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How to Get an MBA for Free with Online Courses

How to Get an MBA for Free with Online Courses

How to get an MBA
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If you are looking to complete a graduate degree, one of the more prized options is the MBA (Master’s of Business Administration), especially when combined with another discipline such as law, healthcare, environment, computers, etc.

The NCES (National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Dept. of Education) College Navigator lists well over 1,000 colleges and universities offering at least one MBA program. That’s a lot of MBA programs to filter through. Of course, there are several independent MBA rankings lists that might help you. But there’s still the problem of cost. A top-quality MBA program might run as high as $200K in tuition, fees, room and board, books and so on, and take up to two years full-time. That’s obviously a major commitment, especially if you are only interested in the knowledge that an MBA provides, or want to try the topic on for size before taking time off work (or delaying a paying career).

Fortunately, there’s an alternative, if you do not want or need a piece of paper stating that you completed the degree, but want the knowledge all the same, or otherwise cannot commit up to years full-time or do not have the funds. The alternative; gaining the equivalent of an MBA education through free online courses. Some online learning sites even offer a certification of completion at a small fee per course that is much less than what you would pay for degree credit at a college or university. So you might even be able to convince your employer to sponsor you in a certificate track and reap the knowledge of an MBA-equivalent program at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, only a few short years ago, this would not have been possible. A few business courses have previously been offered online, but not the equivalent of an entire MBA curriculum. However, with the launch of online learning Web sites like Coursera.org, and education initiatives such as edX, OCW (OpenCourseWare)/ OEC (Open Education Consortium) and others, many institutions of higher learning across the world have since released either full MBA curriculum course materials/MOOCs online, or the equivalent content. There are also electives galore, collectively across the hundreds of online learning sites and Apple’s iTunes University.


Free MBA Options

The options for a free MBA fall into a handful of categories:

  1. Full scholarship to qualified MBA candidates – limited availability. For example, University of Missouri-Kansas Henry W. Bloch School of Management announced that Fall 2015 admittees will have tuition (but not university fees and health insurance) covered.
  2. Full sponsorship by employer – limited availability.
  3. Select institutions that provide free tuition to local students – limited availability.
  4. Free online courses equivalent to a typical MBA curriculum – open availability.

Of these options, only the last one has wide open availability to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and a computer or in some cases a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. This is the option that we will focus on for the rest of the article.


Online Course Categories and sources

While there are hundreds of online learning Web sites, finding MBA curriculum-equivalent courses is no small task. Fortunately, in a non-comprehensive search, we found no fewer than 41 institutions of higher learning around the world that have released courses which fall into the following categories:

  1. Full or partial content of actual MBA curriculum core/ flex core business courses.
  2. The equivalent of MBA curriculum core/ flex core business courses.
  3. Full or partial content of actual MBA curriculum elective courses.
  4. The equivalent of MBA curriculum elective courses.

By “course” we mean here either a collection of lectures and study materials from a real bricks-and-mortar, on-campus course, or a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) — the latter being more interactive and potentially more valuable. While the majority of courses relevant to this article are provided by Coursera.org, edX and school-specific OCW sites, consult our comprehensive guide to MOOC providers to explore other online learning providers.)


Is a Free Online MBA Self-Study Program Worth the Time?

If you were to enter a top MBA program such as one offered by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, you are likely to spend about $200,000 for all expenses, plus two years living in or near Philadelphia. Alternatively, you could take a less expensive online MBA program through another school. However, if you are purely seeking knowledge, as mentioned earlier, why not take a free equivalent curriculum of a top MBA school instead of paying for degree at a lesser known school whose accreditation may be questionable?

It just so happens that Wharton released lectures and study materials on Coursera for the first year of their MBA core and some “flexible core” curriculum courses. When you pair these courses with MBA-level business and elective courses from a selection of other top b-schools such as University of Virginia Darden, Harvard, MIT Sloan, you have a self-study program nearing the equivalent of an MBA. Add in the handful of MBA-level courses/ study materials that each of another three dozen or so b-schools are offering free online, and you have considerable leeway to fine-tune your MBA knowledge. Add in a specialization of computer science, chemistry, biomedicine, cognitive science, engineering (various), architecture, environmental studies, mathematics or any of dozens of other subjects available from a multitude of free online courses and you potentially gain a body of knowledge that could change your career opportunities for the better.

Obviously, you are not going to get the same benefits from a self-study approach as you would in an in-person program. Often, one important benefit of being at a top b-school is being able to build a network of connections – to colleagues, alumni and professors. Another is the opportunity for getting an internship. However, for what you potentially gain at no cost, it’s a question of whether you want the b-school experience or the knowledge. If it’s the knowledge you are looking for, read on.


A Sample Free MBA Self-Study Program

While most b-schools have their MBA curriculum published on their website, it’s easier to use Wharton’s since the school is offering four of their core courses as MOOCs, along with five electives, on Coursera.org. The Wharton MOOCs even have an option for a paid certificate of completion (at $49 per course). As time progresses, other b-schools may release curriculum course materials or equivalent MOOCs. For now we’ll use Wharton’s MBA curriculum course titles as a baseline for planning a free-MBA self-study curriculum. Another reason that Wharton’s MBA curriculum is an ideal baseline choice for building a self-study program is because several of their international study partner institutions also offer one or more MBA-level courses/ MOOCs through Coursera and other learning platforms.

While it’s beyond the scope of this article to give every possible alternative, we’ll include a couple of alternatives per course, when available. The result is a more robust program that you can fine-tune yourself, or substitute courses for when there’s no current in-session MOOC. Of course, the Wharton MOOCs are often taught by the professors who give the equivalent on-campus courses, so substituting courses/ MOOCs is useful when there’s no Wharton equivalent. Substitutions for Wharton electives, however, have the most options.



  • The following list Wharton MBA courses are taken from the school’s curriculum snapshot (PDF).
  • Courses are subject to change, as are credit values.
  • The “fixed core” requirement totals 3.5 credit units (cu) and the “flexible core” totals 5.5 cu.
  • Electives total 10 cu and can be selected from over 200 courses across 18 majors.
  • Students can select a “focus” for their MBA. A few examples are Entrepreneurial, Consulting, Real Estate, Marketing, Retail, and Financial Services.
  • Equivalency of courses is meant loosely. The alternative courses listed are recommendations only. Please be sure to read the Wharton curriculum course description and compare to selected alternatives.For each Wharton curriculum course, we’ve provided links one or more free online courses that are equivalent in theory if not exactly the same.
  • Some courses listed may not have open sessions. Please check the learning platform provider’s site for more details.
  • Links to educational institutions are provided after the Wharton curriculum course list, below.

When you design your own free-MBA study plan, you can fine-tune selections to your preferences. Electives are not listed here; however, some links are provided after the course list.


Wharton MBA Fixed-Core Curriculum Courses

For “fixed core” courses, all of the following must be taken.

1. Wharton course: MGMT 610: Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership

This is a compulsory (e.g., no waiver allowed) core course in the Wharton MBA curriculum and falls into the category of Management. Credit value =0.5 cu (credit units). Wharton course description excerpt: “This course focuses on developing students’ knowledge and skill set for teamwork and leadership. The course is meant to be an intense immersion experience that draws strongly on the pedagogy of the Wharton Teamwork and Leadership Simulation, a team-based, highly interactive simulation that was custom-designed specifically to allow students to experience the core concepts they will learn in this class.” Online course equivalents are as follows:


2. Wharton course: MKTG 611: Marketing Management

This is a fixed core course worth 0.5cu. Wharton course description excerpt: “This course addresses how to design and implement the best combination of marketing efforts to carry out a firm’s strategy in its target markets.”. Online course equivalents are as follows:


3. Wharton course: OPIM 611: Quality and Productivity

This is a fixed core course worth 0.5cu. The category is Operations and Information Management (OPIM). Wharton course description excerpt: “Matching supply with demand is an enormous challenge for firms: excess supply is too costly, inadequate supply irritates customers. In the course, we will explore how firms can better organize their operations so that they more effectively align their supply with the demand for their products and services.”. Online course equivalents are as follows:


4. Wharton course: STAT 613: Regression Analysis for Business

This is a fixed core statistics course (1.0cu) designed specifically for business students. Wharton course description excerpt: “This course provides the fundamental methods of statistical analysis, the art and science if extracting information from data. The course will begin with a focus on the basic elements of exploratory data analysis, probability theory and statistic inference. With this as a foundation, it will proceed to explore the use of the key statistical methodology known as regression analysis for solving business problems, such as the prediction of future sales and the response of the market to price changes.”. Online course equivalents are as follows:


5. Wharton course: MGEC 611/612: Microeconomics for Managers

There are two fixed core courses in Managerial Economics (MGEC). The first is MGEC 611, which sets the foundations, and the second is MGEC 612, which is an advanced course. Together, both courses total 1.0cu. Description excerpt for MGEC 611: “This course establishes the economic foundations for understanding business decision-making.” Description excerpt for MGEC 612: “This course will cover the economic foundations of business strategy and decision-making in market environments with less than full information.” Online course equivalents are as follows:


6. Wharton course: WHCP 611: Management Communication

This is a compulsory core course from the Wharton Communication Program (WHCP) worth 0.25cu. Wharton course description excerpt: “In this seminar-style course,
students learn the essentials of persuasion, gain confidence in public speaking, and receive individualized feedback from instructors and second-year TAs: Wharton-Omnicom Communication Fellows. The course enables students to develop and demonstrate effective, business-oriented communication skills, regardless of their skill level when they start the course”. An online course equivalent is as follows:


7. Wharton course: WHCP 620: Writing Requirement

This is a compulsory (no waivers) fixed core course in Communications worth 0cu (no credit). Course description excerpt: “The course objectives are to teach clear, concise, persuasive writing.”. Online course equivalents are as follows:


Wharton MBA Flexible Core Course Curriculum

Flexible core courses are selected one per “requirement,” to a maximum of 5.5 credit units. Requirement options are as follows:

  1. ACCT: Accounting
  2. FNCE: Finance: Corporate Finance
  3. FNCE: Finance: Macroeconomics
  4. LGST: Legal Studies and Business Ethics – compulsory
  5. MGMT: Management – compulsory
  6. MKTG: Marketing
  7. OPIM: Operations – compulsory
  8. WHCP: Communications – compulsory

These requirement categories are represented by the course entries numbered #8-15, below. Note that some requirements are compulsory, as indicated in each requirement entry below. In other words, for a typical Wharton MBA, you would need to choose one course from each of LGST, MGMT, OPIM and WHCP. Any remaining credits can be fulfilled from any of the above non-compulsory requirements (with a few exceptions), for a total of 5.5 credits (minimum). Obviously, for a self-study program, you do not need to be as rigid.


8. Wharton requirement: Accounting

This requirement can be fulfilled from one of three courses: ACCT 611: Financial Accounting, ACCT 612: Accelerated Financial Accounting or ACCT 613: Financial and Managerial Accounting. ACCT 612 is worth 0.5cu, and the other two 1.0cu. Each covers different aspects of basic accounting principles. Select one to suit your interests. Excerpts of Wharton course descriptions are as follows:

  • ACCT 611: “The objective of this course is to provide an understanding of financial accounting fundamentals for prospective consumers of corporate financial information, such as managers, stockholders, financial analysts, and creditors. The course focuses on understanding how economic events like corporate investments, financing transactions and operating activities are recorded in the three main financial statements (i.e., the income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows).”
  • ACCT 612: “The intended audience for this course is students with prior knowledge of financial accounting who understand: (1) the recording of economic transactions in the accounting records; (2) the basic financial statements that summarize a firm’s economic transactions (the balance sheet, the income statement and the statement of cash flows) and (3) the fundamental concepts needed to prepare or understand published financial statements (e.g. use of accrual accounting).”
  • ACCT 613: “This course provides an introduction to both financial and managerial accounting, and emphasizes the analysis and evaluation of accounting information as part of the managerial processes of planning, decision-making, and control. A large aspect of the course covers the fundamentals of financial accounting.”

Free equivalent options are:


9. Wharton requirement: Finance: Corporate Finance

Wharton has two Finance course requirements. This one is for Corporate Finance, the other, in #10, is for Macroeconomics. The three options for the Corporate Finance requirements are FNCE 611: Corporate Finance (1.0cu), FNCE 612: Accelerated Corporate Finance (0.5cu), and FNCE 614: Introduction to Corporate Finance (0.5cu). A finance major would take either of FNCE 611 and FNCE 612. Note: Wharton does not allow students to take both FNCE 614 and FNCE 615 (see #10 below). Wharton course descriptions are as follows:

  • FNCE 611: “This course serves as an introduction to business finance (corporate financial management and investments) for both non-majors and majors preparing for upper-level course work. The primary objective is to provide a framework, concepts, and tools for analyzing financial decisions based on fundamental principles of modern financial theory.”
  • FNCE 612: “This course is intended for students with prior knowledge of finance or with strong analytical backgrounds. Together with the pre-term preparation course (FNCE604), it forms the foundation for subsequent courses in corporate finance, corporate valuation, investments, and financial derivatives. Its purpose is to develop a framework for analyzing a firm’s investment and financial decisions.”
  • FNCE 614: “This course serves as an introduction to corporate investments for non-majors. The primary objective is to provide a framework, concepts, and tools for analyzing financial decisions based on fundamental principles of modern financial theory.”

Free equivalent options for some or all of these courses are:


10. Wharton requirement: Finance: Macroeconomics

This is the second Finance requirement for an MBA. The two course options are FNCE 613: Macroeconomics and the Global Economic Environment (1.0cu) and FNCE 615: Introduction to Macroeconomics and the Global Economic Environment (0.5cu). A finance major would select FNCE 613. Other MBA students can choose from either 613 or 615. Wharton course description excerpts are as follows:

  • FNCE 613: “This course is required of all students except those who, having prior training in macroeconomics, money and banking, and stabilization policy at an intermediate or advanced level, can obtain a waiver by passing an examination. The purpose of FNCE 613 is to train the student to think systematically about the current state of the economy and macroeconomic policy, and to be able to evaluate the economic environment within which business and financial decisions are made.”
  • FNCE 615: “FNCE 615 is a half-semester overview of macroeconomics … intended strictly for non-Finance majors. This course is new to the curriculum … will likely begin with the national income and products, which are the basic source of data on important macroeconomic data such as GDP, consumption, investment, exports and imports as well as prices.”

Free equivalent options include:


11. Wharton requirement: Legal Studies and Business Ethics

This is a compulsory flex core requirement, with the two options being LGST 611: Responsibility in Global Management (0.5cu) and LGST 612: Responsibility in Professional Services (0.5cu). Wharton course description excerpts are as follows:

  • LGST 611: “This course uses the global business context to introduce students to important legal and ethical challenges they will face as business leaders, with a particular focus on large, publicly traded, multinational corporations.”
  • LGST 612: “This course uses a professional services context to introduce students to important ethical and legal challenges they will face as leaders in such fields as financial services, health care, real estate, and consulting. However, the scope is not limited to these contexts and will be equally useful to students preparing for any managerial position that is likely to place them in advisory and/or agency roles owing duties to employers, clients, suppliers, and customers.”

Free equivalent options include:


12. Wharton requirement: Management

This is a compulsory requirement, with the two options being MGMT 611: Managing Established Enterprises (1.0cu) and MGMT 612: Management of Emerging Enterprises (1.0cu). Wharton course description excerpts are as follows:

  • MGMT 611: “The management of large, established enterprises creates a range of multi-facet challenges for the general manager. A general manager needs to understand the internal workings of a firm, how to assess and create a strategy,an how to take into account increasing, globalization.”
  • MGMT 612: “The management of emerging enterprises – new, small, entrepreneurial organizations – creates a range of multi-faceted challenges for the entrepreneur, whether the founder (and founding team) or the first generation of management. Establishing an emerging organization’s unique business model or value proposition (not to mention its survival) is often the overriding preoccupation, but even in a new, small organization, managers need to under- stand how to develop the internal workings of a new firm, how to assess and create a strategy, and how to take into account ever-increasing globalization.”

Free equivalent options include:


13. Wharton requirement: Marketing

This is the Marketing “requirement,” which is not compulsory. The two course options are MKTG 612: Dynamic Marketing Strategy (0.5cu) and MKTG 613: Strategic Marketing Simulations (0.5cu). Wharton course description excerpts are as follows:

  • MKTG 612: “Building upon [MKTG] 611, the goal of this course is to develop skills in formulating and implementing marketing strategies for brands and businesses. The course will focus on issues such as the selection of which businesses and segments to compete in, how to allocate resources across businesses, segments, and elements of the marketing mix, as well as other significant strategic issues facing today’s managers in a dynamic competitive environment.”
  • MKTG 613: “Building upon Marketing 611, Marketing 613 is an intensive immersion course designed to develop skills in formulating and implementing marketing strategies for brands and businesses.”

Free equivalent options include:


14. Wharton requirement: Operations

This is a compulsory requirement, with the four course options being OPIM 612: Business Analytics (0.5cu), OPIM 613: Information Technology and Business
Transformation (0.5cu), OPIM 614: Innovation (0.5cu) and OPIM 615: Operations Strategy (0.5cu). Wharton course description excerpts are as follows:

  • OPIM 612: “OPIM612 is a course on business analytics tools and their application to management problems. Its main topics are optimization, decision making under uncertainty, and simulation. The emphasis is on business analytics tools that are widely used in diverse industries and functional areas, including operations, finance, accounting, and marketing.”
  • OPIM 613: “The purpose of this course is to improve understanding of how information technologies enable transformation of business models within existing organizations as well as the development of completely new business models and new organizational forms.”
  • OPIM 614: “The course is first and foremost an intensive, integrative, project course in which student teams create one or more real businesses.”
  • OPIM 615: “In this course we will 1) learn how to assess the appropriate level of supply flexibility for a given industry and 2) explore strategies for economically increasing a firm’s supply flexibility.”

Free equivalent options include:


15. Wharton requirement: Communications

This is a compulsory requirement, with the three options being WHCP 612: Advanced Persuasive Speaking (0.25cu), WHCP 613: Advanced Persuasion and Data Display (0.25cu) and WHCP 615: Comm. Challenges for Entrepreneurs (0.25cu). Wharton course description excerpts are as follows:

  • WHCP 612: There are three different contexts for this course: (1) Advanced Persuasion: Convincing Business Audiences, (2) Advanced Persuasion: Crisis Communication, (3) Advanced Persuasion: Fundamentals for Prospective Entrepreneurs.The general objective of each context is to improve communications skills, particularly in verbal communication.
  • WHCP 613: “Teaches students to create and deliver persuasive presentations using slides to present key messages and data.”
  • WHCP 615: “This course is designed for students who are currently active in starting a business while at Wharton. The goal of this course is to build on the presentation skills developed in WHCP 611 by focusing on the unique challenges entrepreneurs face when communicating their business plan to investors.”

Free equivalent options include:

NOTE: The first two courses listed above are parts 1 and 4 of Duke University’s 4-course Coursera specialization “Reasoning, Data Analysis, and Writing.” Parts 2 and 3 are elsewhere in this list (see Fixed Core entries for regression analysis and communication/ writing).



Electives for the remaining 10.0cu (credit units) required for a Wharton MBA are beyond the scope of this article and are left as an exercise. Consult MIT OCW (Sloan School of Management), Open Education Consortium, UC Irvine OCW, Open University and edX as a starting point for possible elective options. For other perspectives on no- or low-pay MBAs, see No-Pay MBA and SlideRule. You can also consult Colorado State for an alternate MBA curriculum.


Colleges and Universities Represented

The following list contains links to the official Web sites of the institutions of higher learning that are collectively represented by all of the courses listed above:

  1. Bocconi University / Universita Bocconi.
  2. Case Western Reserve.
  3. Columbia University.
  4. Copenhagen Business School.
  5. Duke University.
  6. IE Business School.
  7. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.
  8. Leiden University/ Universiteit Leiden.
  9. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Sloan School of Management.
  10. Missouri State University.
  11. Northwestern University / Kellogg School of Management.
  12. Ohio State University.
  13. Open University.
  14. Penn State (Pennsylvania State University).
  15. Princeton University.
  16. Saylor Foundation/ Saylor.org Academy.
  17. Stanford University.
  18. University of Amsterdam.
  19. UC (University of California) Irvine.
  20. UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).
  21. University of Melbourne.
  22. University of Michigan / Ross School of Business.
  23. University of Navarra/ IESE Business School.
  24. University of Pennsylvania / Wharton School of Business.
  25. University of Pennsylvania / Medill School of Journalism.
  26. University of Pennsylvania School of Design / PennDesign.
  27. University of Virginia / Darden School of Business.
  28. University of Washington.