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

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

There are hundreds of accredited EMBA and MBA programs 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 programs hold equal cachet and value on graduation. What sets them apart is their purpose and delivery format, leading to two entirely different experiences.

Admissions Requirements

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, standardized 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 programs 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 programs 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 program (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 program will involve coordinating some flexibility or even time off to attend classes. 

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

Program 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 organized 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 minimize 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 programs 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/specialization or track. However, there are also targeted EMBAs for those who want to specialize at this level, in areas such as family business, healthcare and sustainability.

Fees and Return on Investment

As we’ve seen, one major difference between traditional full-time MBA programs and executive MBA programs 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 program would.

Traditionally, many EMBA candidates had the majority or entirety of their program 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 organizations as well as the schools themselves.

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.   

Network and Lifestyle

Much of the intrinsic reward from any one program is associated with lifestyle and the network that students are exposed to during their study. Networking is particularly important in EMBA programs, in which closer interactions within smaller cohorts, as well as with alumni, is emphasized. A traditional full-time MBA program, 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 program, 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 April 2019.

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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