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Meet the Students of IU Kelley’s #1 Ranked Online MBA Program

What’s it like to attend the #1-ranked online MBA program in the U.S.? It’s interactive, engaging, and welcoming.

Don’t let the word “online” fool you. The Kelley Direct Online MBA includes live case studies within every in-residence week, global and domestic immersions, an extensive curriculum, and quality student experiences. It’s an extremely customizable MBA experience that offers the flexibility of being online.

To get an inside look at this experience, we caught up with two current IU Kelley students who are preparing to graduate in 2020: Courtney Tam and Jenica Acome.

Courtney Tam, Kelley MBA/Masters in Entrepreneurship & Innovation ’20

Pharmacist Turned Business Leader

Courtney began her career as a Pharmacist after graduating from St. John’s University with a Doctor of Pharmacy. She then worked her way through various pharmacy management roles before deciding that she wanted something different.

In her role as an Assistant Director of Pharmacy, Courtney quickly recognized that if she wanted to do more within administration, finance, and technology, she needed a business degree. At the same time, she discovered a desire to go beyond pharmacology in a hospital setting and to explore the entrepreneurial realm. In particular, she wanted to dive deep into how healthcare and technology work together, so she decided to earn her MBA.

“I felt I wasn’t being challenged enough,” remembered Courtney. “I decided to get an MBA to change the direction of my career, and ended up pursuing a dual MBA and Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.”

Now, after graduation, Courtney will be joining Amazon in their Pathways program. It’s a completely different career, but she’s very excited about the possibilities.

Jenica Acome, Kelley MBA ’20

Project Manager to Strategist

Jenica’s career path was very different. After earning her undergraduate degree in Applied Economics and Management, she got involved in recruiting and then project management. And for almost four years, things were good until she realized that she’d plateaued. If Jenica wanted something more, she needed something to give her an edge, and an MBA was the answer.

“The MBA has always been on my brain,” said Jenica. “I’d taken some twists and turns in my career, and for a long time, I didn’t know where I wanted to end up, but I did know that some type of graduate degree was needed. I saw the most value in an MBA because it would help me become a well-rounded employee and achieve the development and career advancement I wanted. That was the genesis.”

After just a short time in the Kelley Direct Online MBA program, Jenica saw a difference in her career. She’s already been promoted twice, and now she’s moved into a more strategic HR role, which better matches where she sees herself in the future.

Why Kelley Direct?

So, why did these two very different individuals both choose the Kelley Direct Online MBA program at Indiana University?

  • Highly Ranked: Neither was interested in attending an online MBA program without a stellar reputation. They both only looked at the top-ranking online MBAs, and IU Kelley Direct stood out as the best.
  • Flexibility: Both women were well into their careers and had no desire to leave the workforce and earn their degree within a full-time program. They wanted the benefit of a high-quality education without putting their career on hold.
  • Interactive Learning: Just because they chose an online program, neither wanted to lose the experience of immersive classes, close cohorts, and highly interactive learning. They were willing to make a commitment to an online MBA program only if they could engage personally with peers and faculty within virtual settings.
  • Alumni Network: They wanted the benefit of the largest business school alumni network at 117,000 strong, who would be there to help them move forward in their respective careers.
  • International Component: Both Courtney and Jenica wanted the opportunity to take their learning outside the U.S. via an international immersion. Jenica went to Vietnam, while Courtney went to India.
  • Dual Degree: Courtney, in particular, wanted the ability to earn a dual degree to enhance her MBA and specialize her skills.

In the end, choosing Kelley Direct was an easy decision for both women, and they haven’t regretted their choices in the least. In fact, there are many aspects of the online MBA program that they love.

The Power of the IU Kelley Family

“IU Kelley is like a family. They want us all to succeed together, and no one is left behind,” said Courtney. From her fellow classmates to the alumni, faculty, and staff, she felt connected to so many people at the school.

“When I struggle in class, my friends are there for me. I have always had someone there to support me when I’ve needed them,” she explained.

This family-atmosphere is possible thanks to how Kelley Direct is designed. Students attend weekly live classes and discussions, which connect them to their classmates and professors. They also attend Kelley Connect Weeks, heading to campus for more personal interactions, and Global Connect Nights, meeting their peers closer to home.

“I felt like I was going to school in person,” Courtney said. “I truly didn’t expect to make so many friends that will last for many years to come.”

And these are high-caliber friends, according to Jenica. After all, it takes a special type of person to earn their MBA at a top-ranked program while working full time, and that shows through in every interaction. IU Kelley students are organized, driven, and willing to sacrifice for personal development.

“The mentality of Kelley students is crazy,” said Jenica. “The type of people the MBA program attracts are those that are incredibly ambitious, inspiring, and supportive. I’ve built a support system at school that understands what I’m going through and inspires me to be better.”

She continued saying, “I did not expect to make such deep connections. I’m being extremely genuine when I say that the biggest benefit of the program has been my classmates.”

Building Relationships Through Kelley Connect Weeks

Whenever you ask a Kelley Direct student about their most memorable times in the program, they’ll always mention their two Kelley Connect Weeks.

These weeklong events offer a chance for students to connect with their classmates, professors, and the program on a much deeper level. It’s a way to become completely immersed in the MBA program while working on a live business case and solving a real company problem, face-to-face.

“The impact my two Kelley Connect Weeks had on me was incredible,” said Courtney. “It was a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with my classmates and the faculty. I really enjoyed the chance to feel like I was back on a college campus, getting that one-on-one personal experience.”

And Jenica felt exactly the same way. She loved getting to know her classmates right away in an intimate environment that helped her grow and develop as a person and student.

Unlike most online programs where you rarely meet your fellow students in person, Kelley Connect Weeks give you two full weeks to engage in extremely intense and challenging coursework and cocurricular opportunities. There’s a high level of engagement with your peers and faculty—in and out of the classroom—which makes for a very rewarding experience.

Kelley Connect Week offers an intensive seven-day introduction to the Kelley Direct Program, held in person at Indiana University. Students work with a team over the course of the week on a case competition. Students met with their teams on May 16, 2019

The Flexibility to Follow Your Dreams

On top of having an incredibly supportive IU Kelley family, the program itself was built to support every student’s dreams and goals. The revamped Kelley Direct Online MBA program allows students to customize their curriculum to the topics they are most interested in.

After 27 hours of core coursework, students have another 27 credit hours of electives—a 50/50 split. There are also seven new majors that students can choose from:

  1. Business Analytics
  2. Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  3. Finance
  4. Global Supply Chain Management
  5. IT Management
  6. Marketing
  7. Strategic Management

This split of electives and core work, alongside the new majors, allows students to choose the path that best reflects their interests and career goals. It’s possible to go deep into a specific area of business or industry and to optimize your opportunities.

Customizable Learning Experiences

That’s exactly what Courtney did. Through her dual MBA/MS degree, she had the opportunity to really focus her curriculum on entrepreneurship. “There was a lot of flexibility in terms of when I could select particular electives and how I wanted to take them. I was able to really fit everything into my schedule and still achieve my goals.”

As for Jenica, she decided that strategy and analytics were far more valuable for her career path. Her electives have focused on analytical skillsets, strategic management, and big data. All of which have immediately helped her at work.

“Getting the opportunity to develop my analytical skillsets in the safe environment of a classroom has given me so much more confidence in the workplace,” Jenica explained. “Now, I use that expertise and knowledge all the time in my current role, whether I’m working on accounting or building something in excel.”

Classes How and When You Want

It’s not just the types of courses that you can take which makes the Kelley Direct program so flexible. It’s about the fact that you can take them when they fit your schedule.

For example, Jenica has such a busy work schedule that completing the MBA in just two years would be too intense. So she chose to take a little longer to graduate—two and a half years. She did this by alternating her quarters with a two/one format: two classes one semester followed by one class the next.

“I’ve matched my MBA course schedule to busy seasons at work, so that I can have a sanity break,” said Jenica. “Taking two classes is a lot, but taking one class is very doable. In the end, I only ended up with a couple of extra quarters of schooling, and it’s been worth it.”

On the other hand, Courtney wanted to pack her schedule and graduate quickly. So, she worked with her advisor to set up her schedule and classes to graduate with her dual degree in just three years. “I was able to plan my course load based on my work schedule, and balance everything.”

Going Global with Kelley Direct

Another key piece to the curriculum is the international experience. The Kelley School believes that, just because you’re an online MBA student, doesn’t change the fact that you need global exposure.

Kelley Direct’s Global Immersions include multiple weeks of online content where students dive into the culture, business, and rapidly emerging market of their chosen country. Recent immersions have included Thailand, India, South Africa, Greece, Vietnam, Brazil, China, and Cuba. Then, once students have developed a deep understanding of their country, they take a weeklong trip to visit key companies and engage with real-world projects in-country.

Bonding in Vietnam

For Jenica, this meant heading to Vietnam during the spring semester. “It was a fantastic experience,” she remembered. “I was able to immerse myself in a Vietnamese company while working on a challenging project with a small cohort of fellow classmates. What I really enjoyed was that there was something for everyone during the trip.”

Visiting Vietnam also helped Jenica get out of her comfort zone and visit a location she never imagined herself going. She trusted Kelley to provide a safe environment where she could gain new knowledge and embark on experiences outside her comfort zone. However, it was the tight-knit bonds she made with her classmates that stood out the most.

“There was no night that I was by myself. Our cohort made a conscious effort to hang out together at dinners and while sightseeing,” explained Jenica. “We found time for fun, networking, and bonding, and everyone was eager and ready to participate. It was an incredible experience because everyone was open to anything.”

Gaining Global Entrepreneurial Knowledge in India

While spending time with her fellow students was also a big draw for Courtney, what she loved most about her trip to India was the chance to gain global business knowledge. Courtney not only delved into the culture and history of India, but she got to explore her interest in global startup businesses by meeting with various companies and leadership teams.

“This experience was incredibly valuable when it came to helping me improve my pitching and presentation skills,” explained Courtney. “My experience focused on innovation and the startup economy, and it was immensely interesting and beneficial.”

Going Further with Co-curricular Activities

Continuing outside the classroom, the Kelley Direct program also offers many co-curricular opportunities to MBA students who want them.

For example, Courtney got involved with both the Student Leadership Association (SLA) and Healthcare Association after hearing about them during her first Kelley Connect Week. Both associations offered her an opportunity to interact more personally with her classmates and to explore her interests with individuals who shared similar goals.

About SLA, Courtney said, “It exposed me to other people who shared my passion for great student experiences. Throughout my time, I’ve worked on various initiatives to make the student experience better from creating more networking events for current students and alums to developing WhatsApp groups within cities.”

For Courtney, her co-curriculars have been a great way to get more personal with her MBA program, go beyond the coursework, and enhance her career opportunities.

Top-Ranked Career Services Take Online MBAs to the Next Level

And speaking of career advancement opportunities, Kelley’s Graduate Career Services are invaluable. From dedicated career coaches who provide one-on-one insight, to online resources, weekly emails, and career-focused courses, there’s plenty of career help available to any MBA candidate who needs it.

These services were particularly valuable for Courtney who had no idea how to switch from a career in healthcare to one in business technology. “Everything was different,” she said. “Not only did I have to go from an eight-page CV to a one-page resume, but I needed help practicing for interviews, searching for jobs, and changing my understanding of the job market.”

Courtney worked closely with her career advisor to figure out the next steps in her career and to make it happen. She got help with every facet of her job search, from negotiating salary to building rapport, interviewing, and connecting with alums. “The services were amazing,” said Courtney.

And with a 117,000-strong alumni network, there are thousands of ways to make meaningful career connections that will last a lifetime.

Getting the Most Out of Your Kelley Direct Online MBA

So, what advice would Jenica and Courtney offer to current MBA applicants who are considering the Kelley Direct Online MBA program?

You get out what you put in.

“If you’re just there to get by, you’ll get a degree, but not much else,” warned Jenica. “It takes a lot of work to develop and maintain relationships with your classmates and professors. You have to put in the effort and work to have an experience that really gives you a different mindset and renews your passion.”

Be open to more than you ever expected.

According to Courtney, “You get a lot out of the program that you don’t expect. You gain knowledge and experience in a range of areas, and you become part of the IU Kelley community. Don’t let the word ‘online’ fool you. It’s more interactive and engaging than anyone can anticipate. This kind of program really prepares you for the real world.”

Choose an online MBA where your success is paramount. Learn more and apply at the Kelley Direct Online MBA website.

Posted in: Sponsored Content

Schools: Indiana / Kelley

About the Author


Kelly Vo  

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.

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