Business Administration

Is an Executive MBA Worth It?

Is an Executive MBA Worth It?
The average Executive MBA student is 38, or about ten years older than the average MBA student. They also have over a decade of work experience, often in a managerial role. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella December 17, 2020

Executive MBA programs help established professionals broaden their network, increase their earning potential, and advance their career to a higher level. They are intense and high level, but if you can handle the challenges, the rewards can be significant.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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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:

  • What is an Executive MBA?
  • Executive MBA vs. MBA
  • What to look for in an Executive MBA program
  • On-campus Executive MBA or online Executive MBA?
  • Executive MBA applications and admissions
  • Executive MBA careers
  • Is an Executive MBA worth it?

What is an Executive MBA?

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.

What is business administration?

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.

What is an MBA?

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.

Though the MBA is in decline, it remains the most popular graduate degree in the country. Programs at top schools continue to grow.

Who gets an Executive MBA?

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.

Experience level

The average Executive MBA student is 38, or about ten years older than the average MBA student. They also have over a decade of work experience, often in a managerial role.

Career goals

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.

Why get an Executive MBA?

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.

Executive MBA vs Professional MBA

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.

How long does it take to earn an Executive MBA?

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.

How much does an Executive MBA cost?

The price tag 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.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

University and Program Name Learn More

Executive MBA vs MBA

An EMBA is a grown-up MBA—the students are more experienced, and the classes are more streamlined. That said, there are many similarities.

Core curriculum [EMBA curriculum vs. MBA curriculum]

There is often common ground between the core curriculum of an EMBA and MBA. Students in both degrees study:

  • Accounting: In an MBA program, accounting typically covers the fundamentals of financial and managerial accounting. This includes understanding financial statements, budgeting, cost accounting, and financial analysis. The focus is often on how accounting information is used in business decision-making, helping managers understand the financial implications of their decisions.
  • Data Analytics: This course is designed to provide MBA students with the skills to analyze and interpret complex data sets. Topics may include statistical analysis, predictive modeling, data visualization, and the use of software tools and programming languages like Python or R. The goal is to enable future managers to make data-driven decisions and understand the impact of data on strategy and operations.
  • Economics: Economics in an MBA program usually covers both microeconomics and macroeconomics. Microeconomics focuses on individual markets and decision-making, including the dynamics of supply and demand, pricing strategies, and market competition. Macroeconomics looks at the economy as a whole, considering factors like inflation, interest rates, and fiscal policy. This course helps students understand the economic environment in which businesses operate.
  • Ethics: Ethics in an MBA program often involves studying moral principles and problems that arise in business. Topics might include corporate social responsibility, ethical leadership, sustainability, and ethical dilemmas faced by managers. This course aims to prepare students to make ethical decisions and consider the broader impact of business activities on society and the environment.
  • Management Techniques: This course typically covers a range of strategies and skills essential for effective management, including leadership styles, team building, conflict resolution, and organizational behavior. It may also delve into operational management, project management, and change management. The goal is to equip students with practical tools and frameworks to lead and manage teams and organizations effectively.
  • Marketing: Marketing in an MBA program usually encompasses both the theoretical and practical aspects of marketing in the business world. This includes understanding consumer behavior, market research, branding, digital marketing, and strategic marketing planning. The course aims to teach students how to create, communicate, and deliver value to customers and how to develop effective marketing strategies in a competitive environment.

Executive MBA electives vs MBA electives

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:

  • Advanced Corporate Finance: This elective delves deeper into topics related to corporate financial management beyond the basics covered in a standard finance course. It typically includes advanced valuation techniques, capital structure decisions, risk management, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate governance. The course is designed to equip students with a sophisticated understanding of corporate financial decision-making and strategies to maximize shareholder value.
  • Introduction to Real Estate: This course introduces the fundamentals of real estate from a management and investment perspective. Topics may include property valuation, market analysis, real estate finance, investment strategies, and the regulatory environment. Students learn about the different aspects of the real estate industry, how real estate markets operate, and the role of real estate in a diversified investment portfolio.
  • Managing Organizational Change: This elective focuses on the strategies and skills necessary to effectively manage change within organizations. It covers topics like the drivers of change, resistance to change, change management frameworks, and the role of leadership in change initiatives. The course aims to prepare students to lead and manage organizational transformations, including cultural shifts, restructuring, and the implementation of new technologies or processes.
  • Negotiations: This course is designed to improve students’ negotiation skills in a business context. It covers negotiation theory, strategies, and tactics, as well as the psychology of negotiation. Through simulations and role-playing exercises, students practice negotiating in various scenarios, including mergers and acquisitions, partnerships, salary negotiations, and conflict resolution. The goal is to develop the ability to effectively negotiate in a way that maximizes value for all parties.
  • Pricing Policy: Pricing Policy focuses on the strategies and analysis behind setting prices for products and services. It covers topics like pricing models, demand estimation, cost analysis, competition-based pricing, and psychological aspects of pricing. Students learn how to make informed pricing decisions that contribute to a company’s profitability and competitive positioning. This elective is particularly valuable for those interested in marketing, strategy, and entrepreneurship.

Executive MBA concentrations vs MBA concentrations

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:

  • Entrepreneurial Management: This concentration is tailored for those who aspire to start their own business or manage startups and innovative projects within larger organizations. It covers topics such as business plan development, venture financing, innovation management, and the challenges of growing a new business. Students learn how to identify market opportunities, develop business models, and navigate the unique challenges faced by entrepreneurs.
  • Finance: The finance concentration is designed for students interested in financial management, banking, investment, or financial consulting roles. It typically includes advanced coursework in areas such as corporate finance, investment analysis, portfolio management, financial markets, and risk management. This concentration aims to equip students with the skills needed to make strategic financial decisions, manage financial risks, and understand the complex world of corporate finance and investment.
  • Management: A concentration in management is focused on developing broad leadership and administrative skills applicable across various industries. Topics might include organizational behavior, human resources management, operations management, and business strategy. This concentration is ideal for those aiming for general management or executive roles and emphasizes skills like decision-making, team leadership, and organizational development.
  • Marketing: The marketing concentration prepares students for careers in brand management, marketing analytics, digital marketing, and sales management. Courses might cover consumer behavior, market research, digital marketing strategies, branding, and marketing communications. This concentration is designed to provide students with a deep understanding of how to connect with customers, develop effective marketing strategies, and drive business growth through innovative marketing practices.
  • Strategic Management: This concentration focuses on the formulation and implementation of business strategies. It combines analysis of industry and competitive dynamics with the study of internal organizational capabilities and decision-making processes. Topics might include competitive strategy, corporate strategy, business model innovation, and global business strategy. This concentration is particularly valuable for those looking to pursue careers in management consulting, corporate strategy, or business development.

Final thesis, practicum, or project [EMBA vs. MBA]

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.

Networking opportunities [EMBA vs. MBA]

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.

Alumni connections [EMBA vs. MBA]

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.

What to look for in an Executive MBA program

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.

What are the best Executive MBA programs?

There isn’t a universal consensus on the top EMBA program, but ten of the best, according to Poets and Quants, are:

  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Southern Methodist University
  • University of California – Los Angeles
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • The University of Texas at Austin

Do Executive MBA rankings matter?

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 program

Choosing an EMBA is a very personal decision. Here are some things to consider before filling out an application.

Will an EMBA help you achieve your career goals?

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.

EMBA program reputation with employers

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.

EMBA career resources

Every school emphasizes career development, though some do it better than others. Common services include:

  • Career coaching
  • Industry speakers
  • Networking help
  • Workshops

Can you afford an EMBA?

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.

Will your EMBA deliver a solid return on investment?

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.

On-campus Executive MBA or online Executive MBA?

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:

  • Brown University
  • Howard University
  • James Madison University
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • The University of Texas at Dallas

While online and in-person options at a school generally use the same curriculum, there are pros and cons for each option.

Pros and cons of an on-campus Executive MBA


  • Designed for the working professional: Flexibility is one of the main reasons people choose online programs, but you can get it in-person with the EMBA. You may have as few as five days of class per month, usually on nights and weekends.
  • Still more trusted: While the vast majority of employers look favorably on online degrees, eight percent of employers don’t have a favorable view. Are you a belt-and-suspenders type? You may consider on-campus programs a safer, i.e., more conservative, option.


  • Travel: While an EMBA should be flexible enough to let you work, getting to and from class—or needing to live on campus—can add to the time commitment. Travel can have a significant impact on your quality of life.
  • Fast pace: EMBA programs are accelerated, and those who can’t keep up risk falling behind, especially if they need to maintain a high-level full-time job outside of school.

Pros and cons of an online Executive MBA


  • More options: Those who attend an in-person EMBA are tied to where they live or where they’re willing to move. For example, those who live in the DC metro area are locked into the handful of options within commuting distance. However, students can complete online EMBAs from anywhere in the world.
  • Not entirely online: Most online EMBA programs also have in-person networking events. While this can be seen as a negative, it means that you get a similar experience to in-person programs.


  • Less facetime: While many online EMBAs have networking and recruiting opportunities (just like on-campus programs), you’ll have fewer opportunities to get to know your classmates and professors casually.
  • Self-motivation: Similarly, it’s important to note this freedom comes with a price—you need to be motivated to stay with assignments. You probably didn’t qualify for an EMBA by being a slacker, but some students avoid distance learning for this reason.

Executive MBA applications and admissions

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.

Admissions requirements

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:

Test scores

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.

No GMAT MBA options

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.

Executive MBA Resume/required work experience

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.

Executive MBA letters of recommendation

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.

Executive MBA essays and/or interview

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.

Program start dates

Each school determines its chosen start date; most opt for either one or two. Wharton begins only in May, while NYU students begin in either January or August.

Executive MBA financial aid

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.

Executive MBA scholarships

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.

Executive MBA careers

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.

Executive MBA jobs

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.

Executive MBA salary

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.

Is an Executive MBA worth it?

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.

(Updated on January 23, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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