Executive Education

Executive MBA Acceptance Rates: Are EMBA Programs Easier to Get Into?

Executive MBA Acceptance Rates: Are EMBA Programs Easier to Get Into?
EMBA programs are highly selective, even though the numbers seem to contradict it. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella March 11, 2022

Executive MBA (EMBA) programs accept a higher percentage of applicants than MBA programs, but that's because EMBA applicants must clear higher hurdles to apply.

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A cursory look at the data suggests that it’s easier to be admitted to an executive MBA (EMBA) program than to an MBA program. After all, EMBA programs have much higher acceptance rates than do traditional Master of Business Administration programs.

The difference is especially stark at some of the country’s top programs. According to Poets and Quants, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s EMBA program’s acceptance rate in 2019 was over 50 percent, more than twice the acceptance rate for its full-time MBA program. At New York University’s Stern School of Business, its EMBA program acceptance rate was 65 percent, compared to 23 percent for its traditional, full-time MBA program.

Since executive MBA programs are designed for mid- to senior-level managers and leaders with around a decade of work experience, one would assume that EMBA programs would be highly selective. That assumption turns out to be correct, even though the numbers seem to contradict it.

How so? This article answers the question. it discusses whether it is easier to get into an EMBA program than an MBA program as well as:

  • Advantages of an EMBA degree
  • Is an EMBA degree as prestigious as an MBA degree?
  • What is an executive MBA?
  • Top executive MBA online programs

Is it easier to be admitted to an EMBA program than an MBA one?

During the last B-school admissions cycle, acceptance rates for EMBA programs exceeded those for traditional MBAs. Yet, paradoxically, executive MBA programs are harder to get into than MBA ones.

The Forbes article “Myth busted: It’s easier to get into an executive MBA program than a two-year, traditional MBA,” explains that while traditional MBAs attract numerous applicants with little-to-no work experience (as well as career changers with little-to-no relevant work experience), executive MBAs serve a much more select group of seasoned business professionals. These candidates all have extensive managerial experience, preparing them to take on C-suite roles with this specialized training.

In fact, the admissions requirements at many EMBA programs explicitly state that applicants must have a minimum number of years of experience (anywhere from five to ten) and their current employer must sponsor them. Some programs interview applicants as part of their admissions process to ensure they have the appropriate experience, knowledge, and attitude.

So with this context, let’s re-examine those acceptance rates.

Wharton’s EMBA program’s acceptance rate in 2019 was over 50 percent, more than twice the acceptance rate of its MBA admissions. However, the EMBA class size was 234 versus the MBA class size of 862. New York University’s EMBA program acceptance rate was 65 percent compared to the 23 percent acceptance rate for its MBA program, but its EMBA class size was 62 while its MBA class size was 370. You’ll find similar EMBA versus MBA class size ratios at Chicago Booth and MIT Sloan.

In short, EMBA programs are smaller and more exclusive than traditional MBA programs. It’s just that the more-rigorous admissions criteria weed out many unqualified candidates before they submit an application, leading to higher admit rates.



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Advantages of an EMBA degree

All EMBA programs prepare students for top-level management roles, including C-suite level positions. They also offer exclusive networking opportunities.

EMBAs degree typically deliver a high return on investment (ROI). Earning an executive MBA often leads to advancement, raises, and other benefits, meaning this degree is likely to pay dividends throughout one’s career. According to a 2020 study by the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), total compensation for EMBA graduates increased by 14.1 percent in the year after they completed their executive MBA program (and 39 percent of those surveyed received promotions while they were still in the program). As well, the 2021 EMBAC Student Exit Survey revealed that the average 2021 EMBA graduate increased their earnings from $166,549 at program start to $190,989 at graduation.

Is an EMBA degree as prestigious as an MBA degree?

As the Howard University School of Business notes in a blog post titled 9 Important Questions Every Prospective EMBA Student Should Ask, an executive MBA is tailored to a markedly different audience. EMBA students are well-established business professionals with extensive managerial or leadership experience who use their degree to advance to C-Suite positions. MBA students tend to be “fledgling businesspeople or career switchers” who need to learn about business management fundamentals to kickstart their careers.

So, if you’re wondering if an EMBA is as prestigious as an MBA degree, as the well-known idiom goes, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Both degrees are respected and valued in the business world. While a program’s accreditation, reputation, and rankings factor into the value of a degree in the marketplace, it’s equally important that a given program aligns with a student’s specific educational and career goals.

What is an executive MBA?

Executive MBA programs are designed for mid- to high-level working professionals, such as senior managers, vice presidents, and directors, who plan to advance to upper-level management and C-suite positions. Since executive programs typically require applicants to have at least many years of professional work experience, the coursework skips over foundational business management classes and focuses on advanced business concepts.

EMBA programs are scheduled for the convenience of their busy students. They typically meet on evenings or weekends and may include one or more extended on-campus residencies (typically a three- or four-day weekend, although some can be longer). Many operate year-round, without a summer break. As online education continues to expand, more EMBA programs are offering some or most of their content online. There are even some 100 percent online EMBAs,

How long does it take to earn an executive MBA?

Generally, it takes two years to earn an EMBA. Accelerated options can take as little as 18 months.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

Many executive MBA programs set minimum work experience requirements for applicants. Those seeking to enter the Howard University program must have at least seven years of relevant work experience, including five or more in senior management or leadership role, and be ready to transition to C-suite roles.

Because they emphasize work history, many top EMBA programs do not require Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), Executive Assessment (EA), or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores as part of the admissions process. Programs typically ask for:

  • Letters of recommendation (including past and current employers)
  • Employer sponsorship
  • A resume/CV
  • Transcripts (from undergraduate and previous grad programs with a minimum GPA of 3.0)
    -A personal essay

Make sure to check each school’s application deadlines and FAQs for specific requirements.


As previously mentioned, the typical executive MBA coursework focuses on advanced business school concepts in its course offerings. For example, at Howard University, the executive MBA coursework includes:

  • Accounting for Executives
  • Applied Economics for Executives
  • Creating Value Through Supply Chains
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Financial Management
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Business
  • Management Consulting
  • Management Statistics and Data Analysis
  • Managing Technology and Innovation
  • Managing the Global Business Environment
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Organizational Behavior and Leadership
  • Strategic Communications
  • Strategic Management Capstone

Top executive MBA online programs

The number of online EMBA programs is growing. In just the past few years online EMBA programs have increased from 55.3 percent in 2019 to 88.6 in 2021.

Some of the top online executive MBA programs include:

You can find rankings of additional EMBA programs, such as those at the Columbia Business School, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and UCLA at US News & World Report.

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