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At some point in their career, many professionals decide to pursue a business degree. And these aspiring candidates often wonder, “Would I be a better candidate for an Executive MBA or a traditional MBA?” You may be pondering this issue yourself as you try to make the right decision to advance your career. In this post, we present some of the fundamental differences between the EMBA and MBA to help you clarify your options.
1) Years of Experience
As the term “executive” would imply, Executive MBA, or EMBA, programs are intended and specifically designed for individuals with advanced managerial experience. Although what exactly defines “executive experience” can differ from school to school, most programs offer some basic guidance about what they seek, often stipulating a minimum number of years of experience and offering an expected range of 12–15 years. (Be sure to check each school’s website for specific requirements.) On the other hand, students at traditional MBA programs tend to have an average of five to six years of experience, though in some rare cases, schools even admit new or emerging college graduates who have no full-time managerial experience at all. Clearly, the expectations for an applicant’s level of professional “seasoning” are quite different, with EMBA programs demanding a more extensive career and a more profound background.
2) Quality of Experience
Both EMBA programs and traditional MBA programs value diversity of experience, which goes beyond simply “time served.” If you are applying to an EMBA program, do not expect that an acceptance letter is guaranteed just because you have achieved the school’s expected years or level of experience. EMBA programs generally want to see evidence of advanced and increasing leadership and responsibility—managing people, overseeing budgets, making strategic decisions. In short, EMBA admissions committees want people who are already making a noticeable impact in the workplace. In contrast, traditional MBA programs are more lenient on this point; the schools are essentially wagering that you have the drive and potential to develop into a strong leader and to have a clear impact in the future. EMBA programs expect that kind of development to have already occurred and want to help you fill any voids you might have in your skill set so that you can reach an even higher level of achievement.
MBA students who are “sponsored” have all or part of their business school tuition paid by their current employer. Sponsorship is both more common at and more valued by EMBA programs; the vast majority of traditional MBA applicants do not have such support. For example, 58% of Columbia Business School’s EMBA Class of 2017 had either full or partial sponsorship, and the Wharton EMBA website claims that approximately 70% of its applicants are fully or partially sponsored. In some ways, sponsorship is seen as an indicator of potential and can facilitate an admissions decision. By offering to pay a candidate’s full tuition and allow him or her time away from work to study, a firm is telling the admissions committee, “We believe in this applicant!” That said, if you plan to pursue an EMBA and do not have firm sponsorship, you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone—after all, 42% of Columbia’s most recent EMBA class succeeded without it!
Most leading U.S. MBA programs require roughly 21 months of full-time study, starting in late summer or early fall. EMBA programs have various start dates, program lengths, and expectations for commitment. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, for example, offers two EMBA programs: a 19-month weekend program that meets in Durham, North Carolina, on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, and a 16-month Global EMBA program that involves four different global residencies as well as distance learning. So whereas traditional MBA programs can generally be compared on a relatively apples-to-apples basis, EMBA programs need to be considered more individually. Be sure to examine each option carefully to understand how it would fit into your work and even personal life, given that travel (including international!) may be required.
Although we have outlined a few major differences between these types of programs, one aspect remains the same: whether you enroll in an EMBA program or a traditional MBA program, you will graduate with an MBA degree. Some candidates worry that because an EMBA does not require a full-time commitment, the degree is not well regarded, but this could not be further from the truth—and clearly, the companies sponsoring EMBA students would disagree. From an institutional perspective, the EMBA and the MBA represent the same standard of educational excellence and academic achievement. You just need to determine which one is right for you. 📝
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