Getting an MBA from Thomas Edison State College is not a normal process, and the Trenton-based school's administration and students are okay with that.
There are no classrooms. There are no semesters, at least not in the traditional sense. And the whole program can be completed in 18 months, six fewer than most master's programs, thanks to its accelerated, eight-week courses.
The MBA program and the school itself are generally focused on meeting students' needs.
Thomas Edison boasts that it exists solely for adults returning to school. And the MBA program is tailored for working professionals to either advance a career or launch a new one while trying to maintain their current lifestyle, according to Michael Williams, dean of the School of Business and Management.
It's an uneven student population, Williams says, and some have been out of school for years or even decades.
"It challenges us to meet them where they are,'' he says. "We have to assess where they are and match them up with the curriculum. There are some who are fragmentally or wholly ready for graduate level coursework."
For those prospective students who don't meet the requirements to begin the MBA program, Williams says the school has instituted a unique MBA Preparatory Program — a non-credit, three-course refresher in accounting, microeconomics and statistics for those who have been out of school for some time, or for those who do not have a business undergraduate degree.
There's occasionally a gap in a prospective student's academic records around a core business practice, such as accounting. But that same student might have been accurately keeping the books on a small business, or large corporation, for years.
"Typically, there's some hole we have to fill,'' Williams says. "Our students come in with varied experience.''
Williams says students will occasionally be required to create a portfolio of work experience based around that portion of their missing formal education.
"We can help create a highly stylized portfolio together of work around, for instance, accounting,'' Williams says. "That customization is the alternative route.''
Thomas Edison offers degrees in finance and marketing as well as data analytics and health care management, two areas the school is increasing its focus.
The school touts that it is the only online institution to offer MBAs in data analytics and health care management.
But more than that, it promotes flexibility.
The eight-week MBA courses are project-based, rather than focused on midterm and final exams found in more traditional programs, says recent MBA grad Dominic Puggi.
Puggi, 28, attended Rider University for his undergraduate degree before finishing at Thomas Edison, where he liked the online school's approach.
"The syllabus sets you up for each major grading portion,'' Puggi said. "At a typical university, if you failed the midterm, you pretty much had no shot at obtaining a good grade.''
Puggi attributes his success in the workplace — three promotions within three years — to his experience at Thomas Edison.
"The success I had there absolutely gave me the confidence to do better in the workplace,'' he said.
Keith Brown is a freelance writer based in Neptune.