Executive MBA Programs (EMBA): Everything You Need to Know

 

Should I pursue an Executive MBA?

You are considering sharpening your management skills and come across two options: the Executive MBA (EMBA) and the full-time MBA. You naturally ask yourself, “What is the difference between these two choices?” The MBA and the EMBA are actually quite similar in terms of curriculum but vastly different in terms of class composition, time commitment, length of program, age at matriculation, start time, location, and other such factors. Let us delve into whether an Executive MBA program is the better choice for you. But first, you might be surprised to learn that some prestige MBA programs do not even offer an EMBA.

 

Which business schools offer an Executive MBA?

You have always dreamed of going to the Stanford GSB, and now you want to apply to its Executive MBA program. “Let’s do this!” Right? Not so fast. Although the Stanford GSB often tops the MBA rankings, it does not have an Executive MBA program (though it does offer a one-year, full-time master’s in management program for senior managers). If you are now thinking you will just target Harvard Business School’s Executive MBA instead, surprise! Harvard does not offer an EMBA either (though it does offer non-degree executive education). In fact, of U.S. News & World Report’s top-ten programs, only seven have an Executive MBA option, and of U.S. News & World Report’s top-ten EMBA programs, only six also appear in the publication’s top-ten full-time programs. Meanwhile, you might be saying, “I have always wanted to enroll in the Wharton EMBA, but I’m on the West Coast.” If so, you might be happy to learn that Wharton offers an Executive MBA program in San Francisco! Yes, EMBA options are more varied than MBA options. For example, the University of Chicago has programs in Chicago, London, and Hong Kong, and London Business School offers its EMBA in London and Dubai. In short, do not assume that what you know about MBA programs is also true of Executive MBA programs.

Which schools offer an EMBA?

U.S. News & World Report’s Top Ten MBA Programs (2021) EMBA Offered?
Stanford GSB No
UPenn Wharton Yes
Chicago Booth Yes
Northwestern Kellogg Yes
Harvard Business School No
MIT Sloan Yes
Columbia Business School Yes
Berkeley Haas Yes
Yale SOM Yes
Dartmouth Tuck No

Do MBA and Executive MBA programs operate on the same schedule?

Generally, the leading MBA programs tend to start in late summer and conclude approximately 21 months later. Students are typically on campus full-time, except for weekends, holidays, and summer internships. Although some exceptions exist, this format can be considered standard among top business schools, and among U.S. programs in particular. The best Executive MBA programs, however, do not share a standard structure, though each one tends to be roughly 21 to 24 months long.

Let us take a look at two different options for the same Executive MBA curriculum offered by Columbia Business School (CBS). The school’s EMBA-NY Friday/Saturday program begins in August and meets, as its name suggests, on both weekend days for two months. In addition, it requires two five-day residencies at the beginning of two of five semesters. Meanwhile, the EMBA-NY Saturday option begins in May and meets only on Saturdays, meaning that the program is ultimately longer at 24 months; plus, it requires three three-day residencies to start its six terms.

That CBS and London Business School (LBS) have a joint EMBA program—the EMBA-Global Americas & Europe program—is noteworthy. This program meets over three terms, with 12 blocks that are each typically four days in duration; this means that you would complete 50 days at LBS and CBS, 38 of which are weekdays. Clearly, program structures can differ vastly even within a single business school! As a result, you should never take anything for granted based on what you know about traditional MBA programs; you have to really understand how the many different EMBA programs operate.

When will I be on campus?

School Structure
Chicago Booth Friday–Saturday biweekly (Chicago); Monday–Saturday (Hong Kong/London); all students spend three weeks in Chicago, one week in London, and one week in Hong Kong
Columbia Business School Varies by program: every Saturday; every other Friday–Saturday; five to six days once a month
Northwestern Kellogg Friday–Saturday biweekly (Evanston); Thursday–Sunday monthly (Miami)
UCLA Anderson Friday–Saturday biweekly or monthly
Michigan Ross Friday–Saturday monthly; two off-campus residencies
SMU Cox Fridays or Saturdays on alternating weekends; some half days
UPenn Wharton Friday–Saturday biweekly; one week-long global residency
Duke Fuqua Friday–Sunday monthly (Weekend); four ten-day global residencies plus two two-week residencies in Durham (Global)
UNC Kenan-Flagler Once weekly and two immersion weekends (Evening); Friday–Saturday every three weeks plus occasional Sundays and an immersion week (Weekend)
NYU Stern Friday/Saturday biweekly (NYC); Friday–Sunday once a month (DC); international requirement (both)

Keep in mind that even though you might be on campus only two or four days each month, these days are action-packed; you will be completely immersed in your EMBA environment. For example, you might spend Friday evening with your classmates, perhaps in study groups or attending speaker presentations and workshops, and then a full Saturday of multiple classes, as well as other networking events.


Where do EMBA programs meet?

Many top EMBA programs can meet in alternative locations. Perhaps you have always wanted to attend the Booth EMBA and also live in Asia. Good news—Booth has a location in Hong Kong. Similarly, for any West Coasters who want the benefits of the vast Michigan Ross alumni network, the school also has a location in Los Angeles! The different location options that many EMBA programs offer can be very appealing for candidates who live far away from a business school’s primary campus.

Where will my EMBA program be taught?

School Location
Chicago Booth Chicago, London, Hong Kong
Columbia Business School New York City (partnerships with LBS and the University of Hong Kong/international option features travel within the Americas)
Northwestern Kellogg Evanston and Miami (campuses in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Toronto, and Vallendar-Düsseldorf)
UCLA Anderson Los Angeles; international requirement
Michigan Ross Ann Arbor, MI; Los Angeles
SMU Cox Dallas, TX; international requirement
UPenn Wharton San Francisco; Philadelphia; international requirement
Duke Fuqua Durham, NC (Weekend); varying international locations (Global)
UNC Kenan-Flagler Chapel Hill, NC (Evening, Weekend)
NYU Stern New York City or Washington, DC; international requirement (both)

How large is an Executive MBA class?

You have no doubt heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” With respect to EMBA programs, you will certainly be investing in (and benefitting from) both. The networking aspect of the Executive MBA is a significant appeal for candidates. On Day One, you will meet other ambitious and successful leaders with whom you will share this valuable experience. Students take the same classes together at the same time throughout the course of the program; this is known as a fixed cohort, and it allows you to really get to know your classmates. Of course, your network will extend beyond your specific cohort (or cluster) to include the program’s alumni as well. Note the following class sizes for the top Executive MBA programs.

How large are EMBA programs’ class sizes?

School Size (incoming classes of 2020, * denotes average)
Chicago Booth 224 (includes all three locations)
Columbia Business School 152 (includes two clusters)
Northwestern Kellogg 195* (includes two locations)
UCLA Anderson 140–150*
Michigan Ross 88 (includes two locations)
SMU Cox 80
UPenn Wharton 217 (includes two locations)
Duke Fuqua 215 (Weekend); 92 (Global)
UNC Kenan-Flagler 133* (includes both EMBA programs)
NYU Stern New York City or Washington, DC; international requirement (both)

Is the Executive MBA the right option for me?

MBA P/T MBA EMBA
Location Fixed Fixed Fluid (relative)
Commitment 2 years 2–6 years 1–2 years
Fixed Cohort Yes No Yes
Employed During Program No Yes Yes
Stage of Career 4–5 years 4–5 years 12–15 years
Management Experience Preferred Preferred Mandatory
Career Changers Yes/No Yes/No No

Where you currently are in your career is the primary factor to consider when deciding whether the Executive MBA is the best option for you. Typical candidates have 12 or more years of work experience and are in a manager-level role; they are looking to continue an upward trajectory at their company and become a more effective leader. This is a primary reason employers support such candidates and often finance their tuition; the employers expect that the experience, knowledge, and network the students attain during the Executive MBA will be put to good use at the firm and hope that the EMBA will develop the students into valuable professionals who will be long-term leaders at the company. If this type of MBA program interests you, discuss this option with your employer. They might provide psychological, as well as financial, support. Your EMBA experience could be a win-win for you and your company.


How much work experience do EMBA students have?

A significant difference between an EMBA and a full-time MBA is the extent of each student’s professional experience. If you are able to visit campus and sit in on a class in each of these types of programs, you will find that the classroom discussions are quite different. Because EMBA students generally have more (and more impactful) work experience, their discussions tend to be at a higher level. This is an important aspect of EMBA programs, some of which even have a minimum requirement of work experience. In general, Executive MBA programs make sure that all students have significant professional experience so as to be able to productively contribute to classroom discussions. The following chart illustrates the differing expectations for applicants’ work experience at the best Executive MBA programs.

What are the minimum expectations for work experience in an EMBA program?

School Work Experience
Chicago Booth 13 years average
Columbia Business School 9 years average
Northwestern Kellogg 14 years average
UCLA Anderson 8 years minimum; 14 years average
Michigan Ross 14 years average
SMU Cox 8 years minimum; 15 years average
UPenn Wharton 12 years average
Duke Fuqua 9 years average (Global), 11 years average (Weekend); 5 years minimum (both)
UNC Kenan-Flagler 10 years average (Evening); 13 years average (Weekend)
NYU Stern 14 years average (NYC); 13 years average (DC)

Which EMBA programs require a standardized test score?
Can I take the Executive Assessment instead of the GMAT?

One additional advantage of the EMBA is that you do not need to take the GMAT or GRE to apply. If you have been out of school for over a decade, not having to study for such an intense test might be quite appealing. Check with each school to determine its specific requirements. Some Executive MBA programs might require you to submit a standardized test score, but these schools generally accept the Executive Assessment (EA) as well as the GMAT or GRE. The EA requires less studying than the GMAT or GRE, and although you will likely need to attain a certain minimum score on the EA to be admitted, your score will not need to be within as high a percentile as it would for the other, more traditional exams. (Note that all test scores are valid for five years after the test date.)

Be aware that if your target school requires a test score of some kind, you might have the option of waiving that requirement by submitting a test waiver request form.

Some EMBA programs do not require even the EA, so you would not need to submit any test score at all with your application. This news is often well received by applicants who have not taken a standardized exam since college!

Keep in mind that even if you are not required to submit an exam score with your application, doing so might be a wise move. If your application does not show that you possess sufficient quantitative ability to handle the academic rigors of the program’s curriculum, a test score can help demonstrate that you can. And this is a crucial quality that admissions officers seek in applicants.

Which Executive MBA programs require a test score?

School Tests Required/Accepted
Chicago Booth Requires EA, GMAT, or GRE
Option for test waiver
Columbia Business School Requires EA, GMAT, or GRE
Northwestern Kellogg No test score required
*In very specific circumstances, you might be asked to take GMAT based on a review of your transcript.
UCLA Anderson No test score required
*You might be asked to pursue additional quantitative support, such as completing a relevant course after admission.
Michigan Ross No test score required
SMU Cox No test score required
UPenn Wharton Requires EA, GMAT, or GRE
*The EA is accepted for applicants with eight or more years of full-time work experience.
Duke Fuqua Requires EA, GMAT, or GRE
Option for test waiver
UNC Kenan-Flagler No test score required (except for applicants to the Evening MBA who have fewer than five years of full-time work experience)
NYU Stern No test score required

What does an EMBA program generally cost?

The cost of an Executive MBA program is slightly higher than that of a full-time MBA program. However, keep in mind that the program fee for the EMBA covers books, most meals, and even hotel accommodations for global residencies. For example, the program fee for the Chicago-based Booth EMBA program is $22,500. This fee plus the tuition of $171,500 brings the total to $194,000. For comparison purposes, tuition for the Booth two-year MBA program is approximately $150,000, but this excludes any other costs, such as housing and books. Estimates tend to show that all in, a two-year, full-time MBA program will be more expensive than an EMBA program.

The high price of the EMBA is often less of a deterrent than the price of a full-time program, given the stage of the EMBA student’s career, plus the fact that many students will be sponsored by their employers. The following table shows the total program cost for the top Executive MBA programs.

How much do EMBA programs cost?

School Cost
Chicago Booth $194,000 (Chicago); $167,000 (Europe, Middle East, Africa); HKD1,355,000 (Hong Kong; approx. $174,785)
Columbia Business School $213,240
Northwestern Kellogg $217,836
UCLA Anderson $167,992
Michigan Ross $168,500 (Michigan residents); $173,500 (non-residents)
SMU Cox $123,495
UPenn Wharton $210,900
Duke Fuqua $145,875 (Weekend); $152,000 (Global)
UNC Kenan-Flagler $88,608 (Evening); $119,305 (Weekend)
NYU Stern $204,000 (NYC); $173,400 (DC)

 

Is an Executive MBA worth the investment?

If you are an aspiring executive at your firm and are seeking an environment in which to both learn from and network with other ambitious leaders, then the Executive MBA is an ideal option. You will be able to develop your already strong leadership skills using advanced management practices. You will also learn high-level business concepts that will help you add value and address challenges in your firm. The EMBA curriculum is designed to position you to make an immediate impact at your company. You could pick up new management strategies on a Saturday and implement them at work on Monday!

In the Executive MBA, you will be afforded an opportunity to immerse yourself in a community of like-minded professionals, many of whom are already successful leaders in their field. Through attending MBA courses, participating in events, and even traveling together and sharing meals, you will form genuine bonds with your classmates. These mutually beneficial relationships can really pay off in the long term as you seek advice, potential clients, or even a possible change in employment.

The opportunity cost of the Executive MBA is certainly lower than that of a traditional full-time program, too, given that you will maintain your employment while pursuing your degree. You might also feel confident that your experience will lead to next-level success at your firm (though this is something we suggest you discuss with your employer before applying). If you are willing to spend some weekends away from home, within two years, you will have set yourself up for career advancement, having gained valuable knowledge and experience, as well as a lifelong network.

 

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