I am very interested in this concept of the No-Pay MBA.  After single handedly paying and continuing to pay for my undergraduate education my quest for my MBA seems to slip further and further from my grasp.  I have often thought about taking these online courses but I still don’t understood their legitimacy in the business world.  

If I took the full course work outlined in your curriculum and/or through researching alternative MOOC classes, will the coursework be recognized by employers? Can I legitimately put MBA on my resume?

Please let me know.

Thank you,



Dear J, 

Thank you for your message. I get some variation of this question rather frequently, and yours is a very well-articulated statement of this issue, so I thought it might be useful to answer you publicly. 

Regarding whether MOOC course work will be recognized by employers,  I’d like to get beyond answers like “I don’t know” and “It depends,” though of course I don’t know for certain how employers will view MOOC-based learning and it does depend on on a few factors, including what you studied online, how well you present what you studied, how receptive the particular employer is to self-directed learning, and how your MOOC studies fit into the rest of your work history and education. 

This method of learning is still very new, and it remains to be seen how employers will react to applicants with online courses on their resumes. Whatever the answer is today, it is bound to change in the coming months and years. I do think that employers (and the general public) are becoming more and more receptive to online learning, especially given the increasing attention to questions about student debt, the price of college and university education, and concern about whether higher education prepares people adequately for the work force. 

For your second question, the answer is easier. Even if you do enough courses to equal an MBA - even if you do double the courses required in a typical MBA program - you cannot legitimately put “MBA” on your resume. You can say “course work equivalent to an MBA,” or you can list your courses. You can also list any series of courses you’ve completed, especially if the series comes with a certificate. You can certainly list your specific skills (market analysis, product branding, financial modeling, etc.). But listing an MBA degree if you don’t have the actual piece of paper from an accredited school is a big no-no.

For both of your questions, getting the best possible outcome vis a vis future employers boils down to presentation. You can think about it this way: a degree from a university with a good reputation is shorthand for all the course work you did, your leadership and extracurricular experiences during your studies, and importantly, the admissions process you went through to get into the program. When an employer sees “MBA, Wharton School” on a resume, the candidate becomes connected with all the associations the employer has with Wharton about rigor, excellence, calibre of student, etc.

If you’re doing a No-Pay MBA, you’ll have to do a bit more to convince people of the legitimacy of your studies. That said, I don’t think you necessarily have to create a website or do a big marketing campaign in order to be taken seriously. Here is my advice on how to structure your studies and your presentation of them in order to ensure that employers will sit up and take notice.


  1. Do courses that are rigorous and related. This means taking tough courses, finishing those courses, and doing several on the same topic. Build the case that you have gained real expertise. 
  1. Don’t rely on employers to put the courses together into a package. Rather than listing a bunch of courses on your resume, tell the story about how they fit together. “Course work equivalent to an MBA” tells a much more interesting story than a series of course titles does. Even if you don’t do a complete MBA’s worth of courses, try to package your courses into something bigger. You can use phrases like “Advanced course work in finance” or “Data science course series.” MOOC platforms like Coursera and edX are increasingly offering series of courses, which could be useful for this purpose. For more tips on how to put MOOCs on your resume, see this blog post
  1. Supplement your course work with practical experience. If you can demonstrate how you’ve used your courses outside the (digital) classroom, you make a much stronger case that you’ll be able to use those skills in a new job. Use what you learn in or current job or if necessary, take on an intern or volunteer position. For opportunities to collaborate with other online learners on experiential learning project, check out Coursolve’s digital internship platform if you haven’t already. (Disclaimer: I am working for Coursolve, but that’s because I believe in what they do so whole-heartedly!) And of course, be sure to highlight your practical business experience on your resume.
  1. Showcase your work. I don’t think you need to have a personal website, but that said, it could certainly help. If you don’t have a personal website you’ll want to use a site like Accredible or Degreed, or even LinkedIn to post your course certificates and some examples of your best work. When it comes to posting your work, I strongly believe that less is more. Only present what you’re most proud of. And please feel free to take advantage of my standing offer to profile you on my site.


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