The economy is changing, and now is the time to retool. If you’ve been in the workforce for a while and are considering business school, you may be wondering how a regular Masters degree differs from an Executive Masters degree. Our consultants at The Art of Applying® are here to help!
What is the difference between a Masters and an Executive Masters?
The key difference between a Masters and an Executive Masters is the extent to which these degrees cater to mid-career professionals. Most applicants to Executive Masters programs plan to continue working while they pursue their degree.
By contrast, many Masters programs in the United States — especially in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math)— prioritize academic research.
What is the “executive” in an Executive Masters? Is an Executive MBA (EMBA) equivalent to a Masters?
Masters degrees come in types. They are all more or less academically equivalent, but they offer different learning experiences and career outcomes.
The term “executive” connotes leadership in business, the nonprofit world, and the public sector. That is broadly true of most English-speaking countries. In the context of an Executive Masters program, it also means you have the flexibility to continue working while you complete your degree.
An Executive MBA is a type of MBA. Unlike a field-specific Masters program (for example, a Master of Science in Finance), an MBA is a general Masters in Business Administration. Therefore, an Executive MBA is a type of MBA designed for mid-career professionals. Most people who pursue an EMBA have managerial experience.
Many of our clients earned their MBA from elite business schools like Wharton, which offers the same curriculum for MBA and Executive MBA candidates.
At any given school, the difference between an MBA and an Executive MBA program often depends on admissions criteria. Some programs require more years of work experience than others. We are here to help you determine which option is best for you.
Some of the most popular executive programs in business for experienced executives among our clients are the Wharton EMBA, MIT Sloan Fellows MBA, LBS Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy, and Stanford MSx.
Many of our clients also apply to the Harvard Kennedy School Mid-Career MPA.
Who should pursue an Executive MBA?
Anyone with managerial experience who values leading and learning should consider applying to an EMBA program. This includes international professionals, US permanent residents, and eligible DREAMers.
How long does an Executive Masters take?
Most Executive Masters degrees take two years to complete. The exact requirements vary depending on the school and program, but most Executive Masters programs offer some degree of built-in flexibility. Students can often tailor the curriculum to their needs.
What is the average age of an EMBA candidate?
Most EMBA candidates are in their late 30s and 40s, whereas many MBA candidates are in their 20s. While these statistics may seem daunting, EMBA programs are designed for mid-career professionals.
Many applicants in this life stage have personal obligations, which means that the built-in flexibility of the EMBA curriculum also serves nursing or parenting students. It’s all about finding the right program and making it work for you!
Who is qualified for an EMBA? How can an EMBA advance your career?
The best EMBA programs in the country can expect applicants to have 10-15 years of professional work experience. This differs from comparable MBA programs, which often only require 2-8 years in the workforce. EMBA applicants are also more likely to have managerial experience than many of their MBA counterparts.
With an EMBA in hand, you will be a more knowledgeable leader. You will also be able to apply what you learn in real time, since the EMBA curriculum allows you to continue working while you enhance your leadership skills.
How important is GPA when applying to EMBA programs?
As with any academic undertaking, the admissions criteria for EMBA programs vary by school. Most requirements are available online. If you are serious about applying, we recommend that you do your research and begin preparing your materials early.
Most EMBA programs will request:
- previous transcripts (undergraduate and graduate, if applicable)
- your resume
- 2-3 recommendation letters
- the GMAT, GRE, or EA
- at least one personal statement
Do you need to take the GMAT to apply to EMBA programs?
Admissions decisions are usually holistic, but elite EMBA programs seek applicants with a high GPA and a competitive GMAT, GRE, or EA score.
Our admissions consultants at The Art of Applying® offer personalized coaching to help you navigate these particular requirements.
Is an EMBA better than an MBA? Is an Executive MBA worth the investment?
This one is tricky! In principle, an EMBA program is of the same caliber as a traditional MBA program. The difference is that EMBA programs allow their students to continue working, and many EMBA applicants have more work experience than their MBA peers.
The caveat is that not all programs are created equal. This is true if we compare two EMBA or two MBA programs to each other. For the comparison to be accurate, then, we need to be sure that we are comparing elite EMBA programs with their MBA peers.
You should also find out how your degree title will appear on your transcript. An EMBA from Wharton is academically equivalent to their traditional MBA. The differences between these two programs lie in their admissions requirements and curricular structure. However, there are some programs out there that simply want your money. We are here to help you read past the marketing and choose the right program for you.
An EMBA from the right school is well worth the investment. Many of our clients have successfully applied to and earned degrees from the country’s current top-five business schools: the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and of course Harvard Business School.
Is a Masters in Executive Leadership worth the investment?
Masters programs in Executive Leadership vary in quality, so prospective applicants are advised to research similar degrees. In addition to MBA and EMBA programs, or other types of Executive Masters degrees, prospective applicants to Executive Leadership programs should consider pursuing a Mid-Career Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from a competitive institution like the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Is there an ideal age to begin an Executive MBA? Is 40 too old? What about 50?
We estimate that the typical EMBA applicant is about 38. However, don’t be discouraged if you are older than 38. Business schools, like the private sector, recognize the value of diversity. That includes age, although there may be benefits to pursuing an EMBA before seeking senior leadership roles in your organization.
Can you fail out of an EMBA program?
Unfortunately, yes you can fail out of an EMBA program. It is always possible to fail out of an academic program. Although business school can be a major investment, paying tuition expenses does not immediately correlate with an earned degree. Success in an EMBA program requires a combination of time, discipline, and work-life balance.
If you are concerned about your performance in your Masters program, you should speak to your professor during office hours, attend any TA office hours and study sessions available, ask your classmates for help, consider getting a tutor, and rule out any conditions that may be affecting your learning such as ADHD or dyslexia.
How competitive are EMBA programs?
The most competitive EMBA programs — like the Wharton EMBA — are direct equivalents of their traditional MBA counterparts. Although the national demographics of MBA programs are changing, Black (7% of Wharton’s 2024 MBA Class) and Latinx applicants (5% of Wharton’s 2024 MBA Class) remain significantly underrepresented at elite business schools.
Our consultants at The Art of Applying® value your life experiences. We are here to help you tell your story, to help you capitalize on your strengths, and to help you enhance your application.
What are the benefits of an EMBA program?
The benefits of elite EMBA programs are comparable to those of elite MBA programs. Here’s a fun fact: Chicago Booth was the first university to launch an EMBA program back in 1943. Since then, the concept has exploded in popularity!
An EMBA offers flexibility for mid-career managers, parenting students, and others who may not otherwise be able to return to school. Most programs offer night classes, Saturday courses, or hybrid learning opportunities.
With so many options and a rapidly changing economy, now is the best time to apply for an EMBA.
What types of graduate degrees do CEOs have? Do most CEOs have EMBAs?
Most CEOs still hold a traditional MBA, though that may soon change with the rising popularity of EMBA programs. Both degrees prepare business leaders for senior leadership roles.
Some CEOs in select industries like law or medicine also hold technical degrees in their fields. (In the United States, those degrees are respectively known as the J.D. and M.D.) And many PhD candidates in the sciences are now combining their doctoral research with an MBA to excel in the private sector.
Can you pursue a PhD after earning an EMBA?
Yes, although it makes more sense to pursue a joint MBA/PhD. You can read more about how that works in our blog post about joint PhD/MBA programs.
What can you do with a MA in Executive Leadership?
An MA (Master of Arts) or MS (Master of Science) in Executive Leadership prepares graduates to hold senior leadership roles in major corporations, nonprofit organizations, and the public sector.
However, prospective applicants to these programs are strongly advised to consider alternatives like an MPA (Masters in Public Administration). Many of the country’s best MPA programs are housed in elite institutions, but not all of them. We are here to help you find the right program for your needs.
Most graduates of EMBA programs secure important and influential leadership roles within the private sector. They value built-in flexibility that EMBA programs can offer, and they are keen to apply their new knowledge.
How can The Art of Applying® help me prepare a competitive MBA or EMBA application?
Our admissions consultants at The Art of Applying® have been coaching MBA, Mid-Career MPA applicants, and EMBA applicants since our founding. Whether you’ve finalized your list of programs or are in the earlier stages of the process, we are here to advise you on every step of the process.
With so many opportunities for graduate education available, it’s important to understand your options. While the MBA remains highly respected, the built-in flexibility of the EMBA caters to mid-career professionals. Prospective applicants may also consider alternatives, like an Executive Masters or Mid-Career MPA.Want to learn more about how we can help? Complete your Applicant Profile to explore working with us today.
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