What is a Cohort?

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While the business world remains in constant flux, one thing will never change: good business relies on high-quality relationship-building. Forming intrapersonal and interpersonal skills is an essential objective of the MBA experience. The more opportunities for collaboration a graduate student has, the more prepared she will be to lead her team someday. This philosophy helps drive the design of the best online MBA programs in the nation, leading to program cultures constructed for students to forge lifelong professional relationships. The cohort model directly reflects the relationship-oriented business world.

Cohort-Based Online MBA Programs

A business school cohort is a group of graduate students who progress through a program of study simultaneously. Students begin their coursework in the same semester or term, complete many of the same courses together, and satisfy all program requirements at approximately the same time. Cohorts typically collaborate on shared projects and meet as a group throughout their coursework.


A cohort learning model forms a needed sense of community from a distance for online MBA students. Thanks to today’s plethora of online workspaces and video-sharing platforms, distance learners can meet and collaborate as if they were meeting on a college campus.

Students participating in a cohort report feel more supported, are more motivated to finish their degree requirements, and feel better equipped to inspire others. 

Cohorts can offer:

-A tangible feeling of connection to the business school, program, and courses
-Better development of soft skills like communication, accountability, and feedback
-Exposure to other points of view and diverse backgrounds
-Reliable access to a supportive peer network during the program and after graduation
-Robust teamwork examples that can be leveraged for resume building and career development

Potential business school students researching MBA options deciding whether a cohort approach is a good match for them will be interested in knowing what to expect from participating in this course structure.

Some Benefits of Cohort-Based Learning

Most graduate students pursuing an online MBA have already acquired some on-the-job experience. By the time they begin their first semester, they have likely worked on or led teams. But these distance learners still have much to gain from enrolling in an MBA program that utilizes cohorts.

1. An Inclusive Support System

Savvy business leaders understand that going back to school is the best way to advance their careers. But committing takes dedication to balance one’s education with the many other professional and personal responsibilities. A cohort includes people who know precisely what you are dealing with, and they can offer support when you need it.

group ideas

2. Exposure to New Ideas and Perspectives

Cohorts put graduate students in direct contact with individuals from different industries and backgrounds. These professionals bring unique approaches to solving problems and making decisions. Online MBAs discover that cohorts give them a chance to study with people from all over the world. Exposure to diverse viewpoints makes more assertive managers more open to innovation. Research indicates that interacting closely with groups of diversity can help professionals further cultivate their ideals and convictions.

3. Inspiration from Other Entrepreneurs

Online MBA cohorts are comprised of students hand-picked through the business school’s rigorous application process. Accepted program candidates have years of work experience and may have already started their ventures. This translates into ample opportunity to talk strategy with individuals who are experienced entrepreneurs, proven leaders, and professionals from various business functions. Cohorts bounce ideas off one another, offer valuable feedback on proposals, and brainstorm new ventures.

4. Enduring Professional Relationships

While cohorts only officially exist for the length of a business program, the connections that form can last a lifetime. Online MBA graduates enjoy the benefit of joining their university’s alumni network, which can prove to develop into a powerful resource. Students who participate in cohorts often forge bonds that diffuse into the professional world. Cohort teammates have recommended each other for positions and may go into business together.

Action Plans

-Start Off on the Right Foot

Beginning an MBA with a cohort is like starting a new job with a group of new employees. Everyone brings a unique perspective and work history to the group. The introductory period will include group members getting to know each other and learning the ropes of the MBA program. In some cases, business schools offer an in-person residency or meeting. They’ll cohere into a true team after the cohort gets to know each other and begins collaborating on projects. Take this introductory time seriously and be proactive in connecting with others in your group.

-Recognize How Much Teamwork is Included in the Curriculum

Online MBA cohorts collaborate with partners to analyze and solve business issues, create presentations, and practice strategic problem-solving. The amount of individual work versus team work will vary by institution. In addition to group projects, cohorts often cooperate on a large project encompassing several courses or a program-concluding capstone project that serves as an aggregate for all content within the MBA program. Cohort members may present these projects to business leaders or executives and get tasked with solving real-world business issues.

-Stay Mindful of Individual Work

working on the computer

While cohorts enhance a graduate program, they do not alter the fundamental MBA curriculum. Enrolled students will learn advanced management skills from experienced instructors in accounting, marketing, finance, management, and entrepreneurship. They also can learn from fellow students who have experience working in and leading teams in these industries. Online MBA students are still responsible for their individual coursework, and their final grades will reflect their individual performance.

-Connect with Your Cohort

All online cohort-based MBA programs share the same quandary: how do students collaborate when they live hundreds and thousands of miles from each other? Today it is easier than ever for online students to connect virtually. Business students are typically given structured video opportunities to meet with their cohorts through instructor-led online sessions and regular check-in meetings. MBA students can also meet through virtual study sessions and social hours. Beyond these video meetings, cohorts connect through messaging apps like Slack and WhatsApp and discussion boards on learning management systems like Canvas.

A cohort program can be optimal to work through an online MBA. There are excellent programs across the nation. If you have a favorite business school or discover that an online MBA sounds interesting, find out if the b-school offers cohort opportunities.

Related Resources:

Top Soft Skills for Managers
Best Online Entrepreneurship MBA Programs

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