MBA or EMBA: What’s the difference? |

MBA or EMBA: What’s the difference?

By Helen Vaudrey

Updated Updated

There are hundreds of accredited MBA and EMBA programmes offered at business schools around the globe, but many aspiring students don't know the difference between the two. EMBA simply stands for ‘Executive Master of Business Administration’ and is commonly misconstrued as superior to MBA study.

In actual fact, the two are pretty much equal in terms of cachet and value on graduation – but they are delivered in entirely different ways for two different types of candidate.

The MBA is aimed at those early in their business journey, with up to five years' experience. The EMBA was developed in response to the need for executives, business leaders and entrepreneurs to take their management experience even further, making key change in their organisations or start ups. 

Both the MBA and the EMBA are sought after programmes to take candidates' business knowledge and leadership skills to the next level. 

What is an MBA programme?

An MBA programme provides students with a fundamental understanding of business management. From the frameworks and techniques to develop a strong business strategy, to marketing, finance, accounting, human resources and sustainable business, students develop the skills to become an inspiring business leader. 

MBA programmes come in a variety of formats including full-time, part-time and online. Students can even choose a specialised MBA in consulting, entrepreneurship, finance, operations management and technology, for example. This gives MBA students a focus on where to place their time and resources if the goal is to be employed in one of these fields. 

What is an EMBA programme?

The Executive MBA is designed for business executives with significant managerial experience, usually five to 15 years. Students maintain their careers while studying, attending classes in the evenings or at weekends. 

While the material covered in an EMBA is usually the same as the MBA equivalent, students work at a faster pace, covering a higher number of mandatory modules. Many of these modules are often offered as optional electives on the MBA programme. 


At a glance

Applications Applicants have less work experience (up to five years' experience usually required) and so test results are more important Applicants are normally professionals with 10-15 years' work experience
Minimum GMAT score of 600 required by most schools, 700 by top schools No entrance exams
  Applicants without a bachelor's degree in business will need a GMAT score
Duration Traditionally two years in North America; one in Europe Traditionally two years in North America; one in Europe
  Study is typically part-time, on weekends and evenings
  Continue to work full-time while learning
Fees Entirely self-funded Majority of costs covered by employers
Wide range of scholarships available Some students self-fund, and EMBA scholarships are available
Lifestyle More immersive, living permanently on or near campus Weekly interactions with students, less intense relationships

MBA vs. EMBA curriculum

Most MBA programmes have a core curriculum covering the foundational business knowledge required to become a successful management professional. Many business schools have also included important learning around the UN's sustainable development goals (SGDs) too. 

As well as the core learning, students can select optional modules to tailor their programme to their individual goals, from marketing to business analytics, digital transformation and international business. 

MBA students can take part in a consultancy project at the end of the programme, delivering real impact with a local or international organisation. Or, take on a work placement that can lead to future prospects upon graduation. 

The EMBA curriculum is usually the same, with more mandatory modules taken at a faster pace and a real-time strategic project at the end of the course. Across both programmes, time is dedicated to career development through coaching, workshops and recruitment events. 

Networking is a huge part of both the MBA and EMBA programmes – both with peers, alumni and industry contacts – taking the learning even further with insights from those who live and breathe business. 

Application requirements

EMBAs are catered towards working professionals with extensive work experience – generally in the region of 10-15 years. During the selection period, EMBA admissions teams look for a varied professional background and with diverse work experience. It is assumed that applicants will already have extensive business knowledge picked up over their career. Thus they are not usually required to sit entry exams – although applicants without bachelor’s degree may require a GMAT score.

However, for full-time MBA study, emphasis is very much placed on GMAT scores and essays. A minimum GMAT score of 600 is required in most schools, with top institutions requiring 700 and above. Although more management experience is a definite advantage for MBA study, students are generally only required to have up to three years’ work experience.

Duration and pace

The length of degree programs vary per school, however the traditional duration of an MBA is two years in North America or one in Europe. EMBAs tend to fall into the same sort of range. The difference is, though, that EMBA study is part-time, on evenings, weekends and intensive weeks which can take place at different places around the world. EMBA students, by and large, stay in their current positions on a full-time basis (and with a full-time salary) while they learn. Much of the learning will be by distance and/or online. EMBA students tend to classwork at a more intense pace than their MBA counterparts to minimize distraction from work or family.

Full-time MBA students have intensive schedules, making it pretty much impossible to maintain a job outside the program. Although the classes are completed at a faster rate, the EMBA curriculum covers the same material as MBAs. However, EMBA programs offer fewer electives and students are required to take the majority of classes together. MBA students have the freedom to specialize in a range of topics, with a wide variety of options available to them. There are targeted EMBAs out there for those who want to specialize though!

Fees and sponsorship

Traditionally, the majority or entirety of EMBA students’ tuition costs were covered by employers, who benefit from the new skills their managers are learning. However, recent years have seen a trend towards self-funded candidates – which has meant that more schools are offering EMBA scholarships. Either way, students will also be earning a full-time salary while studying, making the financial implications of EMBAs somewhat less daunting in comparison with full-time MBAs. Company-funded students are generally required to commit a few years to the company upon completion of their degree – so they must be sure of their careers before embarking on a course.

In stark contrast, MBAs are entirely self-funded, although there a wide variety of scholarships available to students through private companies and schools. The prices associated with MBAs tend to slightly lower than EMBAs but full-time MBA students have to factor in other fees such as permanent board and accommodation as well as foregone salary (but don’t forget the ROI).


This is very important to consider when choosing between the two different degrees. If students want a more immersive student experience they should most definitely apply for an MBA. Living permanently on or near campus opens the doors to extracurricular activities – including clubs, sport, conferences and student-run events as well as social experiences and obviously, a tight knit social group as you’ll be working with your classmates every day.

For EMBA students, emphasis is placed very much on networking within a smaller cohort, with a bit less interaction with the wider student body. Students interact with their group on a weekly basis – usually at the weekend. Though the relationships may not be as intense, informal and formal networking is key to the EMBA experience (as it is to full-time programs) and is extremely beneficial for your future career.

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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