Are traditional MBAs (MBA) and Executive MBAs (EMBA) distinct degrees? Or is the EMBA essentially identical to the MBA, but with the word “executive” tacked on? Many people assume it’s the latter—an MBA is an MBA, after all, right?
Turns out it’s not that simple. Many critical characteristics of these two degrees—including student body makeup, curriculum, calendar, and admissions requirements—differ significantly.
There’s a lot to learn about what each program actually entails, how they differ, and which one might be right for you. In this article, we’ll discuss:
A Master of Business Administration is a generalized business graduate degree that examines the technical and managerial aspects of business. It also teaches the leadership skills students need to succeed across business sectors. When you think about “business school,” it’s likely you think about the MBA.
MBA programs provide a foundation of knowledge across all business areas. MBA programs typically commence with a core curriculum designed to equip students with the basic managerial skills and quantitative classes essential for any business career. MBA programs also teach soft skills like leadership, communication, and networking.
In the second year of the program, MBA students usually complete elective coursework in their areas of interest. Some schools allow students to combine electives to create an area of concentration or specialization.
For as many reasons as there are suits on Wall Street. The MBA is a comprehensive degree that teaches students managerial skills that other programs don’t. The primary focus of an MBA program is to teach students how to lead and manage a team, a big deal for employers looking to hire fail-safe candidates for high-stakes positions.
Employers also assume that MBA graduates have learned all about the value of networking in business school and that they’ll be able to bring relationship-building skills to their new position. The company’s own network of clients and partners could expand when they hire you, even if you’re the only new addition. For growing companies, this makes an MBA degree a bit like a golden ticket.
MBA programs challenge and refine students’ critical thinking skills and ability to analyze complex circumstances. They also help them develop their career goals. MBA graduates’ business perspectives are necessarily more sophisticated than those of other candidates. Their ability to assess the big picture while also maintaining their grasp on critical details makes them valuable additions to many enterprises.
MBA programs are designed to provide foundational business knowledge to early-career professionals or professionals hoping for a career swap. Many MBA programs require students to have two or more years of post-undergraduate professional experience; they want you to bring some real-world perspective to their classrooms. Some, however, welcome students fresh out of college. Whatever your career goals are, if you’re early in your career and looking to go to business school, an MBA is likely your best bet.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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An Executive MBA program is a specialized MBA for mid- and later-career professionals. The Executive MBA program is meant for experienced managers hoping to advance their (already-established) careers and nab elite c-suite positions.
Because most EMBA students are unable to leave their busy jobs and lives to go back to school, EMBA programs tend to be part-time.
An MBA aims to provide foundational knowledge, while the purpose of an EMBA is to fill knowledge gaps and enhance skills-like leadership-already gained through work experience.
EMBA students are experienced working professionals who are hoping to enter the c-suite. In contrast, MBA students are more often early-career professionals. Some are non-business professionals (teachers, medical professionals) looking to enter the business world or improve their management skills.
An average EMBA program costs $75,000 a year—50 percent more than the average MBA program. That’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, however, since not every MBA program offers an EMBA. In fact, higher-profile—and more expensive—programs are more likely than others to offer the EMBA.
Also worth noting: the return on investment for EMBA graduates is 133 percent. EMBA grads make an average of $175,000 (compared to MBA grads’ $121,000). There isn’t a superabundance of financial support for business school students in the United States. Still, the years of full-time work experience you’ll rack up after you’ve snagged your degree should make up for that lack of financial support, big-time.
EMBAs are designed for current busy professionals, rather than aspiring ones. Flexibility is a priority in EMBA programs, as most EMBA students can’t quit their jobs to pursue the degree. EMBA students typically take classes on evenings or weekends instead of weekdays. Some programs meet once a week; others meet once a month for an extended weekend. There are also online EMBAs for those seeking maximum flexibility.
Full-time MBA programs generally take two years to complete. They’re not designed to accommodate students with full-time jobs, so students who choose to continue working while studying should enroll in a part-time MBA program. Part-time MBAs usually take about three years to complete.
Some professionals feel that, after years of climbing up the corporate ladder, their careers have hit dead ends. Others didn’t take foundational business courses in college; though they have years of experience in the business sector, they need to fill significant gaps in their knowledge. Still others already occupy high-level positions but are looking for that extra boost to provide them with the proficiency and credibility they need to enter the c-suite.
Almost all EMBA and MBA programs require official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions attended. Some business schools require that physical copies of official transcripts be sent; others have a more streamlined admissions process and will allow you to directly upload your official transcript along with your online application.
Some EMBA programs don’t require any tests, while others ask students to choose among three assessments to submit with their applications: the GMAT, the GRE, or the Executive Assessment (EA). Many MBA programs require students to take either the GRE or the GMAT. TSOme either don’t require any tests or are willing to waive the testing requirement for students who meet a minimum level of executive experience.
Unless you know precisely which schools you’re applying to and none of them require the GMAT or the GRE (or a choice between the GMAT and the GRE), it’s safe to bet you’ll be taking one or the other when you apply to business school. Of the two, the GMAT is the more widely accepted. It is also the more difficult of the two exams.
Most MBA programs are looking for students with at least a couple years of work experience, although some will accept students right out of undergrad. EMBA programs are generally looking for mid-career or senior executives, and some won’t even consider applicants with fewer than ten years of work experience. That’s what puts the “executive” in “Executive MBA.” You’ll definitely need to submit a resume to any program you apply to.
Ah, the one part of the admissions process you’re only semi-responsible for. Both MBA programs and EMBA programs usually require at least two letters of recommendation. Your recommenders should explain how your previous work experience or coursework makes you a desirable candidate.
MBA programs and EMBA programs usually require a personal statement or statement of purpose. The admissions committees want to hear about how your career goals and professional experience impacted your decision to apply to business school, as well as how your (however many) years of full-time work experience helped shape those career goals. Finally, they want to hear why their school, in particular, is the right fit for your career plans.
Most MBA programs and EMBA programs either require or suggest that prospective students be interviewed by the program.
Most MBA students don’t retain high-level management positions while taking classes, so MBA programs don’t typically require employee sponsorship. Most EMBA programs, however, require an official sponsorship letter from the prospective student’s current employer. While these sponsorship letters have historically been pledges of monetary support, financial help from employers is less common today. Now, employer sponsorship generally means that the employer commits to giving the student enough time and flexibility in their work to fully participate in school.
If you’re a non-native speaker who completed your undergraduate degree in an English-speaking country, you’re all set. If you didn’t complete your undergraduate degree in an English-speaking country, you’ll likely need to take one of the English as a Second Language (ESL) tests, such as the TOEFL, PTE, or IELTS to be considered for admission to either an MBA program or an EMBA program.
MBA curricula provide students with foundational business knowledge and the general management, analytical, and decision-making skills it takes to overcome the obstacles that managers face in the “real world.”
MBA and EMBA curricula cover many of the same subjects, but not in the same way. EMBA content assumes that students are more experienced, so they skip some fundamentals and proceed more quickly to advanced material. Students in both programs are likely to study:
EMBA programs are less likely to offer electives than MBA programs and even less likely to provide specializationx. EMBA students tend to already be specialists, after all—they tend to be looking to improve their profiles, not develop entirely new skills.
Top Executive MBA programs in the US include:
The following schools offer online EMBAs:
Top online EMBA programs include:
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