What is an Executive MBA (EMBA)?

A common trait among many executive leaders and business managers is a continuous pursuit of knowledge and education.

If you fall into that category, you might be considering pursuing further education in the form of an MBA degree. But when you hold a focal position in a company, it’s often hard to take time off to attend a full-time MBA program, which typically lasts two years.

Fortunately, academic institutes recognized this. And as a result, more institutes are offering MBA programs that accommodate the needs of busy executives working full-time.

Nowadays, the aptly named executive MBA aims to sharpen the leadership skills of business leaders, and it continues to be a popular choice among those who missed out on MBA programs early in their careers.

So if you’re interested, read on to learn everything you need to know about executive MBA programs and how they compare to traditional MBA programs.

What is an Executive MBA Degree?

An executive master’s of business administration degree, or EMBA, is a unique variation on traditional full-time MBA degrees that caters to seasoned business executives.

The primary purpose of an executive MBA program is to provide further academic opportunities delivered as part-time education to full-time executive employees leading busy work schedules.

Traditional MBAs target young, ambitious graduates with a few years of work experience looking to establish a career in business management.

In contrast, executive MBA programs tend to skip the basics of business management and jump right into the intricacies and nuances of working in business.

In other words, EMBAs are more about teaching executives how to perform their jobs more efficiently, while traditional MBAs aim to teach ambitious youngsters how to get that job in the first place.

According to a survey by the Executive MBA Council, the average EMBA student is 38 years old with 14 years of working experience, so you can imagine how different that is from MBA students in their twenties.

Another vital aspect of EMBAs is flexibility. A full-time MBA course typically has a fixed schedule that students abide by.

In contrast, EMBA schedules are somewhat malleable to match the students’ needs.

For example, an EMBA course can be formatted in many ways, from a few intensive monthly classes to two or three days per week and everything in between.

As a result, a complete EMBA program can last anywhere between 12 and 24 months, depending on how the professors put it together to accommodate the busy schedules of working students.

In the end, an EMBA is still equivalent to a regular MBA. Some schools even exclude the word “Executive” from the degree.

Are you ready to take your career to the next level?

Nexford's Career Path Planner takes into account your experience and interests to provide you with a customized roadmap to success.

Receive personalized advice on the skills and qualifications you need to get ahead in areas like finance, marketing, management and entrepreneurship.

Take the quiz to get started now!

Standard MBA vs Executive MBA - A Detailed Rundown

What exactly sets an executive MBA program apart from a traditional full-time one? That’s what we’ll analyze in this section by comparing the two options in four aspects: admission requirements, length and pace, cost, and academic life.

Here’s a comparison table that analyzes both programs at a glance. For a detailed comparison, scroll down past it.

Admission Requirements

Since the two programs cater to different demographics at different career stages, the admission requirements are also different.

Traditional MBA applicants are relatively young, usually 25-35 years old. They also typically have less work experience, with 3-5 years being considered average.

Since MBA candidates are relatively inexperienced at work, schools use scholastics tests like the GMAT and, less commonly, the GRE to distinguish between applicants during the application process.

Most schools require at least 600 on the GMAT for admission to their MBA programs, but this can be as high as 700+ for the top schools.

On the other hand, EMBA applicants are mostly managers with over a decade of work experience under their belts. As a result, they typically don’t need an admission test like the GMAT to prove their capabilities.

Instead, schools analyze each applicant’s experience and distinguish between EMBA applicants based on the quality of their previous work.

Both programs will likely require their applicants to submit a letter of recommendation (or more) during the process.

For youngsters applying for an MBA, these letters are usually from their college professors. However, EMBA applicants need a letter from their employer approving their academic journey, especially since the program will likely have to coordinate with the student’s work.

Lastly, international students from non-English speaking countries will have to submit test scores from an English aptitude test like the TOEFL or IELTS.

Program Length

The length of either program isn’t set in stone, especially for EMBAs.

Typically, a traditional MBA program lasts two years of intensive, full-time study, especially in the USA, Canada, and Australia. However, it’s usually only a year in Europe.

MBA students working full-time can even stretch their courses out to three or four years to accommodate their jobs. This is less common since the program caters to unemployed students ready to study full-time. Or, at most, they can work part-time or freelance.

Executive MBA programs can also last two years, which is the minimum prerequisite study duration to pursue a PhD after completing a master’s degree in the USA. In Europe, an EMBA program lasts one year only, just like a regular MBA does.

Since EMBA programs are sometimes recalibrated to fit the students’ schedules, they can last somewhere between a year and two. For example, 16 and 22 months are common formats.

Course Pace

Full-time MBA students study at a pace comparable to that of bachelor’s degree students. In fact, MBA students can have it more intense since the curriculums are harder, depending on their ability to grasp new knowledge.

By comparison, EMBA students do their coursework in sporadic yet intense bursts. Usually, classes happen after the evening, on a Friday, or at the weekend when the students aren’t busy with work. As such, there’s no room for everyday studies like in traditional programs.

To summarize, full-time MBA students study consistently throughout the semester, while EMBA students spread the coursework throughout their free time.

But to avoid overwhelming students, EMBA programs usually omit parts of that curriculum that they deem basic knowledge to experienced managers. They also typically offer little to no elective coursework.


Possibly the most significant point of comparison between the two programs is the cost involved and the financial implications of pursuing a master’s degree.

High-quality education is notoriously expensive. But it’s an investment that many graduates self-fund to prepare for their future in business.

And since the applicants are typically unemployed, they take out long-term loans or get family assistance to pay off tuition.

Programs also offer scholarships to the most academically gifted applicants. But we’re talking the top 1% or even less. So it’s safe to say that most MBA applicants self-fund their journey.

In comparison, EMBA students get a full-time executive salary while studying and don’t pay as much on permanent housing and commute. So you can already visualize how starkly different the financial implications are on EMBA applicants.

Moreover, many EMBA students have their tuition fees covered by their employers, who see this as a way to train their executives and bring some new skills to work.

The catch with employer-funded programs is that the employee has to stay with the company for several years to come, though.

Academic Life

Living permanently with other full-time MBA students means there are more opportunities for meeting new people through extracurricular activities like student activities, sports, clubs, and other activities.

These social events allow students to establish new social networks, which could help them with work opportunities in the future.

And since MBA students are typically under 30 years old, this aspect of college life is something to look forward to.

You can imagine how different this is for an EMBA student nearing 40 years old, working full-time and possibly even married with kids—of course, having so many responsibilities besides academics leave very little room for leisure.

EMBA students can still establish valuable networks, though. It’s just going to take a bit more time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an Executive MBA Equivalent to a Master’s Degree?

This largely depends on who provides the program. Research the specific institute you’re after and see if their EMBA program is accredited. In most cases, it should be. But if the program lasts less than two years, it won’t be equivalent to a master’s degree that enables you to pursue a PhD.

What is the Value of an Executive MBA vs MBA?

A popular misconception is that the “Executive” in EMBAs makes them more valuable. This isn’t true as both degrees hold the same merit.

Learn how to develop the most in-demand skills for your future career!

Discover how you can acquire the most in-demand skills with our free report, and open the doors to a successful career. 

Download the free report today!

The Bottom Line

MBA and EMBA programs essentially offer the same degrees adjusted to different demographics. MBA applicants are typically graduates with a few years of experience looking to expand their career opportunities, while EMBA applicants are seasoned managers who want to hone their skills while working full-time.

Since EMBAs have to coordinate with a student’s busy schedule, they often don’t include elective courses to avoid cramming the busy calendar or basic chapters in mandatory courses because their students should already have that knowledge.

Many employers fund their executives’ EMBA tuition fees as long as they commit to the company for years to come. That’s because they see it as a worthwhile investment with a good return on investment for the business.

So if you’re stuck somewhere between both choices, ask yourself: can I quit my job to pursue an MBA? If yes, then go ahead. Otherwise, consider joining an EMBA program.

Ready to take the next step and discover how a Nexford MBA could increase your salary as a working professional? Download our brochure or book a call with our Nexford Advisors!

About the author
Joe McGoldrick
Joe McGoldrick

Known for strategy and attention to detail

Joe has more than 10 years of marketing experience, working within the public sector, client-side, and agency side.

He is passionate about using data and customer insights to improve marketing performance.

Join our newsletter and be the first to receive news about our programs, events and articles.