Executive MBA vs. MBA: Which Is Better For You?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 3, 2021

Choosing the right type of MBA program can be key to reaching your career goals. Here's how to figure out if an Executive MBA is right for you.

Executive MBA candidate wearing a turtleneck sweater in a large brick room smiles while looking down at her tablet.

People may decide to further their business education at any point in their career, so business schools often offer a range of programs that accommodate varying levels of expertise. An Executive MBA (EMBA) is an advanced business degree program designed for people who are about 10 to 15 years into their careers.

Students enrolled in a full-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) program are typically a few years into their career. On the opposite end of the spectrum, students with no formal work experience will often opt for a Master of Science (MS) in business.

In many cases, a business school will confer the same degree to both EMBA and MBA candidates, however they’ll structure the two programs differently to align with candidates’ expected skill levels and needs.

Choosing the right business degree program for you can help you get the most out of your education. Here are some key distinctions between EMBA and MBA degree programs.

What is an EMBA?

An Executive MBA (EMBA) is an advanced business degree program designed for professionals who are about 10 to 15 years into their careers. Candidates will often continue working while pursuing their degree, so classes are typically scheduled outside of normal business hours. More intensive instruction allows candidates to complete their program in two years—the same time-frame typical of a traditional MBA program.

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

Generally, EMBA and MBA programs result in the exact same degree. Some schools might differentiate between the two by adding “executive” to their EMBA degrees, but since the general content is consistent across programs, most top universities don’t distinguish.

The differences between EMBAs and MBAs mainly lie in the program structure, the student profile, and the tuition. Let’s break those down further.

EMBA vs. MBA program comparison

Executive MBAFull-time MBA
Typical program length2 years2 years
Typical scheduleFriday evenings and/or weekendsFull time
ConcentrationsTypically not required and sometimes unavailable, some programs offer limited elective options that allow students to build their own specializationMany programs offer or require majors or specializations in areas such as accounting, economics, finance, healthcare, marketing, operations, or strategy

EMBA and MBA programs typically fit the same amount of coursework into the same two-year span. One major difference is in the delivery of that coursework.

Full-time MBA candidates attend school full-time, may live on or near campus, and don’t usually have time for a full-time job while pursuing their degree.

EMBA programs usually schedule classes outside of typical business hours, on Friday nights and weekends, to accommodate candidates with full-time jobs. Many programs will also require pre-planned week-long seminars or immersive experiences a couple times over the course of the program. Candidates may live near campus or commute but won’t often live on campus.

EMBA classes tend to be more intensive than MBA classes for two reasons: (1) the condensed structure means more information is packed into each class, and (2) EMBA candidates typically enter their programs with significantly more work experience, naturally generating higher-level class discussions.

EMBA vs. MBA admission requirements and student profile

Executive MBAFull-time MBA
Common application componentsResume, essays, official academic records, application feeResume, essays, official academic records, application fee
Test requirementsGMAT, GRE, or Executive Assessment often optionalGMAT or GRE often required
Letters of recommendationOne or two letters of recommendation plus employer endorsement often requiredOne or two letters of recommendation often required
Work experienceApplicants have an average of 14 years of experience, and management experience often required [1]Applicants have an average of five years of experience, though typically not required [2]
Average age38 years [1]28 years [2]

Both EMBA and MBA programs typically have equally high admission standards, which vary depending on the school. In general, school admissions offices aim to consider applicants as whole people, looking at each individual’s academic profile, professional achievements, and personal characteristics.

The application process for both EMBA and MBA programs are similar, with most programs including the same basic requirements: a resume, essays, academic records and transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an application fee (which varies depending on the program). Some nuance pops up regarding test requirements, work experience, and employer endorsements.

Key EMBA and MBA application differences: Testing, work experience, and employer endorsements

A full-time MBA program will often require GMAT or GRE scores, plus one or two letters of recommendation from professional supervisors or academic advisors. Many programs won’t require work experience, however admissions counselors like to see at least two years of post-college experience, and admitted candidates enter top programs with five years of experience on average [2].

EMBA candidates enter programs with an average of 14 years of professional experience and almost nine years of managerial experience [1], and some programs require a minimum of five to seven years of experience to apply.

Because of an applicant’s proven experience, a number of EMBA admissions offices deem standardized tests optional. Some applicants opt to take the Executive Assessment in lieu of the GMAT or GRE, as it’s designed for prospective students with career experience.

Given the structure of EMBA programs, applicants may need to submit an employer endorsement in addition to their letters of recommendation. This letter indicates that an employer is supportive of the applicant’s educational pursuit and will offer some flexibility when it comes time for those immersive experiences.

Read more: How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Part-time and online MBAs: A happy medium

If you don’t have the professional experience required for an Executive MBA program but want to maintain a full-time job while pursuing your degree, you might consider looking into part-time programs and online programs.

Both of these MBA options can offer more flexible scheduling than full-time programs, and can help you achieve similar career goals. Class structure and discussion level will align more closely with that of a full-time MBA program, however it may take a bit longer to complete your degree. Depending on how many classes you take each semester, a part-time MBA may take between three and five years to complete.

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EMBA vs. MBA cost and return on investment

The cost of EMBA and MBA programs can vary greatly—from tens of thousands of dollars to over $200,000—depending on the school you attend. Within the same school, there may be some price differences between EMBA and MBA tuition and fees, and full-time MBA programs may have additional costs associated with room and board.

For more information on tuition, check out your prospective school’s website. Take note of whether they report tuition annually, by semester, or for the total cost of the program. They will likely show a breakdown of the fees, and if you’re looking at a public university, may offer a lower tuition to in-state students.

EMBA employer sponsorship

Attending business school is an investment. Some schools may offer scholarships or other forms of financial aid, and students pursuing an EMBA may be able to offset tuition costs with employer sponsorship.

Employer sponsorship is when an employer pays for part or all of their employee’s EMBA tuition. These agreements may come with a requirement that the employee continues working for the company for a certain amount of time after completing their degree program in order to guarantee that the company will benefit from the investment.

In 2020, 28.6 percent of EMBA candidates reported receiving partial employer sponsorship and 17.6 percent reported full employer sponsorship [3]. If you are interested in securing employer sponsorship for your EMBA program, ask your employer about options.

EMBA vs. MBA salary and career growth

It’s difficult to do a direct comparison between EMBA salary and MBA salary because people tend to seek these degrees at different stages of their careers. Research does indicate, however, that both EMBA and MBA graduates are likely to receive a salary increase alongside receipt of their new credential—but there’s no guarantee that earning an EMBA or MBA degree will lead to any specific outcome.

According to a 2020 survey of 1,619 primarily US-based EMBA students, the average salary and bonus package for candidates at the start of their program was $169,269, and by the end of their program had risen to $193,200. Additionally, 39 percent of students surveyed reported receiving a promotion during the program [1].

A separate 2021 survey reports that the median salary for MBA graduates at US-based companies is $115,000, while direct-from-industry hires make a median salary of $75,000 and bachelor’s degree holders make a median salary of $65,000 [4].

Earning power aside, either degree has the potential to increase your career opportunities, according to a 2021 study. Overall, 87 percent of people who received a graduate business degree believe the experience increased their employability, 79 percent believe the experience increased their earnings power, and 88 percent of US graduates report feeling a positive return on investment [5].

Does an EMBA have the same value as a full-time MBA?

Since many universities confer the same degree to both EMBA and MBA graduates, the two degrees will typically look the same on a resume and hold the same value on paper.

One potential difference, however, is in the network students acquire during their program. Because they’re more condensed, EMBA programs tend to section their students into cohorts. As an EMBA student, you may be taking classes with the same group of people throughout the degree process. Full-time MBA programs have a bit more flexibility since there tends to be a wider range of class options and more room for customization.

Additionally, because EMBA candidates are often looking to continue advancing in their established line of work, the career services offered to EMBA candidates may be different than those offered to MBA candidates. MBA candidates may participate in on-campus career fairs or recruiting events that are geared toward people earlier in their career looking for new employment. EMBA candidates will more likely receive services such as executive coaching, offered by 83.3 percent of EMBA programs, geared toward later-stage career advancement [3].

Getting started with your MBA

If you’re thinking about pursuing your MBA, the first step is to research the various types of business degree programs and determine which feels right for you at this point in your career, or if it might make more sense to wait a few years before applying. In the meantime, you might consider trying an open course from the University of Illinois or Macquarie University to see if an MBA is right for you.

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Master of Business Administration (iMBA)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Global Master of Business Administration (Global MBA)

Macquarie University

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Related articles

Article sources

1. Executive MBA Council. "Research in Context: Industry insights, https://www.embac.org/research-in-context.html." Accessed November 2, 2021.

2. Poets & Quants. "Average Age & Work Experience At Top MBA Programs, https://poetsandquants.com/2019/11/27/average-age-work-experience-at-top-mba-programs/." Accessed November 2, 2021.

3. Executive MBA Council. "Industry Stats to Know, https://embac.org/research.html." Accessed November 2, 2021.

4. Graduate Management Admission Council. "Demand of Graduate Management Talent: 2021 Hiring Projections and Salary Trends, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/employment-outlook/2021_crs-demand-of-gm-talent.pdf." Accessed November 2, 2021.

5. Graduate Management Admission Council. "Alumni Perspectives on the Value of Graduate Management Education, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/measuring-program-roi/2021_gmac_research_brief_alumni_value_of_gme.pdf" Accessed November 2, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 3, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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