MBA vs Executive MBA: 6 Things You Need to Know |

MBA vs Executive MBA: 6 Things You Need to Know

By Stephanie L

Updated February 2, 2021 Updated February 2, 2021

Sponsored by ESSEC Business School

Deciding whether to pursue an MBA or an Executive MBA (EMBA) essentially comes down to your own current circumstances; where you are in your career, whether you can afford to take time away from work, how much professional experience you already have, and so on.

In terms of content, reputation and value to employers, the MBA and EMBA are actually very similar. But they also have some striking differences, particularly when it comes to course length and pace, cost and entry requirements.

Both programs have their own distinctive purpose and have the potential to give you a boost in your career in very different ways, so it’s important to understand which is right for you.

To get a better idea of what you can expect should you decide to study either an MBA or an EMBA, we spoke to ESSEC Business School and one of their Global MBA participants, Emilia Wilson.

The curriculum and lifestyle

The MBA is great if you’re looking to broaden your growing business perspective, are looking to reach the next level of your career, and like the idea of having a more immersive student experience.

Because the MBA is primarily for those who are in the early stages of their career, the curriculum is highly versatile and covers all primary business bases, including accounting, management, economics, operations management, marketing and more. In addition, given that most MBA participants have significantly less work experience, the MBA program often focuses on helping them map out their career path, and aims to equip them with the tools and knowledge necessary to get their foot in the industry door that they’re interested in.

Certain MBA programs also offer specializations to help you make a career change. For instance, at ESSEC Business School, the Global MBA allows you to choose one of three majors, including Strategy & Management, Strategy & Digital Leadership, and Luxury Brand Management. Emilia Wilson, current ESSEC Global MBA participant majoring in Luxury Brand Management, tells us more.

“I was at a place in my career where I really needed an extra edge to get to the next step. I had a background in marketing and events management, but needed something more to be considered for higher level management and leadership roles.

It was clear to me that pursuing an MBA was the best choice. Given my career objectives, I felt that it was important for me to find a specialized program in luxury brand management, which is how I found and decided to study the ESSEC Global MBA in Luxury Brand Management.”

The EMBA, on the other hand, has a distinctive emphasis on leadership management and is better suited for working professionals who have significant experience and want to enhance and strengthen their already strong-standing business acumen and ability to lead more effectively while maintaining their career.

This means the EMBA starts off with core modules that formalize the knowledge that executives have gained from experience, and then goes in-depth into complex strategic subjects. In the ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA, participants can select a number of advanced modules designed around cutting-edge business topics.

Both programs more often than not cover similar fields of business, as well as offer a variety of immersive learning experiences, including the opportunity to study abroad, which, thanks to the constant globalization of higher education, is almost imperative for many participants.   

“The international travel to Hong Kong, Italy, and Switzerland clearly demonstrated that the international aspect of the program wasn’t confined just to the extremely diverse group of participants,” said Emilia.

Course length and schedule

While the average MBA program length is one year, an EMBA tends to be slightly longer at 18 months. The EMBA is therefore better suited for business professionals who don’t want to put their careers on the back burner. It’s designed to fit it in with your daily schedule, as opposed to the MBA which demands commitment to a full-time study schedule along with a denser workload.

EMBA lectures and seminars tend to take place in the evenings, on weekends or a combination of both, and although it can be more intense, you are able to balance studying with your career, family or both.

The class cohort

A big difference between the MBA and EMBA is the average age and size of the cohort.

For example, at ESSEC Business School the average MBA participant is 30 years old, while the average EMBA participant is 38 years old. Whether you study an MBA or an EMBA, your cohort will be a great source of inspiration during your studies and you’ll build a professional network of contacts as well.

The MBA cohort spends a considerable amount of time together while the EMBA participants only meet once every few weeks. However, you will still be able to build a comprehensive network and draw from the diversity of cultures, skill-sets and experiences, especially through group projects.

At ESSEC Business School, the entire EMBA cohort works for the greater good in the Social Class Project. This year, for example, they created a charity and raised funds for the education of Syrian women.

“My best memory of the program is when I proposed the Social Project to the class. It took them a few seconds and then everybody accepted. For me it was like, ‘I want to be with those guys and to work with them for a year and a half!’” said Lubana Abdou, from the ESSEC Executive MBA Class of 2018.

The cost

Most MBAs are entirely self-funded, but depending on the school you’re interested in applying to, they may offer a range of scholarships.

You may be in a fortunate position where your employer is willing to sponsor your EMBA. If this isn’t a possibility, you will need to weigh up your options carefully as an EMBA does tend to cost significantly more than the MBA. However, scholarships are also available for EMBA candidates.  

And with an average payback period of only 17 months, the EMBA is considered an investment you can rely on.

Entry requirements

The MBA is suited to those who are still in the early stages of their career and have limited professional experience, while most EMBA programs will only accept you if you have a significant amount of professional management and leadership experience.

For example, the average EMBA participant has 12 years’ worth of professional experience under their belt, while the average Global MBA participant has between six and seven.

Global MBA candidates often need a GMAT/GRE to apply, though your application will often be evaluated holistically, taking into account various aspects of your profile. Most EMBA programs, however, don’t require you to take formal tests besides the English language test. At ESSEC Business School, the EMBA admission process puts more emphasis on your professional experience and your project.  

Career prospects

Whether you’re only just starting out, or you’ve got 15 years’ of professional experience under your belt, the MBA and EMBA have the potential to offer fruitful career prospects.

Emilia said: “Through the mentorship program, international travel, alumni conferences, corporate partnerships, and courses taught by industry professionals, my network in the luxury industry across the world has grown exponentially over the last year.

“It has been proven time and time again that one's professional network is the most important factor in securing new roles.

“It is with this knowledge that I know without a doubt that this MBA program has changed my career prospects beyond what I can even imagine today.”

Lead image: ESSEC Business School

This article was originally published in August 2019 . It was last updated in February 2021

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Written by

As the Head of Sponsored Content for and (until September 2021), Stephanie created and published a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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