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The Smartly MBA is 100% online and 100% free for students.

Folks, hang onto your hats. The free MBA has finally arrived. Over the past several years we’ve seen a variety of business education options tailored toward price-sensitive students. Starting around 2012, MOOCs made it possible to get a top-tier business education for free, minus the degree of course. (That, of course, was the goal that launched this website.)

Last year, the University of Illinois launched its iMBA, a MOOC-based MBA degree for $20,000 - still a big chunk of change but much more affordable than a typical top-25 MBA program. Then, earlier this year the University of the People introduced a “tuition-free” MBA, though students still need to pay about $2,000 in testing fees to get the credential.

But, a new provider, Smartly, has done them all one better. Smartly is offering the first truly free MBA degree. Not a scholarship, not free-to-audit, but a fully free business education resulting in an MBA degree.

How the Smartly MBA Works

 

The Smartly MBA is delivered online through a highly interactive technology application. No PowerPoint, no lectures. To complete each lesson, students must interact with the system constantly, every 8.7 seconds on average. The curriculum includes 600 lessons on 9 business subjects, a full MBA education.

The program is one hundred percent free for students. Smartly makes its money on the back end, by charging recruitment fees to the employers Smartly expects will eagerly snap up its graduates. Job placement is an integral part of Smartly’s offering.

Students are accepted by application only. A first cohort has recently been selected and has started studying. For this first round, all students are US-based, though the second cohort and future cohorts will include international students.

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Perhaps even more incredible than its price is that fact that students can finish the program in just four to eight months. Even at the outside, that’s less than half the time it takes to complete a traditional MBA.

The Smartly MBA was created by a company called Pedago, which was founded by Tom Adams, Alexie Harper, and Ori Ratner, all of whom worked together at the language learning company Rosetta Stone. The Smartly MBA is built on Pedago’s interactive web and mobile app. “We had succeeded in bringing active learning principles to the language learning market, but were frustrated that most of the online learning industry was stuck in the lecture-and-broadcast mode of instruction. So we decided to start Pedago with the mission of delivering mobile-first, bite-sized lessons on an active learning platform that could support content in any subject-area,” says Harper, Chief Product Officer at Pedago.

“We were frustrated that most of the online learning industry was stuck in the lecture-and-broadcast mode of instruction.”

Is it really an MBA?

 

At present, the Smartly MBA is not accredited, meaning it hasn’t been reviewed and accepted by one of the official bodies that accredits business schools. However, Smartly is licensed to offer an MBA degree by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, DC. Smartly decided to launch their offering into the marketplace without waiting to complete the lengthy accreditation process, which can take multiple years. Smartly does plan to seek accreditation in the future.

“These aren’t your typical online MBA students. These are Ivy Leaguers, entrepreneurs, investors, top-tier coders, consultants, and graphic designers.”

Who’s doing it?

 

The typical Smartly student has already achieved considerable academic and career success. That is certainly the case with Yash Jain, one of the members of the inaugural Smartly cohort. Jain currently works as a strategic business development consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. His a long term goal is to become a venture capitalist in the area of health technology. Jain holds an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from The George Washington University and a graduate degree in Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania. He describes his ideal professional role as “the bridge between the engineering and business worlds.”

While Jain did have some hesitation about joining an unknown and untested online MBA program, he says those fears evaporated once he started to meet the other members of his incoming class. “These aren’t your typical online MBA students,” he says.  “These are Ivy Leaguers, entrepreneurs, investors, top-tier coders, consultants, and graphic designers.”  

 

The catch? You probably won’t get in

 

Does a free MBA sound too good to be true? Well, for most people, it still is. Smartly advertises itself as “the world’s most selective MBA.” With an acceptance rate under 7% and an average GMAT score among accepted students topping 700, Smartly beats out programs like Harvard, Stanford and INSEAD when it comes to selectivity. So, while its technology program is scalable, Smartly serves the same kind of students that would typically be found in the most elite MBA programs. Members of Smartly’s first cohort have work histories that include Morgan Stanley, Accenture, KPMG, McKinsey and Company, and Google; and academic transcripts that include schools like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale.

Going forward, Smartly plans to keep its MBA highly selective but says that the company is still solving an important problem for many talented students. Not everyone who who is able to get into a top MBA program can afford to go. With the Smartly MBA, price is not a barrier. Additionally, as the company expands, it plans to develop other programs and degrees that will be open as well as free.

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Details

 

Smartly is currently accepting applications for its second cohort of students, slated to begin in late September 2016.

To apply visit https://smart.ly.

 

What do you think about the Smartly MBA? Is it a good option for people seeking an affordable business education? Let us know in the comments below!

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