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MBA vs. EMBA: Which Choice is Right for Your Career?

Are you a mid-career professional thinking about going to business school? For many people who consider returning for a business degree after spending some time in the workforce, getting an MBA is the default choice. Many candidates don’t realize that an EMBA program is an option for them.

That shouldn’t completely come as a surprise; MBA programs do tend to be significantly larger than EMBA programs. For example, Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA graduating class of 2016 consisted of 483 students, more than twice as many as the 195-member EMBA class of 2016.


At Yale SOM, the numbers were even more stark, with 334 students enrolled in the MBA class of 2018, compared to 71 students in the EMBA class of 2018. But while there are fewer students who are the right fit for an EMBA program, it’s important to carefully evaluate which degree is the right choice for you.

The two degree programs have a lot of similarities. Most top business schools offer both MBA and EMBA degree options, often taught by the same faculty and on the same campus. However, that doesn’t mean the programs are interchangeable.

It’s a common misconception that the only difference between an MBA and an EMBA is the amount of experience required to be admitted to the program.

In reality, the primary difference between an MBA and an EMBA lies in who the degrees are designed for. This core difference helps shape how the programs are structured, what they teach, and who they admit.

Who is an MBA program designed for?

An MBA is typically used to launch a student’s career in a particular direction. Sometimes, as with Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program, that’s because the students are actually at the very start of their career.

But in most cases, MBA students are using business school either to do a career pivot (generally in the case of students who have moved around in their career and now know what it is that they want to do) or to push them to the next level (very common with students pursuing a standardized Finance path, or who are ready to move into management).

At most top business schools, the first year MBA core curriculum is focused heavily on foundational courses and leadership development. For example, Yale SOM divides the majority of its first-year courses into an “Orientation to Management” series and an “Organizational Perspectives” series.

Management courses cover fundamental skills and concepts like Basics of Accounting, Modeling Managerial Decisions, Basics of Economics, and Managing Groups and Teams. The Perspectives series helps students understand the needs of an organization from many different viewpoints, including employee, investor, customer, operations, competitor, and the global macroeconomy.

MBA programs are offered in a variety of programs lengths and arrangements, including part-time, online, and one-year programs, but by far the most common choice in the US is the two-year full-time MBA, completed on campus. The two-year program allows students to spend much of their first year in business school focusing on core course requirements, followed by a summer internship and a second year where they are able to delve into electives, concentrations, and specializations.

Who is an EMBA program designed for?

There’s a reason that EMBA programs are called Executive MBAs. EMBA programs are typically designed for professionals who have been in the workforce for several years, and are currently working in middle management. Although business schools do not always explicitly require a certain number of years experience in order to apply for an EMBA, most programs have an average candidate experience level of 10 to 15 years.

One significant difference between MBA and EMBA programs is the rate of career change. Most MBA candidates opt for full time programs that require them to drop out of the work force for two years and consequently make it much more likely that students will change companies, job roles, or even industries after completing their degree, that kind of change is much less common with EMBA programs.

Because of the nature of the program’s schedule, most EMBA programs require applicants to provide evidence of company support in terms of time off to complete course work. Financial support is not typically required, but according to the Executive MBA Council, nearly one in four EMBA students received full sponsorship for their degree in 2014, and more than one in three received at least partial scholarship.

This points toward the EMBA as a degree for candidates who want to advance within their company and industry. While there are certainly students who use an EMBA as an opportunity to change careers, in most cases EMBA students are those who are looking to lead on a regional, global, or company-wide level.

While most MBA students attend school on campus full time, EMBA programs are designed to be completed around their students’ work. The specifics vary by school, but typically students attend class all day Friday and Saturday on alternating weekends, often supplemented with out-of-class work or occasional week-long residential periods. An EMBA degree is generally completed within two years.

The core curriculum of an EMBA program is usually very similar to that of the MBA program at the same school, with more advanced or role-specific courses offered later in the program. For example, at Yale SOM both MBA and EMBA students take the Orientation to Management and Organizational Principles courses.

In the second part of the program, when MBA students move on to elective courses, EMBA students complete an independent study project and several Advanced Management courses in one of three areas of focus (Asset Management, Healthcare, and Sustainability). Advanced Management courses include Managerial Controls, Competitive Strategy, Designing and Leading Organizations, Corporate Finance, and Business Ethics Meets Behavioral Economics.

In addition, EMBA students are required to take part in the Global Network Week, during which students participate in “a week of intensive study and immersion in an alternative business environment” as a part of Yale’s engagement with the Global Network for Advanced Management.

How do MBA and EMBA programs compare?

MBA and EMBA programs cover a wide range of territory, particularly when it comes to aspects like the cost of the program, the requirements for admission, and the course structure. However, there are still several differences between the two program types.

For specific comparisons between programs at an individual school, take a look at these examples:
– The Wharton School of Business – MBA or EMBA: Which is right for me?
– Yale School of Management – MBA vs. EMBA Program Comparison
– NYU Stern School of Business – Compare MBA Programs

The chart below gives you an idea of ranges and averages for several key differentiators between EMBA and MBA programs at top business schools:

Program length 1 – 2 years 20 – 24 months
Program structure Full time (Monday – Thursday or Monday – Friday) Class on alternating weekends (Friday & Saturday) plus two or more longer residential periods
Tuition cost $120,000+ for two year programs (tuition typically does not cover books, supplies, living expenses, or any other associated costs) $170,000+ for two year program (tuition typically covers all program fees and materials, plus housing and meals for class weekends and residential periods, but does not cover transportation)
Average work experience 3-5 years (range of approximately 0-10 years) 10-15 years (range of approximately 5-25 years)


Should you pursue an MBA or an EMBA?

Choosing between an MBA or an EMBA in order to advance your career starts with a healthy dose of introspection. Take stock of where your career is right now, where you want it to be, and whether you are more interested in making a change or gaining advanced skills within your current industry.

If you’d like to get a broader perspective on which degree is the right choice for your career, EXPARTUS can help. We work with candidates for top business schools to help them refine their personal brand, choose the schools that will be the best fit for their career goals, and craft an effective application strategy. You can get in touch with us at to learn more about what we can do to help you get into business school.