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25 Jun

Executive MBA vs. MBA: Five Key Differences

Executive vs MBA

Not all MBA programs are created equal. Many business schools offer multiple MBA degrees with different focuses, aimed at audiences at different points in their career and with distinct demands placed on them by their personal and professional lives. One of the most common variants to the traditional MBA is known as the executive MBA, or EMBA.

But what is an executive MBA, and how exactly does it differ from its more conventional counterpart? In this blog, we’ll explore five key differences to help you examine the difference between an executive MBA and an MBA and decide which one is best for you and your career goals.

1. Starting Point

As the degree name might imply, the executive MBA degree is aimed at an advanced class of business professional. The average starting age for an EMBA candidate is between 32 and 38 years old,1 which is significantly higher than the average starting age of 28 for full-time traditional MBA students.2

Consequently, while both types of business degree usually require professional work experience among their admissions requirements, executive MBA students tend to go into their programs with more work experience than their traditional MBA counterparts. EMBA students are generally expected to have a varied resume with demonstrated advancement and managerial experience. Conversely, MBA students more often require or recommend 2-3 years of professional experience.3

2. Time Commitment

Executive MBA programs are geared toward professionals who have already reached a point of some career success and heightened responsibility, and because their average age skews higher than that of conventional MBA programs, it is more common for EMBA students to have more settled family lives that are difficult to uproot as well. Because of this, executive MBA programs often only require attendance 1-2 days per week, often on weekends.4

A full-time, residential MBA program is not the only alternative to an EMBA, however. Top business schools increasingly offer online MBA programs to extend the benefits of flexible scheduling and work-life balance to a broader class of professionals. While you may take more classes and have assignments due more frequently in an online MBA program than in an EMBA program, asynchronous coursework, downloadable readings, and lectures available anytime through a digital learning management system can help you fit your MBA studies into your busy life.

3. Curriculum Focus

Because they are geared toward management class students, executive MBA programs offer a more generalist business education than many MBA programs, pitched at a higher, more strategic level. The goal of executive MBA programs is to launch students into upper management, so their curricula often lack introductory coursework and feature little to no electives and variation. They are structured solely to help successful professionals improve their leadership abilities.4

Conventional MBAs often offer a wider variety of classes. They may offer elective options, and they may even allow you to select from multiple concentrations or specializations. A strong MBA curriculum contains classes focused on hard skills like financial analysis and the use of analytic technologies alongside courses that center on soft skills like business communication and professionalization.

4. Career Aspirations

Students typically enter executive MBA programs after they reach a certain level of success in their careers but feel as though their upward climb may have plateaued. Because of this, EMBA students generally have very set career goals in mind. They want to move from management into the C-suite, and they see an advanced degree as a crucial signifier that can help them get there.3

Conversely, the goals for traditional MBA students range much more widely. Some may certainly share that desire for upward mobility within their own organization, but others may be hoping to change careers entirely. Conventional MBAs, with their broad range of coursework, are great for career-changers who want to pivot into a new opportunity. While successfully making the move into a new industry or field may require some extra work on your part,5 an MBA can be an essential gateway to this transition.

5. The Full Price Tag

Many of the top EMBA programs take the term “executive” very seriously, in ways that extend beyond their academic content. Because of the relatively low number of EMBA programs and the well-funded status of the students who partake in them and their parent corporations, they often require frequent air travel, stays in expensive hotels, and group meals paid out of pocket. When the costs of these lavish expenses are factored in alongside tuition (and many top business schools charge for an entire package inclusive of all of these accommodations), the price tag can run above $200,000.6

Conventional MBA programs in all but the highest tier are generally priced well below this, and lack the additional amenities. Online MBAs can also be particularly affordable options, as they generally require no commute at all. And if you conceptualize your own time and energy in terms of monetary value, the savings that online study can offer in those areas are quite enticing.


Choose Seattle University for an Unconventional Conventional MBA

The Online MBA program at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics can open the door to countless new professional opportunities. If you’re ready to apply today, check out our tips for demonstrating your value in your MBA application. And if you need a bit more convincing, take a look at the stellar professional network, with contacts in high-growth fields and well-established companies in the Pacific Northwest and Beyond, that you could join as an Albers alum.


1. Retrieved on June 6, 2019, from princetonreview.com/business-school-advice/mba-vs-emba
2. Retrieved on June 6, 2019, from chicagotribune.com/business/blue-sky/ct-bsi-older-mba-students-20170817-story.html
3. Retrieved on June 6, 2019, from poetsandquants.com/2019/04/18/mba-vs-emba-whats-the-difference
4. Retrieved on June 6, 2019, from huffpost.com/entry/emba-vs-mba-the-6-things_b_7842906
5. Retrieved on June 6, 2019, from poetsandquants.com/2018/10/18/admissions-tips-for-career-changers
6. Retrieved on June 6, 2019, from poetsandquantsforexecs.com/2018/07/05/what-it-now-costs-to-get-an-executive-mba/