An Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) degree is typically earned in the midstages of a professional management career. EMBA programs are academically rigorous; most are not cheap. Are they worth the time, money, and effort they demand? For professionals looking to advance to upper management and executive positions, they certainly can be (a fact to which their popularity attests).
According to a 2016 Poets & Quants article, EMBAs have the highest ten-year ROI of all business degrees—a staggering 1,747 percent. EMBA graduates who land top jobs can pay for their degree several times over, even if their tuition exceeds $200,000, as those at the most exclusive programs can.
Your next question, then, might well be do I qualify for an executive MBA? Good news: being admitted to an EMBA program is challenging but doable. This article covers everything you need to know, including:
EMBA programs have different admissions requirements than traditional MBA programs. While both degrees prioritize applicants with professional experience, EMBA programs focus on it more intently. EMBA applicants are typically mid- to upper-level management professionals who need one last credential to qualify for an executive position. Over 30 percent of CEOs hold an MBA, the degree an EMBA program confers.
In an article published on Poets & Quants, Angela Helfrich of The MBA Exchange identified eight characteristics of top EMBA applicants. At the top of her list? Experience. Though schools may set the experience requirements at just a few years (University of Pennsylvania requires eight and New York University asks for six), applicants typically accumulate more than the minimum. Helfrich reports most have between ten and 20 years of work experience. At Howard University, applicants need at least five years in a management role.
EMBAs are often lenient on other traditional graduate school requirements. Helfrich points out that not all EMBA programs request standardized test scores (GMAT, GRE, or Executive Assessment); those that do usually favor GMAT over GRE scores. Quality work experience can also compensate for a poor undergraduate GPA. Instead, EMBA programs frequently emphasize the letter of recommendation (it's important for an MBA too) and may require that applicants have employer support.
The Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) program exit survey found that the typical EMBA student is nearly 40 and earns over $165,000 per year before entering this degree program. By and large, EMBA students are not entry-level managers. They are established professionals looking to ascend the ranks further.
Those who do not meet the EMBA admissions criteria should reach out to admissions officers at their intended programs to see whether exceptions are granted. They should continue to accrue the experience essential to EMBA eligibility and continue to apply as they improve their applicant profile. Adding experience, improving GMAT scores, and revising personal essays can all boost an Executive MBA application.
Those who feel they've achieved the maximum experience possible without further education may apply to a traditional MBA program instead. Graduates from top MBA programs often catapult themselves to six-figure positions. An MBA also helps graduates change careers more frequently than an EMBA.
EMBA students bring more experience to the classroom and thus have more to offer their peers—both in terms of knowledge and networking opportunities—than do most traditional MBA students. Programs take that level of experience into account, skipping introductory business coursework and fast-forwarding to more advanced content.
EMBA students typically continue working full-time, which is why their programs run on a part-time calendar, with classes usually convening evenings and weekends. Flexibility and accommodating scheduling make online EMBAs particularly appealing to most EMBA students. Programs typically take two years to complete.
Ultimately, the advantage depends on your career goals—flexible formats exist in both pathways. Other MBA formats post high ROIs too. The ten-year ROI is 445 percent for a full-time two-year MBA, 655 percent for a full-time one-year MBA, and 1,621 percent for a part-time or flexible MBA, according to Poets & Quants.
Simply put, if you're a mid-career business professional looking to return to school, an EMBA could be for you. If you're looking to change careers, or are an early-career professional who wants another degree right now, the MBA pathway might suit your goals better.
An EMBA is an master's-level graduate degree in management tailored to the needs of experienced business professionals. The curriculum focuses on the skills and knowledge required to advance from mid-level management to upper-management and executive positions.
EMBAs typically hold classes year-round, with classes convening on evenings and weekends. Online EMBA programs may allow students to view lectures asynchronously for additional flexibility. Most EMBA programs include some form of in-person instruction, usually in the form of a week-long immersion.
EMBA programs typically accept online applications. Completed applications often include a personal essay, letters of recommendation, current resume, and official transcripts for your bachelor's degree and other post-secondary academic work. Admissions decisions can hinge on strong letters of recommendation. Some schools require an EMBA admissions interview, which Helfrich sees as an excellent opportunity to showcase high-level managerial communication skills and prove you'll fit with your classmates.
Programs may require employer sponsorship, understandably given that EMBA work may strain students' professional capacities. International applicants must meet additional application requirements regarding financial support and English proficiency. EMBA programs may admit students on a rolling basis, but be aware of financial aid and application deadlines for each program's admissions process.
EMBA programs jump straight into advanced subjects. Courses may cover accounting for executives, creating value through supply chains, managing technology and innovation, applied economics for executives, and organizational behavior and leadership. Students won't take an introduction to economics course or basic accounting. Coursework usually moves quicker than it does in traditional MBA programs.
Both MBA and EMBA programs can split students into cohorts. Cohorts allow students to bond through group projects and provide networking opportunities.
EMBAs don't offer as many specializations or concentrations as MBA programs because students frequently arrive with specialized skills and knowledge. EMBAs may not even offer elective courses.
Schools with well-regarded online EMBA programs include:
According to the EMBAC, the average 2021 EMBA graduate increased their salary by approximately $25,000 (from $166,549 to $190,989). Perhaps more telling, 36 percent of students earned a promotion while 49 percent took on more responsibility during the degree program. Clearly, companies value an EMBA education, and they look to keep EMBA talent. According to a Joblist survey, employees respect homegrown talent more than outside hires. Every school offers a career resources department, resume workshops, and recruiter-packed networking events, but students may not need them. Many simply advance with their current employers.
What you earn depends on where you work. A survey by Kruze consulting found that startup CEOs earned an average of $150,000 per year. But, executives earned more at companies that raised over $10 million (nearly $200,000 annually). Those who managed companies with $2 million or less of funding earned roughly half that. The sector also plays a role. Biotech and pharma CEOs earned $160,000 on average, while those at hardware companies averaged $112,000. Of course, CEOs at top companies earn far more—the Nike CEO earned $53 million in 2020.
Other common job titles for EMBA graduates, and their average total pay according to Glassdoor, include vice president ($216,928), chief operating officer ($183,868), executive director ($140,556), and president of operations ($116,539). These professionals frequently work at large and mid-sized companies. As a rule, the most experienced professionals at the biggest companies earn the most.
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