What Is an Executive MBA Program?

Cynthia Paez Bowman picture
Cynthia Paez Bowman
Updated June 17, 2021

If you’re a business professional and want to maintain full-time employment while pursuing a graduate business degree, consider assessing the differences among the traditional Master of Business Administration (MBA), executive MBA (EMBA), and fully employed MBA (FEMBA) programs. 

Until recently, the coursework for EMBA programs was not considered as comprehensive and rigorous as those in traditional MBA programs. The normally one-year EMBA programs were expensive by comparison, and their main feature was the opportunity to network with top executives at well-known companies if you chose the right school. Many of today’s EMBA programs have evolved beyond the old reputation for being an abridged version of a real MBA. 

To assist you in selecting the right MBA program that will take you to the next level professionally, here is a breakdown of the differences between an MBA and an EMBA and what to expect with each program.

What is an EMBA, or an Executive EMBA?

An EMBA is an advanced degree developed for professionals who already have first-hand experience in the business field and a firm grasp of the essentials. Although you will revisit many foundational business topics, the purpose of doing so is to develop nuanced skills that will assist you in becoming a better executive.  

EMBAs are typically intensive and demanding in order to successfully manage your existing work while pursuing an EMBA. You may have little time for recreational pursuits. However, an EMBA is a lock-step program in which you remain with the same group of peers for the duration of the program. You’ll have an excellent opportunity to network and develop beneficial relationships with fellow executives while you develop your skills as a competitive business leader.

What is the Difference Between an MBA vs EMBA?

The traditional path for an aspiring business executive is to pursue a full-time Master of Business Administration program. However, the MBA is better suited for students who have yet to enter the business field and need to learn the core principles of business management. 

The best way to differentiate between an MBA and EMBA is to view the MBA as the educational track to enter the business management world over pursuing an EMBA to become a more effective leader.

MBAExecutive MBA
No work experience requiredExtensive work experience
To build an educational foundation in businessFor current professionals looking to hone their leadership skills
GMAT scores and essays most important for admissionsA work track record and support from the current employer most important for admissions
Intensive and leaving little time for workDesigned to balance the current work schedule with study

The differences between an MBA and an EMBA extend beyond who they’re most suited for. You should also expect different entrance requirements, schedules, curriculums, and focus areas.

Entrance requirements

Test results are typically the main focus of MBA admissions. While some MBA programs may require five years or less of relevant work experience, most programs require a passing GMAT or GRE score. The university or college determines what an acceptable score is, but for a point of reference, in 2019, GRE scores among the top U.S. business schools ranged from 319 to 330. In 2021, the average GMAT score among top U.S. business schools ranged from 639 to 733. 

In addition to passing test scores, you’ll also need to show proof of a four-year Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, official transcripts, a resume, and sometimes letters of professional recommendation. 

Entrance requirements for an EMBA program are a bit different. In addition to the requirements for an MBA program,  EMBA programs often require a minimum of eight to 12 years of full-time relevant work experience, at least one interview, essays, and sometimes employer sponsorship. 


The traditional MBA program is designed to be a rigorous full-time schedule completed in two years or less. If you are working in addition to pursuing an MBA, you may decide on a part-time schedule to be completed in three to four years. These programs are typically offered in-person, online, or a hybrid approach. Online MBA programs have become more common throughout the years as people seek to balance their work lives with continuing education.

On the contrary, EMBA programs are designed with working professionals in mind. This often includes a fast-paced weekend schedule that gives you the flexibility of focusing on your career throughout the week and your EMBA on the weekends. EMBA’s can usually be completed in one year. 


Traditional MBA programs are created with up and coming business professionals at the curriculum’s forefront. You should expect to complete around 36 credit hours in a variety of broad-based fundamental business administration courses in areas such as:

  • Finance
  • Accounting
  • Communication
  • Ethics
  • Statistics
  • Business law
  • Business management
  • Economics
  • Supply chain
  • Marketing

If you have a business-related undergraduate degree, you may be wondering why you would need to take these courses again. MBA programs take those courses and turn them up several notches, changing the focus from a general understanding to a higher managerial level of thinking. 

The EMBA curriculum skips through the fundamental business management courses, with the assumption that business professionals with extensive work experience will already be well educated on those topics. Instead, the curriculum centers on 30 or more credit hours of executive-level management and data-driven analytics courses, and building relationships with other professionals.


The MBA’s focus is to prepare you to become a business professional, whereas an EMBA’s focus is to make existing business professionals even better. EMBA degree programs account for the fact that you have probably spent the better part of a decade in the field, so the focus is on improving your existing skills.

An MBA program assumes you’re starting from a Bachelor’s degree, so the focus will be on teaching students about the field.

How Much Does an EMBA Cost?

Considering that more than half of EMBA students fund their own education and the trend is expected to continue increasing, the cost of an EMBA is an important factor.

The cost of an EMBA depends on the school you choose, length of study, and the number of electives you may choose. Ivy Execs found that the most affordable programs vary in price between $40,000 and $62,790 for an 18 to 24-month program. However, an EMBA could cost $170,000 or more if you choose a more prestigious school like The Wharton School or Columbia University.

It’s important to include the long-term ROI of an EMBA as part of the decision-making process. A recent EMBAC survey reports that 39 percent of students who responded received a promotion during the executive MBA program and saw an average increase in salary from $169,269 at enrollment to $193,200 by completion. 

Typical EMBA Student Profile

Students enrolled in EMBA programs usually are senior managers, recognized industry leaders, or executives, as the name of the program implies. They usually have seven to 10 years of relevant industry experience and are still seeking greater career challenges.

While senior managers attend EMBA programs to position themselves for promotions, executive-level officers often use these programs to refresh their business knowledge and gain new perspectives on organizational leadership. These students seek programs that are focused on the advanced issues that they face in their daily operations. 

It is assumed that these students already have a firm grasp of fundamental business areas. The high levels of job experience, demonstrated leadership abilities, and diversity among industries are some of the candidate characteristics for which admissions staff consider when they fill executive MBA program classes. 

In addition to professional diversity, the EMBA Council (EMBAC) survey found that the gender gap is subsiding, with the highest number of women on record (31.2%) enrolling in the program. These characteristics help to ensure stimulating and engaging class discussions that are beneficial for all.

Prospective students who want to keep their jobs while going to graduate business school but who do not yet have the work experience that is typical of EMBA students are likely to be more suited for Fully Employed MBA (FEMBA) programs. FEMBA programs usually have classes that are held conveniently on weekends, evenings and online for non-executive working professionals.

Common EMBA Course Topics

There are two basic types of EMBA programs available. 

The first is the uncommon two-year EMBA program that consists of advanced business education topics and overviews of major business area fundamentals like marketing, accounting, finance, and economics. The advanced business education topics often revolve around developing communication, leadership, and analytical skills. The core business fundamental courses often present topics that are tailored for managers in a global business environment.

One-year EMBA programs feature fewer foundational business courses and more advanced business topics that are often taught from a global business perspective. Many of these one-year programs differentiate themselves by offering you interactive lectures and conferences that are hosted by well-known industry experts. Some of these programs even include week-long, conference style lectures or corporate field trips abroad to help expose you to challenges within multinational organizations and to present you with unique networking opportunities.

While having a graduate business degree helps to distinguish you from your peers in most cases, it does not guarantee job security or advancement. Executive MBA programs benefit you the most if you have already been recognized by your company or industry as an outstanding performer.

Here are some common EMBA course topics: 

  • Foundations of leadership 
  • Teamwork and communication
  • Productivity management
  • Micro economics
  • Operations strategy

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