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MBA Vs Executive MBA: Which Business School Degree Is Right For You?

Ex-Harvard admissions consultant tells you how to choose between the two

Wed Apr 12 2017

By Chioma Isiadinso

Once you've made the decision to go to business school, choosing between an MBA and an Executive MBA program is primarily a question of timing: how much time do you have for your program, and when is the right time for your career to go back to school?

I've written previously about Masters in Management (MiM) degrees, introductory-level management masters degrees for candidates with little to no work experience. EMBA programs exist at the opposite end of the spectrum. They are designed for mid and advanced-career professionals, who typically have at least ten years of experience and are working (or aspiring to work) at executive level.

Understanding the Differences

While MBA programs come in several varieties, including part-time and online program options, most students still gravitate toward full-time brick-and-mortar schools.

These programs usually act as a pause in a student's career, as full-time MBA programs almost always require students to leave the workforce for the duration of the program.

Some MBA students choose to return to their previous employer at the completion of their program. Just 3% of Yale SOM 2016 graduates were sponsored by, and returning, to a previous employer; Michigan Ross had a similar number with 2.6% of grads returning to their previous employer; and Wharton saw just under 9% of students heading back to a previous employer.

However, the majority of MBA students use their time in business school – and particularly their internship opportunities – to make a change in their industry or employer.

Executive MBA programs, on the other hand, almost always see students continuing on with their current company. Most are designed to allow students to continue in their full-time jobs during the course of their business school education, with classes taking place during weekends and on occasional immersive residential weeks.

In fact, most top Executive MBA programs require students to provide proof of company sponsorship – in the form of time off to attend classes, if not financial support – as a part of their EMBA application package. If you plan to pursue an EMBA, you should be prepared for the reality of completing approximately 20 hours of classwork a week, on top of your full-time job.

Choosing the Right Program

In many cases, the choice of an MBA program or an EMBA is relatively simple: if you're early in your career, and you're ok with leaving the workforce for one to two years, then an MBA is a smarter bet. If you're an upper-level manager with more than a decade of work experience, and you want to continue in your career while you go back to school, an EMBA is the right fit for you.

But if things aren't quite so clear-cut, you'll want to look at a couple of different factors before choosing whether to pursue an MBA or an EMBA:

Program length and schedule

EMBA programs are generally arranged with classes on alternating weekends, accompanied by a couple of longer periods scattered throughout the program, and allow students to graduate in the same amount of time an MBA would require. The EMBA program at Yale SOM, for example, is a 22-month program where students begin with a two-week session in mid-summer, have class on alternating weekends (Friday and Saturday classes), and meet for two additional week-long periods throughout the program. As with most EMBA programs, Yale requires that students stay on-campus during class weekends, and that cost is included in the tuition fee.

Program cost

The total cost for an EMBA typically clocks in a bit higher than for similar MBA programs. For example, at UVA Darden the tuition and fees for the EMBA program total $155,000 (or $155,240 for international students), as compared to the $125,600 for two years of the UVA Darden MBA program. Of course, in both cases there are several other fees that should be considered, and ultimately the overall cost of the program will vary depending on the student's circumstances.

Program demographics

EMBA students tend to be older and more established in their careers. For example, MIT Sloan reports an average age of 40 for their 2017 EMBA class, along with an average of 17 years of work experience and 100% of students being employed full time. In terms of seniority, the class had approximately 60% of students holding a manager, vice president, or C-level title, and 36% holding a director title. MIT Sloan's 2018 MBA students, on the other hand, had on average just under five years of work experience.

The other important difference between EMBA and MBA programs is something a bit more intangible: the experience. A full-time MBA is undeniably a more immersive experience, and leads to stronger networks and relationships at the end of the program. Residential requirements at most EMBA programs are designed to help increase students’ camaraderie, but if you really want to use business school to boost your network, you'll need to work a bit harder at it in an EMBA program. 


Chioma Isiadinso is an education entrepreneur and co-founder/CEO of EXPARTUS, the first MBA admissions consulting firm to integrate personal branding into every aspect of the MBA admissions process.

She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.

Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.