From 2015 to 2019, applications to Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) programs increased more than 30 percent—thriving at a time when traditional MBA programs saw a decline in applications. Designed for working professionals, EMBAs attract experienced candidates looking to turbocharge their careers.
The benefits of an EMBA degree are plentiful. Students typically continue working as they complete this b-school degree, earning while they learn. Almost 40 percent receive a promotion while in the program. After graduation, EMBA-holders can see a drastic increase in lifelong earnings.
Is an EMBA for you? Be aware that an EMBA program requires substantial time and financial commitments. You’ll earn this degree. The good news is, your hard work will likely pay a hefty return on investment.
So, is an Executive MBA worth it? This article helps answer that question and more. Read on to learn:
Executive MBAs are more streamlined than traditional MBA programs, though there is substantial overlap in their curricula and objectives. They have more stringent entry requirements and prepare graduates for more advanced career opportunities, frequently at the executive level.
Business administration professionals manage company resources, including employees. The term is broad and can include traditional management positions, plus jobs in sectors like analytics, accounting, and supply chain.
An MBA is a business administration degree that (usually) attracts working professionals who want to advance their careers. The degree usually takes two years of full-time study to complete and prepares graduates for management and consulting positions.
If you’re looking at an EMBA, you likely already hold a management position and are looking for a better one. You may already have a graduate degree, though having an MBA is not an admissions requirement.
The decision to earn an EMBA should heavily depend on your career goals (especially if you can reach them without one). Not everybody is right for upper-level management. You likely don’t need an EMBA to lead the accounting department, for instance.
This is an excellent degree for experienced professionals seriously trying to become executives. These programs promote networking and career development opportunities. At top programs, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with classmates who may be directors or vice presidents of companies.
While Professional MBAs also attract working professionals, there are some critical differences.
Professional MBAs attract similar students to regular MBA programs—usually with less experience than EMBA students. A PMBA is much closer to a part-time MBA than an EMBA.
Executive MBAs usually take the same amount of time as regular MBAs to complete—two years—though some schools offer accelerated programs that take 19 or fewer months. Usually, EMBA programs have fewer total classes—which convene on evenings and/or weekends—that allow students to continue working.
The pricetag for a top program can easily surpass $200,000, similar to the best traditional MBA programs. The average cost of an EMBA is closer to $80,000.
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 EMBA is a grown-up MBA—the students are more experienced, and the classes are more streamlined. That said, there are many similarities.
There is often common ground between the core curriculum of an EMBA and MBA. Students in both degrees study:
MBA programs usually offer more electives than EMBAs, but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Students at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School complete electives like:
Most traditional MBA programs offer various concentrations—e.g., real estate, finance, and analytics—to help build students’ knowledge base. Not every EMBA program offers a concentration, partly because EMBA students come in with more background knowledge and expertise.
Again, this is not a rule. Wharton EMBAs can major in:
A thesis—often called a capstone—project is common to both degrees. The project usually centers on applying business solutions to a real-life problem. It can involve collaboration with a company or community organization. A good capstone can bolster your resume.
This is one of the main areas where EMBA programs often provide greater value than a traditional MBA. EMBAs frequently put students into cohorts, allowing students to develop connections with classmates who hold high-ranking positions. They also offer networking events, guest lectures, career resources, and access to recruiters.
Traditional MBA programs aren’t bad for networking; they offer many of the same opportunities. EMBA programs simply do it all on a higher level—partly because students are further in their careers.
Utilizing alumni connections can be an excellent form of networking. Schools with strong alumni networks help graduates land great jobs faster than others. Alumni connections are useful at every education level, but EMBA students typically realize greater benefits than, say, someone with a bachelor’s degree.
There is no one size fits all way to choose an EMBA program. Much of it comes down to personal factors, including geography and personal interest. Still, there are easy ways to identify an EMBA program that isn’t worth the time.
There isn’t a universal consensus on the top EMBA program, but ten of the best, according to Poets and Quants, are:
Rankings matter when you’re trying to select an EMBA program, though factors like personal fit can be more important than numerical rank (which is somewhat subjective, anyway). It’s essential to choose a program with a good reputation. Doing so usually leads to better career advancement opportunities and earning potential.
Choosing an EMBA is a very personal decision. Here are some things to consider before filling out an application.
Unless you want to become an executive, an EMBA may not help advance your career goals. Not every position requires executive education. Spending more time with family or having a reasonable work-life balance are also reasonable goals, and pursuing an EMBA certainly doesn’t help with that. What’s the opportunity cost? If, however, more responsibility and higher pay would improve your quality of life appreciably, an EMBA can help you accomplish that.
It’s important to check what recruiting events and partnerships your school offers. Unsurprisingly, top EMBA programs have great reputations with employers. For instance, the well-regarded program at Howard University boasts of “a long history of graduating the top-performing business professionals… recruiters trust that our students possess the tools to lead at the highest level.” If you entered an EMBA program at the behest of your current employer and want to stay in the position, program reputation may not matter as much.
Every school emphasizes career development, though some do it better than others. Common services include:
This is an important and somewhat tricky question to answer. Remember, top MBA programs can cost well over $200,000, but that could be a no-brainer—if you’re expecting to earn $300,000 per year after graduation. Consider that an EMBA can set up long-term opportunities. You may not pay off the debt right away, but you may still earn way more over time.
Still, the decision is not cut-and-dry. If you get into a program that costs a lot but doesn’t show that graduates have high earnings, taking on debt may not be worth it. If you get into a great program to become an executive at a major company, go for it.
Again, this boils down to where you go and what you do after. Top schools, such as any of the ones mentioned earlier, promise an excellent ROI.
It may come as a surprise, given that so much of the program revolves around networking and career building, but there are numerous online EMBA options. Top schools with an online EMBA include:
While online and in-person options at a school generally use the same curriculum, there are pros and cons for each option.
EMBA programs accept a greater percentage of applicants than traditional full-time MBA programs. For top schools, such as the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania, the difference in acceptance rate can be over 50 percent, according to Poets and Quants.
These numbers probably mean students self-select rather than that EMBAs are easier to get into. Still, it’s encouraging news for those who want to complete a top EMBA. Here is what you can expect while applying to an EMBA.
EMBA admission requirements are typically similar to a traditional MBA, but the two differ in a few key areas. For example, one school may put more weight on a letter of recommendation than another. Here’s what to expect:
Lots of EMBA programs are test-optional, including ones at highly regarded institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Schools frequently use testing as a way to project a student’s potential. For EMBA programs, that’s not necessary, considering students have a track record already.
Most MBA programs require Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores; for EMBA programs, not so much. Northwestern is essentially test-optional. Wharton requires test scores, but also gives students the option to complete the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Executive Assessment (EA) if they have ten or more years of work experience.
Submitting transcripts is standard practice. The only wrinkle is EMBA applicants may already hold a graduate degree, necessitating submitting multiple transcripts.
Programs may set a minimum experience requirement—Howard looks for applicants with at least seven. Remember, the average EMBA student is older than most MBA students.
As with transcripts, submitting letters of recommendation (frequently three) is standard practice on graduate school applications. For an EMBA, one or more of those letters may need to come from your current employer. Columbia makes employers agree to give students time off during class days and eliminate unnecessary travel from their schedule.
Another standard practice for graduate school, you’ll likely need to write a short essay, or more than one, about why you want to attend the program and what you hope to gain.
EMBA programs can be expensive; many students take out loans. The two main kinds of loans are federal and private—federal loans usually have a lower interest rate. The most a graduate student can borrow from a federal lender is $20,500 per year. Private loans are more complicated, usually tied to the borrower’s credit score.
Scholarships are a great way to pay for your EMBA. According to Financial Times, 61 percent of schools offered scholarships to their EMBA students in 2019. Students can also apply for private scholarships and fellowships.
Though not technically a scholarship, some employers are willing to help pay for an EMBA. According to the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), 17.6 percent of students received full sponsorship from their employers, and 28.6 percent received partial sponsorship in 2020.
The traditional use for an EMBA is to catapult yourself to the c-suite, but becoming an exec isn’t the only use for this degree.
Ultimately, your job title and description comes down to where you work, but EMBA-holders commonly hold positions like:
More than that, an EMBA can help those who want to pursue new careers, like one Wharton grad who used an EMBA to transition from enterprise software to portfolio development. Another moved from consulting to real estate, eventually landing an executive position at the new company. Having an EMBA doesn’t lead to a set career path. Instead, it leads to countless new opportunities.
Most incoming EMBA students are already earning six-figures when they start a program, but having an EMBA from a top school can potentially double your earnings.
The EMBAC reports that the average salary and bonus package was $193,000 for 2020 graduates, up from $169,269 before starting the program. There are two things these numbers don’t take into account: job title and school. The average COO salary is more than $450,000 per year—though you may not get this job right away, or ever. Additionally, top schools usually yield more than lower-tier ones. For instance, in 2018 graduates of Case Western Reserve University earned an average annual salary close to $267,000.
The answer is a resounding “it depends on why you want to earn one.” If you’re looking to spend more time with your family and have a work-life balance, then no, it probably isn’t worth it. These programs are fast-paced and time-consuming. They frequently take just under two years to complete, and while that’s not a lot in graduate school time, it’s a huge commitment.
If you’re looking to earn more money, then yes. It’s worth it, especially for those who attend a well-known university with an excellent track record. More than the money, EMBA programs provide an opportunity to grow on the job. Because they attract working professionals, you can immediately utilize what you learn. For those who want to become better at what they do or make a career transition, an EMBA can be invaluable.
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