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How to Make An “MBA” Using Free Online Courses from Top 10 Business Schools

Laurie Pickard

Back when massive open online courses (MOOCs) were new, I started a project to complete the equivalent of an MBA, using free courses. Platforms such as Coursera and edX were making headlines, and when I learned that leading universities (including business schools) were distributing online courses for free, I was inspired to construct a business education rather than pay an exorbitant amount for a degree.

I called the project the “No-Pay MBA” and I blogged about it at www.NoPayMBA.com. I finished my business education in 2016, and wrote a book to guide others interested in doing a self-made MBA (Don’t Pay For Your MBA, HarperCollins, 2017).

Now that I’m working for the MOOC review site Class Central, I’ve been wondering, how would I approach this project today, given the wealth of new courses and tools that are now available?

When I was doing my No-Pay MBA, there were only a few business MOOCs available, so I basically signed up for all of them. Fortunately or unfortunately, so many respected business schools have released free courses – 1,867 business courses are currently listed on Class Central –  that it would be impossible to do that today.

Through my studies, I also came to believe that putting together an MBA-level education requires much more than simply ticking through a checklist of course topics. That’s partly because MOOCs differ from on-campus courses in scope, length, and rigor; and partly because creating your own MBA offers a tremendous opportunity to tailor the curriculum to your needs.

My advice: start by learning some foundational business concepts in introductory-level courses, then develop some general business skills, and finally, dive deep in an area of concentration.

Below is a sample course list that follows this advice, drawn entirely from business schools in U.S. News & World Report’s top ten. I cross referenced the U.S. News list with Class Central’s database to find around 90 courses from top ten schools, including the University of Pennsylvania (#3), MIT (#5), Northwestern (#6), the University of California Berkeley (#7), the University of Michigan (tied for #7), Columbia University (#9), and Dartmouth (#10).

I used only courses from these schools not because there aren’t great MOOCs from business schools lower down in U.S. News’ ranking (the full course catalog of the University of Illinois’s iMBA, for example), but simply because A) I had to cut down the number of courses somehow, and B) I wanted to demonstrate that the content for a top-tier MBA is there for the taking.

Note: The curriculum below is a pretty solid MBA program. However, it doesn’t include every topic that might be included in an MBA. Some notable gaps: project management, micro- and macroeconomics, and business ethics. It’s also rather light on operations management.

Another Note: While many of these courses do involve fees, all of them can be audited for free, either in full or in part. If you’re new to MOOCs, you can learn more about them in Class Central’s Beginners’ Guide to Massive Open Online Courses.

Foundational Business Concepts (4 courses)

The four courses in the Business Foundations Specialization from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business are a popular starting place for those new to the world of business. I suggest taking all four.

Introduction to Marketing, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Introduction to Financial Accounting, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Introduction to Operations Management, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Introduction to Corporate Finance, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

General Business and Management Skills (4-6 courses)

Quantitative modeling, negotiation, project and people management, decision-making, leadership, and communication are important skills regardless of industry. I recommend taking at least one course that covers each of the aforementioned topics, for a total of between four and six courses.

Fundamentals of Quantitative Modeling, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Decision-Making and Scenarios, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Managing Talent, University of Michigan via Coursera

Leading Teams, University of Michigan via Coursera

Scaling Operations: Linking Strategy and Execution, Northwestern University via Coursera

High Performance Collaboration: Leadership, Teamwork, and Negotiation, Northwestern University via Coursera

Leadership Communication for Maximum Impact: Storytelling, Northwestern University via Coursera

Inspiring and Motivating Individuals, University of Michigan via Coursera

Making Successful Decisions through the Strategy, Law & Ethics Model, University of Michigan via Coursera

Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills, University of Michigan via Coursera

Concentration (8-10 courses)

I advise anyone pursuing self-directed education to develop deep knowledge and skills in an area of concentration. This is where you can reap the real value of a self-directed education. Focus on a discrete area, take courses that are rigorous, and put what you learn into practice in real world scenarios. I’ve listed three possible MBA concentrations that could be constructed from courses offered by the top ten B-schools, excluding pre-packaged options such as the MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management from MIT.

Option 1 – Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is the obvious choice for someone interested in starting a business. Added bonus: if you’re planning on being your own boss you won’t have to defend the value of your self-directed education in a job interview.

Entrepreneurship 1: Developing the Opportunity, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship 2: Launching your Start-Up, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship 3: Growth Strategies, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship 4: Financing and Profitability, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies, Harvard University via edX

Becoming an Entrepreneur, Massachusetts Institute of Technology via edX

The Iterative Innovation Process, Massachusetts Institute of Technology via edX

CS50’s Computer Science for Business Professionals, Harvard University via edX

Option 2 – Digital Strategy

With plenty of courses and many opportunities to use your skills in the real world, digital strategy makes for an excellent area of concentration. Being a relatively new field, it may also be easier to get a job in this area without a traditional degree.

What is Social?, Northwestern University via Coursera

The Importance of Listening, Northwestern University via Coursera

Engagement & Nurture Marketing Strategies, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content, Advertising & Social IMC, Northwestern University via Coursera

The Business of Social, Northwestern University via Coursera

Marketing Analytics: Price and Promotion Analytics, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics: Competitive Analysis and Market Segmentation, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics: Products, Distribution and Sales, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics: Marketing Measurement Strategy, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics, Columbia University via edX

Writing for Social Media, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content Strategy for Professionals: Managing Content, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content Strategy for Professionals: Expanding Your Content’s Reach, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content Strategy for Professionals: Ensuring Your Content’s Impact, Northwestern University via Coursera

Omnichannel Strategy and Management, Dartmouth via edX

Option 3 – Finance

Finance is a more risky area of concentration, since it can be hard to break into the industry without the right credentials. However, if you already have a foot in the door, there are plenty of finance courses at the MBA level.

Valuation: Alternative Methods, University of Michigan via Coursera

Financial Engineering and Risk Management Part I, Columbia University via Coursera

Financial Engineering and Risk Management Part II, Columbia University via Coursera

Modeling Risk and Realities, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Corporate Financial Policy, University of Michigan via edX

Principles of Valuation: Risk and Return, University of Michigan via Coursera

Financial Institutions and Markets, University of Michigan via edX

Financial Decision Rules for Project Evaluation, University of Michigan via edX

Principles of Valuation: Time Value of Money, University of Michigan via Coursera

Valuing Companies, University of Michigan via Coursera

Project Risk Assessment, University of Michigan via edX

The Free Cash Flow Method for Firm Valuation, Columbia University via edX

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Laurie Pickard

I got into MOOCs when I started a project to replicate a traditional MBA using free online courses. My blog at NoPayMBA.com resulted in a book called Don't Pay For Your MBA. I joined the team at Class Central in 2017.

    Comments 42

    1. Avatar

      Jason

      While this is a great option, my question is how do you establish this education on a resume and express it to an employer or potential employer? I wouldn’t want to put that I have an MBA from some schools while if those schools were contacted there would be no evidence of me obtaining an MBA. So how do you verify the education?

      Reply
      • Laurie Pickard

        Laurie Pickard

        Great question! I agree it is a challenge to be overcome with this type of education. My advice is not to put on your resume that you have an MBA, but rather to give the education a unique title, something like “Graduate-level business studies”. Then give a short description of what you did (e.g. Took more than 20 courses as part of a self-directed business education program) and list a few of your more impressive courses below that. For the courses that you list, it would be helpful to actually purchase the certificate, which you can produce as proof of the work you did in those particular classes.

        It does require more creativity and marketing savvy than just writing “MBA degree” on your resume, but it also costs a whole lot less!

        Reply
        • Avatar

          Haya

          Do we get any certificate after we finish no pay MBA

          Reply
          • Laurie Pickard

            Laurie Pickard

            That’s the thing. You can get individual certificates for courses you complete, but not the overall MBA. If that is a deal breaker, then this probably isn’t a great option for you.

            Reply
    2. Avatar

      Gareth W

      Sounds like a good option for self improvement but given that like graduates, MBA post grads are likely to be attempting to gain a place on an MBA programme… this is not going to be a viable option

      Reply
    3. Avatar

      Abdullah

      This is a huge effort and than to you Pickard. My question is, how long will it take to do this ? Can you give us a ball park ? Thanks again

      Reply
      • Laurie Pickard

        Laurie Pickard

        I think you could probably do a program like this in as little as 18 months, but you would have to be very disciplined. A more reasonable estimate would be 2-3 years of part-time study.

        Reply
    4. Avatar

      Samuel Gachoki

      I once studied so hard online courses but after doing my exam, i was told to $1000 which i dint have so as to receive my certificate. Tell me howuch should i pay as shipment fees. Am in kenya

      Reply
    5. Avatar

      Fatou Gillen Njie

      I am interested in this MBA course how would I be enrolled to enable me take this course

      Reply
    6. Avatar

      Warren

      Thank you for the wonderfully presented outline of an MBA equivalent at little or no cost, other than a personal investment of time and energy which we should always be willing to invest in order to truly succeed.

      Reply
    7. Avatar

      medy

      how do i enroll in this programme, i like it!

      Reply
    8. Avatar

      medy

      WIll the programme be available after August 2019?

      Reply
      • Laurie Pickard

        Laurie Pickard

        No official “program” to enroll in. This is a sample guide for self-directed study. These courses appear to be here for good, so no need to start at any particular time.

        Reply
    9. Avatar

      IDRISSA

      Thank you so much Laurie. That’s a great job.
      Idrissa from west africa, Cote d’Ivoire

      Reply
    10. Avatar

      Ecmcomalley

      Aside from MBA program Does MOOC offer the same platform on other Post Graduate studies with other Academic discipline or subject of interest? Thank you.

      Reply
      • Laurie Pickard

        Laurie Pickard

        The subjects with the most robust course offerings include business, computer science, and data science. You could easily put together a graduate-level program in any of these subjects.

        Reply
        • Avatar

          Noor

          Jeannie will you be kind enough to share a similar article for data science as soon as you do it.

          Reply
    11. Avatar

      Ricardo

      This is awesome!

      Reply
    12. Avatar

      Nick

      This is a great alternative approach to doing a conventional MBA, and it may not be for everyone. Laurie’s book highlights the pros and cons quite well.

      In my opinion, the value of such a MBA is not just the lower cost (which seems to be played up more than it needs to be), but rather the incredible access to high-quality content from some of the most knowledgeable and engaging professors working at top ranked institutions, that I may have the smallest chances of being accepted into.

      Reply
    13. Avatar

      Jeannie

      This looks fantastic!! Thank you, Laurie, for researching and putting together such a helpful list! I’m in the process of changing careers (from 20 years of bodywork to data science) and your list seems like a great place to start. I imagine I can customize my own unique list, doing further research and building in this one.

      Cheers!

      Reply
    14. Avatar

      Mary

      Thank you, Miss Pickard.

      Taking the time to complete the No-Pay MBA yourself and then posting such a comprehensive path to taking on this kind of initiative is beyond inspiring; it’s notable and pretty awesome!

      While a current student in a traditional on-line college, I’m holding on to this information with hopes of completing a NP-MBA one day.

      Going forward, I’ll be aligning myself with your articles and posts borrowing the tag-line from the past political campaign: “I’m With Her!”

      Outstanding job!!!

      Thank you for sharing so generously.

      Reply
    15. Avatar

      Dr SIBAMAY DASGUPTA

      If I have correctly noticed, Harvard is let out in the list. Is there any specific reason?

      Reply
      • Laurie Pickard

        Laurie Pickard

        There actually are a couple of Harvard courses on this list, under the Entrepreneurship concentration. The reason there aren’t more courses from Harvard is that while Harvard does offer some free courses, the business school has primarily released courses through its own paid platform, not as MOOCs.

        Reply
    16. Avatar

      Helga M.

      All I can say is, from someone who actually completed an MBA degree without any concentration, this is a solid, exhaustive list from what’s available in MOOC. Thank you, Laurie, for this. This guide is great for someone who is running a business and does not really care about the title next to the name, but can use the next level learning to support better decision making in moving the business forward.

      Reply
    17. Avatar

      Kessete Admass

      Dear Laurie
      warm greetings
      I have professional Diploma in Management Development from the open university UK school. I have taken full courses but not reached MBA. The program was within the MBA program. How could I undertake the rest couses not fulfilled to satisfy my masters degree in MBA?

      Reply
    18. Avatar

      Francis Peter Phiri

      Great work Laura, i like what you have said regarding self paced
      development, it provides room for a better understanding once one has read a variety of courses, although most employers do not understand this. That’s a great job. My fellow readers lets just join her and benefits will be seen later. The world is changing , you never know the future might demand her courses that she has done, and you will be caught napping once you realize that you never did any of her courses when she is actually giving us this important information.

      Reply
    19. Avatar

      Pradeep

      Work you have done is awesome.

      Reply
    20. Avatar

      Ggingo Hassan / Kim - From Uganda

      Hi ! MS’s Laurie pickard
      Thanks for this effort you expand to the generations and let the almighty God be with u in all.
      I liked this programme so much and iam ready to do what needed.

      My questions is , is it able for some one to come out wit MBA though he/ she stopped on an ordinary level ( O- level) because many countries in the world have different status of education. how have you come out to combine the all levels of education in different countries.

      Thanks

      Reply
    21. Avatar

      Abdourahamane BARRY

      Wonderful , This is a great for us .

      Reply
    22. Avatar

      Alyson Burn

      Thank you Lauren for your generosity in sharing this. I’m blown away that this has been made available, and hope that you are reaping the rewards of your studies and efforts!

      Reply
    23. Avatar

      Reinhard Finke

      Dear Laurie, thanks for this great information. Do you know if and which of the Moocs mentioned above include ECTS information in the certificate ? European Universities often offer the possibility to get (or to purchase) a certificate after having successfully accomplished the course. Only few of them include ECTS validity, as for instance this one about aircraft : https://lennuakadeemia.ee/koolitused/mooc
      I think that this kind of recognition would be helpful and would add value to the certification.

      Reply
    24. Avatar

      Edwin Ntaka

      Hie, I see you are not covering the Mechanical Engineering field, is this by design or I am missing something. I am in interested in this field.

      Reply
    25. Avatar

      Rodrigo Suguimoto

      Awesome, Laurie!

      Thank you very much for gathering these opportunities together in just one place.

      Reply
    26. Avatar

      Godsday Idanegbe USIABULU

      Laurie, you’ve done more than noble!

      Reply
    27. Avatar

      Flori

      Laurie you are just amazing, Wanted to ask if you can get a list of free courses for an MBA specialization in International Business, Non Profit Management or Strategic Management. Thanks

      Reply
    28. Avatar

      k kiran kumar

      courses like a sea
      god bless you all
      i try to do one course coming days
      u said “No Pay MBA

      welcome

      Reply
    29. Avatar

      Josh

      Hello, I’m new to MOOCs, are MOOCs considered and accepted universally by Accredited American Universities and colleges? Do you know if universities will accept MOOC courses as transfer credit for conventional coursework in the course of study? (i.e. Basic mathematics MOOC = Basic Mathematics course offered in conventional college degree program)? Or are MOOCs not accepted by conventional universities and colleges as completed course work?

      I’m just wondering if MOOCs are worth the effort or if MOOCs are considered more of “hobby” education which cannot be applied to or will not be considered as formal higher educational study.

      Thank you!
      Josh

      Reply
    30. Avatar

      sarosh

      in school, it is possible to study in any school, or do home schooling and then appear for a board exam to get certified eg Cambridge or ICSE or baccalaureate etc.
      Why not create a national or (international) board of examiners for MBA, who allow anyone who has the online certificates, to take a final MBA.

      Reply
    31. Avatar

      Lazz Lazz

      Laurie,

      Thanks alot for this ❤️❤️.

      You are the best.

      From Kenya with Love,

      Lazz.

      Reply
    32. Avatar

      Paola

      Nice job Laurie!
      I was thinking about doing an MBA but as I work 40 hours/week I though it would be quite hard to learn so many new things after a working day. I guess this would be quite useful as a pre-learning phase. I guess what I mean is if I would have already some knowledge then the MBA would not be so hard. Does that make sense?

      Reply
    33. Avatar

      Ameya Gokhale

      This is a great compilation… good effort!!

      Yet, everyone on this page should remember that MOOCs cannot directly substitute an educational degree. Even the depth in which MOOcs are treated is very different from that of an educational course.

      The advantage though is – you study the latest and the greatest techniques (educational courses tend to be sluggish in terms of changing their curricullum.. MOOCs dont have that issue).

      If you wish to establish this on a resume, the only way is to provide an appendix of all the MOOCs that you took and add present that extra page when you actually appear for an interview.

      Another possibility is to highlight that you yourselves proactively took all these courses.. which establishes your willingness to learn

      Reply

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