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Executive MBA: What is it, and who should consider it?

An executive MBA can take your career to the next level. But how is an executive MBA different than an MBA, and who should get one?
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Written by Genevieve Carlton, Contributing Writer on

Are you considering an executive MBA? Mid-career professionals often benefit from the advanced, focused training of an EMBA. 

But what's the ROI of an EMBA, and what should you expect during business school? Our guide walks through everything you need to know before applying to executive MBA programs.

What is an executive MBA?

An executive MBA strengthens managerial decision-making and analytical skills. Designed for experienced managers, an EMBA helps professionals accelerate their career growth.

The typical MBA student enters business school in their 20s, often with one to five years of professional experience. During an in-person or online MBA program, degree-seekers choose MBA concentrationsto prepare for the workforce.

In contrast, executive MBA students generally bring over a decade of work experience, including years at the management level. As a result, EMBA programs target a higher level of business decision-making. 

During an EMBA, graduate students may also choose a concentration or electives based on their career goals. Coursework and assignments come with greater expectations in an EMBA program.

Who is a good fit for an executive MBA program?

Executive MBA programs admit applicants with significant work experience. The average executive MBA student has 14 years of professional experience, according to the Executive MBA Council. They also typically hold nine years of management-level experience.

Business schools design their EMBA programs for mid-career professionals. As a result, an EMBA typically offers flexible course schedules. In 2021, 89% of EMBA programs offered distance learning options, up from 73% in 2020. 

Online EMBA programs often enroll working students who complete the degree while holding a full-time job. These programs may offer synchronous night and weekend courses or asynchronous courses that students complete at any time.

Cost and time to complete an executive MBA

The cost and length of an executive MBA vary depending on the program. EMBA programs charge an average of nearly $83,000, according to 2020 data from the Executive MBA Council. More than half of EMBA students fund their degrees without support from their employers. 

Earning an executive MBA typically takes two years. During that time, degree-seekers complete core requirements and choose electives. Many programs offer part-time and accelerated options, in addition to online options.

Electives in an executive MBA program

During an EMBA program, graduate students typically complete core courses in the first year, followed by electives. These electives let degree-seekers customize their course of study based on their prior experience and career goals. 

For example, marketing professionals can take EMBA electives in advanced marketing research, marketing strategy, and advanced customer behavior.

EMBA electives may include:

  • Managing organizational change
  • Strategy and competitive advantage
  • Venture capital and entrepreneurial management
  • Investment management
  • Strategic brand management
  • International corporate finance

Hard skills taught in an executive MBA program

  • Analytical reasoning
  • Business analytics
  • Information technology
  • Business research
  • Executive decision-making

People skills taught in an executive MBA program

  • Creative thinking
  • Presentation skills
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Team leadership

Why get an executive MBA?

An executive MBA helps current managers enhance their leadership skills. With an EMBA, professionals move into executive leadership roles at their current company or a new organization. 

The advantages of an executive MBA include:

  • The ROI of earning an EMBA ranks above nearly every other degree. Professionals report an average salary of $175,000.
  • Professionals gain expertise and networking opportunities through their EMBA program, although EMBAs typically do not include MBA internships.
  • EMBA programs offer more flexibility than ever before. Today, 89% of programs offer distance learning options.
  • Graduate students strengthen key business skills in leadership, finance, and organizational management in addition to gaining executive skills.

What to expect in an executive MBA program

During an executive MBA program, you'll take courses in operations strategy, business analytics, and financial management. The curriculum emphasizes analytical skills for decision-making. Learners also strengthen their management and leadership abilities. 

You can expect a heavy reading load and many case studies and projects. For example, EMBA classes often analyze real-world examples or hypothetical scenarios to determine the solutions to business problems. 

During in-class discussions, students apply their professional experience to analyze case studies. Because EMBA students generally bring several years of managerial experience, these discussions operate at a high level.

Unlike an MBA program, EMBA students generally do not complete an internship. That's because EMBA students bring a wealth of professional experience. Instead, the coursework emphasizes leadership training for executive roles. 

What to look for when choosing an executive MBA program

When researching executive MBA programs, prospective students must consider factors like cost, program length, and location. Accreditation and university resources will also shape a graduate's career prospects. 

Accreditation

Prospective EMBA students should always choose an accredited program. Accreditation recognizes programs that meet high academic standards. If you're considering an online or hybrid program, research online business school accreditation.

Location

Location can affect the cost of an MBA and even your career path after graduation. MBA programs often cultivate relationships with particular companies or specialize in local industries. 

University resources

Before applying to executive MBA programs, learn more about the university's support services. In particular, ask about internship opportunities, career services, and the alumni network. All three can shape your career trajectory after graduation.

Program length

Most executive MBA programs take two years. But program length varies. Some programs offer part-time options that take longer, while others offer accelerated options to earn an EMBA in as little as one year.

Cost

Earning an MBA can easily cost $100,000 or more. However, more affordable programs do exist. By researching programs and considering online options, you can lower your total costs.

What is the difference between an MBA and an executive MBA?

An MBA helps business professionals break into management. In contrast, an executive MBA helps current managers move into upper leadership positions.

Are executive MBAs respected?

Yes, employers respect executive MBAs. Designed for experienced business professionals, an EMBA helps managers move up the career ladder. EMBA programs focus on executive-level decision-making.

Is it easy to get into an executive MBA program?

The most prestigious executive MBA programs are selective with students. Still, applicants with a strong resume can often earn admission to an EMBA program.

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