MBA vs Executive MBA: Choosing the Right Fit |

MBA vs Executive MBA: Choosing the Right Fit

By Temoor Iqbal

Updated August 19, 2019 Updated August 19, 2019

Sponsored by IE Business School

Since the MBA degree began in 1908, it has spawned numerous variants. These mostly feature minor changes related to specialisms or course length, but the most significant – the executive MBA (EMBA) – is a markedly different course to the traditional MBA. It pays, therefore, to think carefully about whether an MBA or EMBA is the best option for your needs and goals.

Many business schools offer a choice between the two courses, so you need to decide before you apply. Madrid’s IE Business School, for example, offers a Global Executive MBA, as well as standard executive MBA courses in English and Spanish, alongside traditional full-time and part-time MBA programs.

So, how do you decide which course you should apply for? Let’s take a look at some of the key differences and considerations, in order to help you make an informed choice.

Entry requirements

One of the first things to consider is what type of person each course is looking for. MBA programs are designed for high-achieving graduates with some work experience under their belts, who want to move into business administration or management as a long-term career goal. Most MBA courses, therefore, use the GMAT as an additional sift on candidates who may otherwise boast broadly similar levels of achievement.

EMBA courses, on the other hand, are designed for experienced managers and business administrators who want to make the step up into executive leadership. Contrary to popular belief, neither course is a surefire path to the boardroom – both offer advantages, but the choice depends on where you are in your career. To get onto an EMBA program, therefore, you’ll rarely be required to take the GMAT. Instead, you’ll be expected to demonstrate a broad range of business experience, with a range of acquired skills and knowledge.

Study pattern

While part-time options are available, most traditional MBA courses are full-time programs. These are intended for those looking to complete the final phase of their education before embarking on a high-level career in business. This is reflected in the average age of MBA candidates, with IE Business School’s full-time International MBA boasting an average age of 29, or 30 for the part-time Global MBA. Both of these courses focus on general management and business training, combined with personal specialism through electives, allowing students to design their own course to suit their career goals.

Compared to this, EMBA courses are less varied. The vast majority of schools only offer the EMBA as a part-time course, with the assumption that most students will be working a relatively taxing career at the same time. This is reflected in the average age of students, which is 34 for the IE Business School Executive MBA, and 39 for the Global Executive MBA.

Classes tend to be faster-paced, as candidates are assumed to be familiar with a lot of the groundwork that forms the early part of an MBA course. This also minimises the amount of time away from work; something employers – especially those that finance their employees’ EMBA studies – really value.

Of course, the trade-off here is that EMBA programs tend not to be as flexible in terms of content, with few or no elective modules offered. Instead, they’re focused on general, broad training and it’s then the student’s responsibility to apply it to their chosen profession, field or industry.

Expenses and availability

Due to the increased number of classroom hours, and the more intensive nature of the programme, MBA courses tend to be more expensive than EMBA courses. What’s more, EMBAs are more likely to be employer-funded and, as a higher proportion of EMBA candidates are employed at a high level in their field, the fees are usually easier to pay off. On the other hand, MBA programs are more popular and competitive, which means that for the best and brightest, there are more scholarship and funding options available to ease the burden.

Ultimately, the choice you make is likely to be dictated by where you are in your career. You’ll get a solid business and management grounding from both an MBA and an EMBA degree, with a strong ROI whichever choice you make, but an executive MBA will only make sense if you’ve already amassed a significant amount of work experience.

Lifestyle factors are also important to consider, such as how much free time you have to devote to studying, and whether you want broad or focused social and networking opportunities. Your preferred choice of school will also make a difference, as every institution has a slightly different approach. Make sure you check what programs are on offer before you make a decision, as options such as the EMBA or part-time MBA are not always available.

Key considerations


  • GMAT usually required

  • Usually full-time

  • Average age 29-30

  • More opportunity to specialise

  • More scholarship opportunities

  • Broader networking and social opportunities


  • No GMAT score required

  • Usually part-time

  • Average age 34-39

  • More general, less specialised

  • Easier to get employer funding

  • More focused networking opportunities

IE Business School 

IE School of Global and Public Affairs 

IE School of Human Sciences and Technology 

IE Law School   

IE School of Architecture 

This article was originally published in May 2018 . It was last updated in August 2019

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