MBA vs EMBA? For today’s business school applicants, choosing the perfect program is tricky. MBAs remain the most popular option, but the Executive MBA (EMBA) has also found its footing as an alternative.
Despite having similar academic content, these two qualifications are suited to very different points in your career.
To find out more, we asked Sharon Nelson, assistant director of the EMBA at the John Molson School of Business (JMSB), and Kristiana Salmon, a recent EMBA graduate, what the differences are.
For Sharon, the main difference between the two programs is the type of student they attract.
Students accepted onto the JMSB MBA typically have five or six years’ full-time experience, while their counterparts on the EMBA have a lot more—between 12 and 16 years.
Kristiana (above), who graduated from her own EMBA in the spring, agrees. “The EMBA is really designed for professionals who are working full-time at a high level in their organization,” she notes.
According to GMAC’s research, 63% of EMBA applicants have over 10 years’ experience.
Because of this experience, many EMBA programs don’t require an undergraduate degree. For an MBA, on the other hand, you’ll need to have completed a bachelor’s.
Being at different points in their careers, MBA and EMBA students enter business school with different goals, Sharon says.
An MBA will boost early careers, providing a broad overview of different business functions, which can act as a bridge to management positions.
The EMBA helps professionals who are already in management positions develop their existing business knowledge.
“Most EMBA students use the program to expand their role in their own organization, or branch out into new opportunities,” Sharon observes.
That’s exactly what Kristiana aimed to do when she joined the EMBA program at JMSB in 2017. Having worked in clinical research at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital for seven years, she wanted to explore new possibilities.
“The EMBA has really opened my eyes to what I could potentially do,” she reflects.
Whether you study an MBA or EMBA, though, chances are that one of your goals is to build a stronger network.
The EMBA at JMSB has a small cohort, of no more than 30 students, while about 100 students begin the MBA each year, split into two classes.
For Kristiana, this was an important distinction.
“Because of this small class, you can really get the most from your peers,” she says.
Kristiana was also attracted to the EMBA’s class schedule. Sessions are held on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, which allowed her to carry on working.
Like all EMBAs, the JMSB program is designed to fit in with the schedule of a full-time professional. This was ideal for Kristiana, who didn't want to take a career break while she studied.
With an MBA, though, full-time study is more common. Part-time MBAs are offered at JMSB and elsewhere, but these programs take longer to complete than an EMBA.
At JMSB, for instance, the EMBA program can be completed in 20 months, while the part-time MBA takes three to four years.
Whether you choose an MBA or an EMBA, you’ll experience a blend of theoretical learning and hands-on experience.
With the EMBA, Sharon says, students are thrust into these practical experiences more quickly. Because they’re working full-time, EMBA students can put what they learn into practice immediately.
This is true of the EMBA program at JMSB, through courses like the HR module. “One of the tasks that students have to do is talk to their own HR manager and see how things work,” Sharon explains.
The New Venture module is equally hands-on. In this class, EMBA students create a business idea from scratch in small groups.
This was a highlight for Kristiana. Her venture was based on an idea she’d previously developed with a colleague, mass-producing small 3D models of the human brain made using stem cells.
“It’s a research tool that reduces the need for animals in the lab, and is also more representative of human disease,” she explains.
When Kristiana’s team pitched the idea to a group of venture capitalists, they jumped on board. Today, the venture is being incorporated with continued involvement from her EMBA peers.
Although MBAs are sometimes more theoretical, the program at JMSB offers plenty of real-world experience, too.
Throughout the program, case-based learning is used in the classroom, and students also have the chance to take on projects in the wider world.
MBA candidates can take on 'experiential learning' modules, which range from case competitions to a community service consulting.
Whether an MBA or an EMBA is right for you, these experiences can lead to new professional opportunities—and greater confidence to pursue them.
"I definitely feel more confident in making a career change with the skill set I developed at business school," Kristiana concludes.