MBA or EMBA: Which One's Right for You? |

MBA or EMBA: Which One's Right for You?

By Visnja Milidragovic

Updated December 1, 2022 Updated December 1, 2022

MBA vs EMBA: An overview

There are hundreds of accredited EMBA and MBA programmes offered by business schools around the globe, but before aspiring students choose one over the other, it’s essential to consider how they differ.

Commonly, the EMBA (Executive Master of Business Administration) is misconstrued to be a superior form of MBA study. When in actuality, the two programmes hold equal cachet and value on graduation. What sets them apart is their purpose and delivery format, leading to two entirely different experiences.

What is an MBA?

The MBA is a business-focused postgraduate programme which is currently responsible for producing many of the top graduates working in finance and business around the world. Although it’s a relatively new qualification (compared to more traditional master’s degrees anyway), it produces approximately 100,000 graduates in the US every year.

The course is designed to perfectly prepare you for the world of business, with teaching revolving around a series of case studies, real-world examples of business problems for students to find a solution to. Traditional lectures and tutorials feature less frequently, with students instead breaking into small groups or “syndicates” to tackle these business issues. As a result, an MBA degree typically involves less independent study than other master’s programmes.

What is an EMBA?

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. 

MBA vs EMBA: Key differences

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. 


MBA vs EMBA: Admissions requirements

  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

The two degrees are catered to professionals at different stages in their career and, therefore, differ in their admissions prerequisites. EMBAs are designed for managers with extensive work experience – generally in the range of 10 to 15 years – so EMBA candidates tend to differentiate themselves against other applicants by way of the diversity and quality of their prior work experience. Further, since it is assumed that EMBA applicants will have already acquired extensive business knowledge during the course of their career, standardised entrance exam scores may not always be required, although some schools run their own in-house tests, while others have signed up to a version of the GMAT aimed at EMBA applicant.

For full-time MBA study, more emphasis is placed on GMAT scores (in addition to application essays) to help differentiate candidates during the selection process. When it comes to management experience, it is most common to find that full-time MBA programmes will look for between three and five years of prior work experience, although this can vary depending on where in the world you wish to study.

MBA and EMBA programmes from top-ranked schools require at least one, if not multiple, letters of recommendation for admissions. For the executive MBA, proof that the applicant has support from their current employer in embarking on the degree is especially important, as work-study balance will impact the candidate’s success in the programme (and at work). This is equally true for applicants who are sponsored by their employer as for those who are not because the chances are that an EMBA programme will involve coordinating some flexibility or even time off to attend classes. 

Additionally, international students for either programme are required to prove English proficiency with a test like the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) since most programmes are taught in English, albeit with exceptions for both the MBA and EMBA.

MBA vs EMBA: Programme length, pace and curriculum

Though the length of both a full-time MBA and an executive MBA will vary by school, the principal difference is that the EMBA is part time and designed to accommodate working professionals. EMBA students, by and large, stay in their current positions on a full-time basis with some of the learning taking place by distance and/or online. In-person EMBA classes, meanwhile, are organised on evenings, weekends and/or intensive weeks – depending on the school and format candidates select – and some classes may even take place at different locations around the world.

In terms of pace, EMBA students tend to engage in classwork at shorter, more intense intervals than their MBA counterparts to minimise distraction from their regular work schedules. Full-time MBA students, by comparison, have such demanding schedules that maintaining any job outside the program is discouraged. Metaphorically speaking, while an EMBA can be seen as a series of sprints, the MBA can be likened to a marathon.

While both EMBA and MBA curricula cover the same core material, EMBA programmes tend to offer fewer electives and students are required to take most classes together. As such, MBA students will often enjoy more freedom when selecting their classes and, generally, have a wider variety of options available to them through, for example, the possibility of taking a concentration/specialisation or track. However, there are also targeted EMBAs for those who want to specialise at this level, in areas such as family business, healthcare and sustainability.

MBA vs EMBA: Fees

As we’ve seen, one major difference between traditional full-time MBA programmes and executive MBA programmes is that EMBA degrees are pursued part time. This has significant financial implications as EMBA students can earn a full-time salary while studying and don’t incur the same costs associated with permanent board as full-time students who may have to relocate for their MBA programme would.

Traditionally, many EMBA candidates had the majority or entirety of their programme tuition covered by their employer because this form of sponsorship was seen as a worthy investment for training managers who could then apply newly acquired skills to their work. While this form of sponsorship continues, recent years have seen more students self-fund their EMBA studies and this has meant that more schools now offer EMBA scholarships. Those students who are company-funded might be required to commit to the company for a few years upon completion of their degree.

In stark contrast, full-time MBAs are overwhelmingly self-funded, and most cohorts contain just a small proportion of sponsored students. There are therefore a wide variety of scholarships available to students through private companies and organisations as well as the schools themselves.

MBA vs EMBA: Salary and career growth

Both MBA and EMBA candidates can expect a salary increase upon graduation, though of varying degrees. EMBA graduates saw an average salary boost of around 38.5 percent, according to the QS Global EMBA rankings 2019; MBAs, by comparison - with much more to gain as they tend to be earlier on in their careers - saw an increase of 64 percent  in compensation post-graduation, according to a 2018 QS ROI report into the experience of those graduating from schools across North America.   

MBA vs EMBA: Network and lifestyle

Much of the intrinsic reward from any one programme is associated with lifestyle and the network that students are exposed to during their study. Networking is particularly important in EMBA programmes, in which closer interactions within smaller cohorts, as well as with alumni, is emphasised. A traditional full-time MBA programme, on the other hand, offers more of an immersive student experience. Living permanently on or near campus means that students have more opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities.  Clubs, sports, conferences and student-run events and socials allow students to get to know a wide group of peers.   

Another thing to consider is who one’s peers may be, as with either programme, a substantial amount of time will be spent as a cohort. While MBA students can expect to meet fellow classmates who you can expect to be 28 years old on average, EMBA students are 38 years on average. Candidates may want to consider this factor if their hope is to interface with peers with whom they might have more in common.

Whether students opt for an EMBA or an MBA depends primarily on their circumstances. While there is no hard and fast rule, EMBA applicants tend to be older and looking to enrich their existing knowledge with tangible, immediate takeaways. By contrast, full-time MBA applicants are usually at an earlier phase in their career and may therefore have more of a focus on rounding out their skillset and exploring new career opportunities. So, where do you consider yourself?

This article was originally published in December 2016 and was most recently updated in December 2022.

Whether students opt for an EMBA or an MBA depends primarily on their circumstances. While there is no hard and fast rule, EMBA applicants tend to be older and looking to enrich their existing knowledge with tangible, immediate takeaways. By contrast, full-time MBA applicants are usually at an earlier phase in their career and may therefore have more of a focus on rounding out their skillset and exploring new career opportunities. So, where do you consider yourself?

Find out the difference between the two and the right one designed for you by chatting to admissions directors and alumni at the QS MBA Tour in India.

This article was originally published in December 2016 . It was last updated in December 2022

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Written by

Visnja is a content specialist with a background in marketing and communications. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia and a master's in publishing from Simon Fraser University. Her interests include media & technology, personal growth, health & wellness, and innovation, topics that stay top of mind in her writing.


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