Executive MBAs (EMBAs) are a relatively recent addition to the offerings of most graduate business schools. For years, the only such program was offered by the University of Chicago. Now there are numerous executive MBA programs offered by many of the top business schools in the world.

Executive MBAs are to be distinguished both from regular MBAs and from other executive programs. Full-time MBA programs, of course, meet daily and last up to two years. Part-time programs tend to have classes in the evening, and last for substantially longer than full-time MBA programs, largely because students are meant to take only one or two courses per term (whereas full-time students take many more per term).

EMBA programs offer the best of both the full-time and part-time programs: they generally last about as long as a full-time program, but—by scheduling classes in such a way that students with understanding employers can continue to work while still attending class—do not force students to give up their jobs. Other executive education programs, in contrast, may meet for one to ten or twelve weeks, but do not confer an MBA upon completion. On the other hand, not all EMBA programs offer the rigor or dedicated learning environment of their full-time analogs. Furthermore, continuing to work while studying at the intense pace of an EMBA program places very substantial demands on students.

The number of EMBA programs has grown dramatically in recent years. There are several factors underpinning this growth :

  • The degree continues to meet the needs of the many people who need to keep drawing a paycheck while attending school.
  • New scheduling options (shown below) have increased the flexibility of the degree, making it possible for more people to attend EMBA programs.
  • Underlying this new flexibility is increased use of the distance-learning possibilities offered by the Internet.
  • New types of programs have developed. It is now possible to do a specialized degree in finance (Stern/NYU), healthcare (Fuqua/Duke), or other fields. Just as importantly, some of the newer programs attempt to mimic the full-time programs by offering a similar number of contact hours (in class, with professors and other students) and similar rigor (really teaching the nuts and bolts of accounting and statistics, for instance).
  • Courses mimicking full-time programs have often opened their doors to much younger applicants than the traditional programs welcomed. Wharton, for example, considers applicants in their late twenties to be perfectly acceptable candidates.


Fortunately, there is no agreement as to what constitutes the ideal structure for an EMBA program. Although many programs last approximately two years, many are much shorter (little more than a year) or longer (up to four years). Some are lockstep (the whole cohort takes the same classes together), whereas others offer multiple options as to starting dates, speed at which to complete the program, and course electives.
The scheduling of courses likewise varies enormously. For instance, UCLA’s program meets every second weekend (Friday and Saturday) for twenty-four months. The Trium EMBA (the joint offering of Stern/NYU, the London School of Economics, and HEC [Paris]) is structured in modules: a 12-day module in London; 12-day module in New York; 8-day module in Asia; 12-day module in Paris; 8-day module in Latin America; and 12-day module in New York, spread over sixteen months. Different formats for executive courses continue to evolve.


The range of EMBA programs—and locations—is now stunning. Wharton offers a program in Philadelphia and another in San Francisco. Chicago continues to offer programs in Chicago, Barcelona, and Singapore. Kellogg offers programs in Chicago and Miami and, through partner schools, in Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, and Israel. Johnson’s (Cornell) program involves less of a geographic stretch than these others: It is offered in New York City rather than in its Ithaca home.

Whereas American programs are generally about two years long, European EMBA programs tend to be shorter. INSEAD’s program, for instance, lasts 14 months; Institut Empresas, in Madrid, has a 13-month program. IMD’s program can be completed in as few as 16 months or stretched out over as many as 48.

Columbia and London Business Schools, which continue to offer their own executive MBAs, now offer a joint degree program under the EMBA-Global label. So, too, do Stern (NYU), the London School of Economics, and HEC (Paris), under the Trium name. Five schools—Rotterdam, Kenan-Flagler (North Carolina), EGADE-ITESM (Mexico), FGV-EAESP (Brazil), and the Chinese University of Hong Kong—across four continents, have joined to offer “OneMBA,” while the various constituent schools still offer their own EMBA programs.

London Business School, Sloan (MIT), and Stanford still offer the venerable Sloan Master’s programs, which are unlike a normal executive program insofar as they require full-time attendance for ten months (although MIT now offers a part-time, two-year option as well) but are still aimed at seasoned executives.

Comparison of Full-Time & Executive MBA programs
S.No. Parameters Full-Time Executive
1 Average Age (at start of program) 25 to 30 32 to 41
2 Total Fees $50-135,000 $60-160,000
3 Acceptance Rates 6-20% 20-70%
4 Electives as Percentage of Total Courses 45-95% 0-50%
Advantages of Executive MBAs
  • An employer is more likely to pay your tuition if you can keep working while attending the program.
  • If you stay in your current field, and continue to work for your current employer, the chances of being able to deduct the cost of the program from your taxable income are good.
  • By staying on the job you can eliminate the cost and risk of searching for employment at the end of your program.
  • You keep getting paid during your studies.
  • You do not have to relocate for your studies.
  • You can often employ what you learn on the job as you learn it. Conversely, you can draw upon your ongoing relevant work experience to enhance your performance in the program.
  • The students are generally older in an EMBA than those in the full-time program, so they should be reservoirs of information and skill. They also represent a great networking opportunity.
  • Executive MBA programs are generally relatively short, so you can complete the degree more quickly than you can a part-time program. You may even be able to complete it more quickly than you could a full-time program, although it is an open question whether you can learn as much in such a situation.
Disadvantages of Executive MBAs
  • You will not be able to commit yourself to your studies and to your classmates the way you could if you attended school full-time. The result is that you will probably feel you have not mastered as many of your courses as you would have had you been a full-time student.
  • Your job performance may suffer so much, due to the effort you must make for your classes, your unavailability to travel on certain nights, and so on, that you will not increase your responsibilities or salary as you would if you could devote yourself more fully to your job. Your company, aware of this possibility, may resist your attending the program in the first place.
  • Your classmates are likely to be from the surrounding area, meaning that you may have few from other countries—and many from just a few com¬panies.
  • Scholarship aid is seldom available, although loans often are.
  • If you receive any sponsorship from your company, you may be precluded from using many career services, especially the opportunity to interview on campus with other companies.
  • When you have completed all or much of your program, your company may not recognize that you have improved your skills and thus may be unwilling to promote you or increase your pay. On the other hand, the company may fear that you are going to leave it given that you have improved your résumé and your visibility.
  • Not all employers value Executive MBAs as highly as they value full-time MBAs, as they are widely regarded as vastly less rigorous than their big brothers, the full-time programs.
  • Some EMBAs are indeed less substantial than the full-time programs at the same schools, especially if they have a different faculty and dramatically fewer contact hours. Similarly, some have far fewer elective courses available, making it very hard to customize a pro¬gram to your needs or to become a functional expert.
  • It is hard to participate in the same range of out-of-class activities as full-time students easily manage.
  • If you want to transfer into the school’s full-time program, note that this is not permitted at many schools.
  • It is hard to get to know your fellow students well enough to profit from extensive networking opportunities.
  • The relative shortness of many executive MBA programs means that you will simply learn less than in a longer, more intensive full-time or even part-time program.

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