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What are the Differences Between an MBA and an Executive MBA?

Choosing which degree program to enroll in is one of the most important decisions that students have to make. And for those choosing between different graduate business degrees, it can make quite a difference for your future career prospects as well as the (sometimes) steep program costs. In the field of business administration you have a number of choices at the graduate level. Two of the most common graduate business administration degrees include MBAs and Executive MBAs (EMBAs). After reading this post, you should have a better understanding of what topics and requirements both degrees involve and which one may be right for you.

MBA Program Overview And Outcomes

A Master’s in Business Administration, or MBA for short, is an internationally recognized master’s degree and an oftentimes competitive degree type that will give you many of the essential components to succeed in a career in management or entrepreneurship. Whether you are looking to gain a competitive advantage in your chosen field, or are looking for a new direction, earning an MBA will equip you with the leadership, managerial, and communication skills needed for better organizational management. With a traditional MBA, you will gain an integrated view of business, the competence to collaborate cross-functionally, and proficiency in the hard and soft skills that employers seek in candidates. Generally speaking, MBAs are a widely-accepted degree type among upper management and leadership positions across industries. Whether you’re seeking to work in health care, information technology, non-profits, finance, education management, or engineering, many managers in these fields have expanded their knowledge and influence through obtaining MBAs.

If you think a traditional MBA program might be in your future, make sure to check out our ranking of the best online MBAs today.

Executive MBA Program Overview And Outcomes

‘EMBA’ simply stands for ‘Executive Master of Business Administration’ and despite the name difference, both MBAs and EMBAs require extreme dedication and commitment and are overall pretty much equal in terms of prestige and ROI. With that said,
EMBA programs are generally associated only with those who have already worked for several years in their business of choice,
and particularly with those already in management or executive positions. EMBAs typically assume familiarity with fundamental business concepts, and are thus able to jump into more advanced coursework. This often allows EMBA students to graduate in the same amount of time as MBA students, while taking less coursework.

EMBAs equip candidates with a unique skillset that prepares them to become better leaders, communicators, and team players. As a matter of fact, an Executive MBA places a strong emphasis on teamwork and diversity so you will most likely study and network with a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds and industries.

After earning an executive MBA, you may decide to stay in your current position and take on more responsibility, or pursue promotion opportunities.

If you think an executive MBA might be in your future, make sure to check out our ranking of the best online executive MBA programs today.

Executive MBA Candidates

Although both traditional MBAs and EMBAs generally take 1-2 years to complete, the programs tend to vary in pace and mode of delivery. For instance, EMBA participants are generally enrolled part-time and study mostly online at a more intense pace while juggling work and personal life.

An EMBA program is aimed at senior- and mid-career executives who not only want to continue to work full-time while pursuing a degree but also have existing expertise and industry knowledge. Essentially, an EMBA is catered toward working professionals with varied and extensive business experience–commonly in the range of 10-15 years. Prior work experience is often one of (if not the) most heavily weighted admissions standards for executive MBAs. In some cases, prior experience may even allow candidates to bypass entry exams and a lengthy application process.

Traditional MBA Requirements

In contrast, for full-time MBA study, emphasis is very much placed on GMAT scores and essays. Although, applicants are often also working professionals at the time they enroll in a full-time MBA program, usually only three years of work or managerial experience is required. Additionally, a traditional MBA allows time for a more immersive student experience and to gain access to a larger network of students. MBA students are traditionally enrolled full-time and have the options to study on campus and online. Furthermore, accelerated options are commonly offered for MBAs allowing students to bypass core courses and take electives that match students’ career goals and help build professional networks.

Curriculum EMBA vs. MBA

Generally, the curriculum of an EMBA program will resemble that of a regular MBA in much of its subject areas and content. Common core coursework will certainly cover analytical, functional, and ethical areas. Some examples include strategy, leadership, finance, and corporate social responsibility. Moreover, in recognition of the globalization of business, teaching is increasingly geared toward an understanding of the social, economic, and environmental aspects of international business and, thus, ensures that participants gain comprehensive, innovative, and applicable skills. Consequently, an ideal program is one that will prepare you with a robust foundation for excellent analytical skills, solid strategic thinking, and exceptional teamwork but also for the key challenges we face today.

What sets apart an Executive MBA is that it offers a more global outlook than a traditional MBA, and, in fact, almost two-thirds of EMBA programs now require a trip overseas as part of the course. In short, an EMBA will develop your global perspective on business while an MBA will give you the option to go more in-depth into the specialization of your choice. Furthermore, there are often many specializations available in MBA programs. This is rarely the case for EMBA programs. EMBA programs will often present a “generalist” MBA course of study geared slightly towards more senior leadership.

Examples of MBA specializations are finance, non-profit, entrepreneurship, and strategic leadership. You may also opt to pursue a dual degree such as a JD-MBA–a program that mixes business leadership with legal expertise as well. If you think you might be interested in specializing your MBA, make sure to check out our rankings of the best online MBA programs for a wide variety of specialization types. Although there are some targeted EMBAs as well, they generally offer fewer electives than their MBA counterparts. A further aspect of an EMBA curriculum is its emphasis on not only strategic perspective and versatility, but also, and perhaps surprisingly, on personal development.


Traditionally, students of executive MBA programs have their studies funded by their current employers while, in contrast, full-time MBAs are likelier to be entirely self-funded. Thus, when deciding between an MBA and an Executive MBA, one should consider the overall cost of the program versus its ROI, or consider the option of gaining more work experience in order to enroll in an EMBA later in life.

Career and Salary Outcomes

For both MBA and EMBA recipients, managerial positions are available in a vast range of fields. MBAs and EMBA holders are employed in the fields of Consulting, Consumer Products, Financial Services, Health Care, Manufacturing, Media/Entertainment, Nonprofit, Petroleum/Energy to Real Estate, Retail, Technology Transportation & Logistics Services–the possibilities are endless. In fact, between 80 and 90 percent of healthcare, pharmaceuticals, technology, energy and utilities, finance, non-profit, and manufacturing companies are common destinations for MBA graduates. On top of that, the BLS projects that the average increase in annual pay for fresh MBA graduates is 80%.

Naturally, salaries vary quite widely across industries — limiting the accuracy of averages — but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for consultants was $138,204 (where salaries start at $65,000, and may reach up to $175,000), while the annual wages for financial services was $128,090, (low salaries start at $64,000 and may go as high as $250,000). Other lucrative sectors include technology with salaries averaging $119,713, and the energy field with salaries averaging $130,167.

Whether you are starting your own business, fast tracking to the C-suite, or contemplating a consulting position, earning a Master’s in Business Administration is an opportunity to make an impact in all sectors and all areas of the world.