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What the heck is an Executive MBA, and is it the right choice for me?

Emily Swenson
Emily Swenson
March 9, 2021
Whether the Executive MBA is right for you depends on your current career trajectory, professional goals, opportunities for development, and financial outlook.
Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

Applying to business school is a Big Deal. For many prospective MBA-candidates even deciding what type of MBA program is best for you can be unnecessarily stressful. If you’re already an experienced manager, you may have been told that an Executive MBA (EMBA) is the way to go. But what the heck is an Executive MBA?

The easiest way to understand the advantages (and disadvantages) of an EMBA is to first understand the five main types of MBA programs.

Five Types of MBAs

Two-Year Full-Time MBA

When most people talk about getting an MBA, this is the kind of program they usually have in mind. This program typically lasts 4 semesters spread out over two years and offers the full campus experience, including career services, social and professional clubs, counseling, and networking and cultural events. The first year of the program is dedicated to general course requirements, and the second year provides an opportunity for more specialized study. Students can also participate in valuable experiential learning such as internships and other projects. Full-time MBA programs can be expensive and require the biggest time commitment of all the MBA programs.The majority of students enrolled in this type of program have two to three years of work experience.

One-Year Full-Time MBA

Think of the one-year MBA as a compressed version of the two-year. Like the two-year, it’s a full-time program that offers a campus experience and delivers a typical MBA curriculum. Unlike the two-year MBA, the program duration is only 11 to 16 months and offers fewer opportunities for career exploration. The lack of extended breaks means that internships are limited. Similarly, the shorter duration of the program means that candidates must be clear about their career goals and selective about the experiences and opportunities they take advantage of. Prerequisites for work and academic accomplishments are often stricter for one-year MBAs. For that reason, applicants for this type of program are generally more experienced professionals who are seeking to advance their career in a short amount of time. The one-year MBA is typically cheaper than the two-year, but it’s also not widely available in the United States; most one-year programs are in Europe and Asia.

Executive MBA

The Executive MBA is similar to the two-year MBA in terms of curriculum and duration. The main difference is that it is targeted toward corporate executives and managers who already have significant experience in the workforce. Because it is designed for candidates who are working full-time jobs, programming is scheduled for evenings and the weekend and focuses on career-broadening management and leadership skills development. Executive MBA programs tend to be pricier but companies will often offer financial assistance to help cover tuition costs.

Part-Time MBA

The main advantage of part-time MBA programs is the flexibility they afford students. These programs operate year-round and classes are scheduled around business hours so candidates can continue to work while pursuing their degree. There are two types of part-time MBA programs: lock step and self-paced. In lock step programs you enroll with a cohort, who move through the program with you. Self-paced programs offer more flexibility and allow you to choose how quickly you progress through the coursework.

Online MBA

Online MBA programs offer the greatest flexibility in terms of course format, scheduling, and program duration. Most online MBA programs allow you to take courses over longer periods so you can balance the demands of your busy schedule with your commitment to career development. These programs are generally less expensive than other MBA programs and provide a variety of learning formats including recorded lectures and live virtual classrooms.

The Advantages of EMBAs

The core benefit of Executive MBA programs is the opportunity to meet and learn from a diverse mix of executives from different industries and countries. At UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, the average student brings more than 12 years of work experience from 67 companies across industries as varied as technology, health services, and government. Moreover, the global nature of executive education means that the top-performing programs are often jointly run by schools in different countries. (Examples include Brown University in the U.S. and IE University in Spain and the UCLA Anderson School of Management (U.S.) and the National University of Singapore.) EMBA programs offer a unique and highly valuable learning community that can give you a networking edge.

Because you can continue to work while earning your EMBA, you have the opportunity to apply the management and leadership skills you are learning in the classroom to real life work situations. This can help you leverage your position at your current company or organization to help advance your career and earning prospects. A recent survey by the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) revealed that in 2020 EMBA graduates saw an average of 14.1% compensation increases.

Is the EMBA worthwhile?

EMBA candidates are typically older than the average MBA candidate and are often in their late 30s with 15 to 20 years of work experience. While there may be some business prodigies who have shorter work histories, most EMBA students have a minimum of 5 years of managerial experience. Metrics such as GMAT scores, undergraduate GPAs, and academic accomplishments are not as important for EMBA admissions as in a traditional MBA program. Many programs do not have standardized test requirements but instead emphasize strong work and leadership experience. While not all business schools offer an EMBA, there are still a variety of EMBA programs to choose from both in the U.S. and abroad, including these top performing EMBA programs (as ranked by The Economist).

Whether the Executive MBA is right for you depends on your current career trajectory, professional goals, opportunities for development, and financial outlook. If you’re still early in your career then it might make more sense to invest your time and resources in traditional MBA or to build more experience and identify solid career goals before choosing a program. Also, since you will continue to work while earning your EMBA, your choice of school will be limited to programs that are within commuting distance of where you currently live and work. Finally, EMBA programs are expensive with an average tuition cost of $137,000 for top schools. Typically, your company will offer to pay most if not all of your tuition costs, but you should check with your employer to determine your return on investment for an EMBA.


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