Everything to Consider When Choosing Between an EMBA and an MBA

Everything to Consider When Choosing Between an EMBA and an MBA main image

For candidates with superior work experience, an executive MBA can be the ticket to a promotion and pay rise, but you may be served equally well by a bog-standard MBA — which is often considerably cheaper than an EMBA.

Choosing between the two degrees can be tricky, so what should you consider before you apply?

Profile and admissions requirements

MBA and EMBA courses usually attract people at different stages in their careers. “MBA participants are usually at a very early stage, with up to five years of work experience,” says Julia Poncar, IESE Business School associate director of admissions for the EMBA. “They often have not managed their own teams or budgets.”

EMBA participants, meanwhile, are more senior and have held managerial roles for at least five years. Indeed, the average age of an IESE MBA student is 28 with five years of work experience, while the average EMBA is 40 with 15 years’ experience.

“While MBA and EMBA participants are equally eager to develop a career in management and both programs deliver similar content, the level of discussion and the short-term take away is different, as a result of the different experience levels,” says Poncar.

The grander experience of EMBA candidates means that networking opportunities in EMBA courses may be better than in MBAs. In addition, many EMBAs are taught jointly with business schools in other countries, expanding valuable alumni networks. At IESE, some EMBA courses are taken with participants of Shanghai’s China Europe International Business School.

Because EMBA students have more experience than MBAs, they often face fewer admissions requirements. “GPA and test scores are less significant for EMBA students,” says Karen Marks, president of North Star Admissions Consulting. “Sometimes EMBA candidates do not have to take the GMAT or the GRE [business school entrance exams] and/or answer different essay questions.”

However, prospective EMBA participants are usually required to provide proof of employer support of the course, as an EMBA can have an impact on working life. “EMBA candidates sometimes need a letter from their current employer stating that they can manage work and school,” Marks says.

Format and curriculum

Potentially the fastest way to narrow down the choice of an EMBA or MBA is to work out whether you want to exit the workforce, or not. EMBA programs are part-time, with candidates typically maintaining full-time jobs, studying online in the evening or at weekends in short, intense bursts.

MBA courses, on the other hand, are generally full-time, requiring candidates to pause their careers for up to two years to get the three-letter credential on campus.

At IESE Business School in Spain, EMBAs spend two consecutive weeks on campus every two months — enabling participants to live and work around the world while participating in the same program. When not on campus, the EMBAs study online at their own convenience.

While both MBA and EMBA courses cover a similar curriculum, EMBAs have fewer electives because participants spend less time studying than full-time MBA students, who have a broader range of courses to choose from. For example, IESE MBA students are offered more than 100 electives in 15 different business areas. EMBAs can pick from only six electives.


Cost is a key consideration for anyone pursuing an MBA or an EMBA. The latter is sometimes preferred because participants can hold down full-time jobs and therefore do not have to forgo already-plush salaries to get the degree.

However, fees are generally higher on EMBAs than on MBAs — at Chicago’s Booth School of Business, EMBA tuition for the 21-month course in North America is US$189,000, compared with US$138,400 for the MBA.

Yet EMBA students are often fully or partly funded by their employers, who view the degree as an investment in their future leaders. Unfortunately, funding has dried up somewhat since the financial crisis, as budgets have been cut to curb losses, but EMBA scholarships are now offered at most schools.

Scholarships have the advantage of not tying you into an employer contract, so you’re free to pursue alternative career paths on graduation. At London Business School EMBA fees are £84,500 but the school offers scholarships of up to £50,000 based on factors such as nationality and gender.

Most MBA degrees are self-funded and there has been an increase in scholarship funding for those courses, too. So, there are plenty of ways to pay for an MBA, whether you pick the executive or full-time variety.

Career impact

In which situations is one degree more useful than the other? Both formats have their merits. For those looking to do a complete career or country transition, a full-time MBA is a great option.

“By coming out of the workforce, it provides the opportunity to learn new skills, discover new areas of interest, build a network and enjoy support from the career development team,” says Brandon Kirby, director of MBA admissions at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, which offers both degrees. “Plus, it shows future employers that you are committed to working hard to make the transition — and how serious you are about it.”

If you want to climb the greasy pole within your organization or industry, the EMBA is ideal. “By continuing to work while you study, you are able to demonstrate new learning almost immediately, which adds value to your company,” Kirby says. “An EMBA also positions you as vital to the future success of the business. If you’re looking to strengthen relationships within your region and company, the EMBA is a perfect way to do this.”

Ultimately, both programs offer great opportunities to acquire skill sets, a valuable network, a prestige degree, and the chance to advance a career. At Rotterdam, 90 percent of full-time MBAs are employed within three months, with an 88 percent increase on pre-MBA pay to US$122,580. EMBA participants get a 61 percent salary increase, to US$134,538.

“Nothing in life is guaranteed, but completing either program provides graduates with a tremendous amount of opportunity and opens doors that often times did not exist before the program,” adds Kirby.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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