financial analyst: $46,635 – $87,067
  • Senior financial analyst: $64,277 – $98,136
  • Chief financial analyst: $82,619 – $224,031
  • Marketing manager: $49,121 – $117,728
  • Marketing director: $63,878 – $164,684
  • Operations manager: $46,360 – $116,477
  • Finance manager: $65,614 – $115,883


References:
1. National Center for Education Statistics:https://nces.ed.gov/
2. AACSB, Best Business Schools:https://bestbizschools.aacsb.edu/aacsb-accredited
3. ACBSP, Business Schools:https://www.acbsp.org/page/accreditation
4. IACBE, Business Schools:https://iacbe.org/accreditation/
5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook, Business and Financial Occupations: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/home.htm
6. US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Employment and Wage Estimates California: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm
7. California Colleges: https://www.californiacolleges.edu/#/college-options-in-california
8. US News & World Report, 2021 Online MBA Programs: https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/mba