Business Administration

Executive MBA Courses vs. MBA Courses [Difference Explained]

Executive MBA Courses vs. MBA Courses [Difference Explained]
EMBA courses assume that students have already learned much of what's taught in a traditional MBA program through experience. That's why EMBA programs focus on higher-level skills and concepts. Image from Unsplash
Isabelle Doyle profile
Isabelle Doyle January 13, 2021

The typical traditional MBA is about 28 years old, with a few years of professional experience. The typical EMBA student is ten years older, much more experienced, and looking to enter top management. Programs are tailored to the needs of each.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

Article continues here

If you’re an experienced leader looking to enhance your management skills while continuing to work full-time, a traditional MBA degree might be the wrong option for you. You might want to consider an Executive MBA (EMBA) instead.

Executive MBA programs are designed for busy, experienced professionals who need a part-time educational program to continue meeting career obligations. Leaders who already understand the basics of business and want to dive into the nuances of leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategy make up EMBA classes, meaning you’ll learn from your fellow students as well as from your instructors. You may even get out of having to take the GMAT.

If you’re not entirely sure which program is right for you, or even what the difference between an MBA and an EMBA is, read on. We’ll discuss:

  • What is an MBA program?
  • What is an Executive MBA program?
  • Is an Executive MBA program as good as a traditional MBA program?
  • Executive MBA Courses vs. MBA courses
  • Best Executive MBA programs
  • Online Executive MBA programs

What is an MBA?

The best asset that a young entrepreneur or CEO wannabe can possess is initiative. The second-best might be an MBA degree. An MBA is a graduate-level degree in business administration. It covers a broad range of business fundamentals. Some MBA programs allow students to dig deeper into a specific field, called a specialization or concentration.

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) from a top school (or even a regional one, depending on your career goals) can bolster your ambitions by enhancing established skills and introducing new ones. A full-time (or part-time) online (or on-campus) MBA degree from a top school of business should provide you with the competitive advantage you need to succeed in the business world.

What do you learn in an MBA program?

MBA programs provide students with the foundational business knowledge they need to succeed in their chosen discipline.

In your first year of business school, you’ll likely take core courses designed that teach fundamental general management skills, such as accounting, marketing, supply chain, and economics. All of these will benefit you in any industry you choose. After you’ve mastered those, you’ll likely take electives in a chosen specialization, such as international business, entrepreneurship, or healthcare management. Not all programs offer specializations, but many do. Many programs conclude with a final project: a capstone course, a thesis, or a group project in which students solve a real-world problem for a participating business.

Why do employers value MBAs?

Employers value an MBA degree because MBA programs are highly comprehensive, allowing them to function as an effective winnowing tool for job candidates. Earning an MBA tells potential employers you have mastered essential business skills and that you have the capability and determination to complete a challenging academic program.

In core courses and electives, MBA curricula cover critical soft skills and quantitative skills applicable to a wide variety of industries. This makes MBA graduates uniquely versatile. Add a specialization, and you get the best of both worlds: a generalist who also has a field of expertise.

Typical MBA student

MBA students tend to be early-career professionals or people hoping to change careers. Many have two to four years of work experience—some programs even require it—but not all do. Some programs will admit MBA students straight out of college.

MBA students tend to be spreadsheet-obsessed, eager to network with fellow students and potential employers, and, of course, ambitious. Tenacity rules among MBA students and a knack for math doesn’t hurt as well.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

University and Program Name Learn More

What is an Executive MBA program?

EMBA programs and MBA programs may appear very similar at first glance—both are graduate programs meant to boost professionals’ earning potential and advance their careers. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll see that EMBAs and MBAs differ not only in the makeup of their student body but also in the particulars of their curricula.

The EMBA is an even-further-specialized degree designed for experienced business leaders aiming for upper-management and executive positions. Often, a school of business will offer both programs.

Because EMBAs typically have ten or more years of work experience, many EMBA programs forgo the GMAT or GRE requirement. Standardized tests are supposed to demonstrate the skills and aptitude necessary to complete a GMAT program; presumably, ten-plus years of professional experience serve the same purpose.

How does an EMBA program differ from a traditional MBA program?

Student body

The average age of a traditional Master of Business Administration student is 28; they typically have two to four years of post-undergraduate professional experience. The average age of an Executive Master of Business Administration student is 38; they usually have ten or more years of professional experience, including significant time in management and leadership roles.


Then there’s the expense—an average EMBA program costs $75,000 a year—50 percent more than the average MBA program. However, EMBA grads make an average of $175,000 to MBA grads’ $121,000. That means that the return on investment for EMBA grads is 133 percent.

A few words of caution in interpreting these figures. There are many more MBA programs than EMBA programs in the US. Pretty much every school that offers an EMBA also offers an MBA, and these schools tend to be among the more prestigious—and more expensive—MBA programs. That’s why the average MBA is less expensive than the average EMBA.

Likewise, many people pursue MBAs without a guaranteed job awaiting them at the end. That brings the average income boost for the MBA down. In contrast, EMBAs are likely to know a promotion with their current employer will follow their graduation. Very few people pursue an EMBA just to see what options it might open for them. It’s a much more directed experience, with much more predictable end results.

Flexibility and program length

Good news here—EMBAs are designed for busy professionals, which means that flexibility is a priority for EMBA program directors. Students might take classes evenings or weekends instead of weekdays. The EMBA typically only takes two years to complete, just like the MBA.

Is an EMBA as good as a traditional MBA?

Apples and oranges. The question isn’t which program is better, but which program is better for you. Unless you’re a mid-career, experienced business professional, the question may be academic. You likely wouldn’t qualify for an EMBA program, so an MBA is the only available option.

The MBA is best for people looking to push past career plateaus and make headway up the proverbial corporate ladder or people hoping to gain new skill sets that will aid them as they transition from one career to another. The EMBA is typically best for established professionals with already-lucrative careers who are hoping to make those careers even more lucrative—the people who hear the term “c-suite” repeating in their dreams.

The average EMBA student is 38 years old, with 14 years of professional experience and nine years of general management experience. According to The Economist, most EMBA students earned at least $100,000 a year prior to entering the program.

Typical MBA curriculum

Full-time MBA curricula provide foundational business knowledge along with real-world experience for pre-career or early-career professionals. The chief aim of MBA coursework is to equip students with the general management, analytical, decision-making, and leadership skills to solve challenging problems that executives and managers face.

Core courses you’re likely to find in a traditional MBA program include:


MBA courses in accounting equip students with the knowledge to become informed users of essential financial information. They learn to analyze transactions, financial statements, and annual reports. They also learn how to budget and calculate variances from standard costs.

Business accountability and ethics

MBA students take courses on the economic, legal, and ethical responsibilities of corporations, their leaders, and their boards of directors.

Economic statistics and operations

MBA students obtain foundational knowledge of probability concepts in these courses. They also learn statistical decision theory, linear programming, and regression analysis. They also study statistical program management tools.


MBA finance courses teach students about the functions of capital markets and financial institutions as funding sources. They also teach students about capital budgeting and how to analyze the weaknesses of asset valuation techniques.

Leadership, teamwork, management, and organizational behavior

MBA students learn leadership and management skills, as well as organizational strategy and negotiation methods. Students also learn about the role that individuals, teams, and networks play in company culture.


MBA marketing courses teach students the “4 p’s” of marketing: product strategy, pricing, promotion, and placement. They also teach students the basics of consumer behavior and decision-making.

Typical EMBA curriculum

A typical EMBA curriculum provides students with in-depth knowledge of various disciplines. It’s tailored for executives hoping to learn strategic and analytical methods they haven’t yet gained from experience. Courses can typically be grouped into four categories, according to the University of California – Berkeley: entrepreneurship, finance, leadership, and strategy. Here’s a brief overview of EMBA courses you might take as you master all four.


EMBA entrepreneurship courses focus on framing problems and leading organizational innovation. Executive MBA students hoping to enhance their entrepreneurial skill sets might take such courses as Applied Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Entrepreneurship through Acquisition. These courses focus on both the theoretical and practical components of the discipline.


EMBA finance courses are all about understanding the financial impact of strategic decisions and figuring out how to maximize financial gain—finance is the bottom line, the be-all and end-all. EMBA finance courses explore financial topics at a technical level to accommodate our rapidly changing financial environment. Students take such courses as Financial Accounting, Financial Derivatives, and Advanced Corporate Finance.


Executive MBA students take such courses as Leading and Managing People in Organizations, Leadership Communication, and Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership. Students also take leadership electives, such as Negotiations and Executive Leadership. These courses often focus on how to maximize collective success on a large scale.


In strategy courses, Executive MBA students learn how to design long-term, roll-out strategies to achieve complex, high-level goals. Students take such courses as Competitive and Corporate Strategy and Marketing Strategy, Financial Information Analysis, Global Strategy, and Game Theory.

EMBA curriculum vs. MBA curriculum: similarities and differences

EMBA courses are generally meant to enhance already-existing skillsets, while MBA courses are more foundational. MBA courses focus on specific business areas like finance and marketing, while EMBA courses assume that students already have some mastery of those areas. EMBA courses are designed to cover all areas of business from a strategic perspective, and many courses are interdisciplinary in nature. Strategic management and advanced business analytics are the name; organizational change and problem-solving are the game.

Best Executive MBA programs

Top EMBA programs include:

Online Executive MBA programs

EMBA programs are designed for maximum flexibility, and of course online programs make nabbing the degree even more accessible for working professionals. Online EMBA programs usually require a two-year commitment and completion of 35 to 65 credits. However, more colleges are beginning to offer expedited online EMBA programs that allow students to obtain their degree in as little as one year. Because the EMBA is already typically a part-time degree program, the courses lend themselves to fast-paced, rigorous learning.

There aren’t many fully online EMBA programs, especially not at the top business schools in the United States, but it’s likely that as colleges and universities become more accustomed to distance learning, many EMBA programs will transition to online delivery.

Best online Executive MBA programs

Top online EMBA programs include:

Questions or feedback? Email

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.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: Business AdministrationBusiness & Management