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What Is an Executive MBA?

Matt Kefford

Matt Kefford - BusinessBecause

Matt Kefford is a writer for BusinessBecause and mba.com.

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If you’re an experienced management professional with c-suite aspirations, an Executive MBA will help you lead your organization and progress your career.

What is an Executive MBA? Here’s everything you need to know.

The first Executive Master of Business Administration, or Executive MBA, was introduced by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 1943, 35 years after the MBA came into existence.

Like the MBA, the Executive MBA (EMBA) provides a holistic business education across a range of subjects like finance, marketing, accounting, and more. The EMBA degree also focuses on leadership and helps boost your business skills, knowledge, and network, but is designed for more experienced professionals.

If you’re in a leadership role, or aspire to be, enrolling in an EMBA could be the next step in progressing towards the c-suite. So how much does an EMBA cost? What types of EMBA programs are there? And is an EMBA worth it?

Who is an Executive MBA for?

Executive MBA programs attract a variety of professionals from different industries and countries around the world.

The EMBA class at London Business School includes students from more than 100 countries, with an average of 28 nationalities in each class. Students come from industries including finance, oil and gas, transport, consulting, and healthcare.

The main difference between an Executive MBA and an MBA is that EMBA students are typically more experienced, executive-level professionals who already hold management positions. The EMBA at MIT Sloan School of Management, for example, accepts students with 10 years of work experience, while at Wharton the average work experience is 12 years.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 65 percent of EMBA students are age 31 or older.

EMBA programs are nearly always part-time, designed for busy working professionals. If you want to work while you study, and already have significant work experience, you could be a good candidate for an EMBA.

“The EMBA gives leaders the opportunity to develop an edge in their management capabilities and build a network that lasts a lifetime,” says Mike Miccoli, Associate Director, Marketing, MIT Executive Degree Programs.

Types of Executive MBA

Executive MBA

The traditional EMBA is a part-time program designed to fit around the busy schedule of a management professional. Courses are offered in evenings or at weekends, or during intensive study periods of usually one or two weeks, often combining online study with lively face-to-face interactions.

EMBA students work closely alongside their classmates, looking to fine tune their management and communication skills, and expand their network while sharing knowledge with other experienced leaders. Cohorts are also usually smaller than traditional full-time MBAs.

Online Executive MBA

Online Executive MBA programs offer even more flexibility to students. You cover the same curriculum, but can attend classes from anywhere in the world from your computer. Online EMBA programs may include a residential component, with portions of the program taught in-person.

Specialist Executive MBA

You can find some EMBA programs with specialisms in international business, sustainability, and healthcare at specific schools.

In the US, schools like UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and Columbia Business School offer STEM EMBA programs, incorporating a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math in the curriculum.

For international students, these are desirable programs to enroll in as the STEM-designation allows you to stay and work in the US for up to three years after completing the program without an H-1B visa.

Executive MBA Courses & Curriculum

The EMBA curriculum is usually broken down into two sections. The core section contains the fundamental modules, covering business, leadership, and management skills, including:

  • Accounting
  • Business Ethics
  • Corporate Finance
  • Decision and Risk Analysis
  • Data Analytics for Leaders
  • Economics
  • Executive Leadership
  • Leadership Development
  • Marketing
  • Operations Management
  • Strategic Management

The elective section includes optional modules you can choose to specialize in which are aligned with your interests.

Elective modules may include topics like private equity and venture capital, entrepreneurship, mergers and acquisitions, asset management, and more, with options varying between different schools.

Your school may also offer electives which involve a deep dive or more advanced take on a core topic, with modules like advanced corporate finance or advanced macroeconomics. You will usually study the core part of the program before specializing later on in the course.

EMBA programs blend theoretical with practical learning. You will study past cases showing best and worst business practices and will get the chance to go on corporate visits and attend networking events and guest speaker sessions, where industry experts, executives, and CEOs are invited to talk. 

“The attraction of doing an EMBA is that it allows you to apply what you have learned through part-time learning directly to your current career,” says Aram Karakashian, director of global marketing and recruitment at Imperial College Business School.

EMBA programs encourage you to implement what you learn at work, report back, and discuss your organizational challenges in class. A 2020 survey from the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) revealed 53 percent of students saw their responsibilities increase at work during the program as they brought what they learned into the workplace.

You will also get the opportunity to travel. Over 90 percent of EMBA programs offer international opportunities, including modules taught in multiple countries, exchange programs, and internships.

“You not only learn a lot of new ideas and ways of thinking, but you expand your network of close friends and professionals, and all of them can contribute to you in the future,” says Dante Bustos, who became CEO of a motorcycle company after his EMBA at CEIBS.

Executive MBA Jobs Prospects

Completing an Executive MBA program will help you make a bigger impact within your company, make more effective decisions, and take on more responsibilities and leadership roles.

According to EMBAC, 39 percent of EMBA students receive a promotion after graduation. You’ll boost your jobs and salary prospects and open opportunities across industries.

Jobs for Executive MBA graduates include c-suite roles (CEO, CFO, CMO, COO etc.), VP roles, and senior consultant and partner roles at top consulting firms.

Companies that hire the most MBAs also hire EMBA graduates. These include Amazon and Microsoft, the Big Three management consulting firms—Bain, BCG, and McKinsey—Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

The leadership skills you develop during an EMBA can also equip you to become an entrepreneur. After more than a decade in employment, many EMBA students use the degree to launch their own business, or enroll in a program to help their startup grow.

Alexandre Kangah used his EMBA experience at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business to launch his own consultancy. “An EMBA gave me the opportunity to develop more business skills and open my consulting firm to new markets,” he says.

Executive MBA Salary: What can you earn?

Completing an EMBA degree will unlock some of the highest potential salaries among all business school graduates. In 2020, the average EMBA graduate salary three years after graduating from a top-100 program ranked by the Financial Times (FT) was US$223,000.

EMBA salary figures vary depending on the business school you graduate from, your industry, role, and location.

Graduates from the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA program—ranked first in 2020 by the Financial Times—earn over US$528,000 on average three years after graduating, while EMBA graduates from IBS Moscow-Rapena, ranked 52nd, earn around US$317,000.

Wherever your school ranks, you can be sure of a positive salary increase after graduation. On average EMBA graduates at the top 100 schools saw their salaries rise by 57 percent three years after graduation.

In 2020, EMBA graduates increased their total compensation by over 14 percent on average immediately after graduation—including salary and bonuses—despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive MBA Cost: Is an EMBA worth it?

EMBA programs come at a cost. The average tuition cost of an Executive MBA globally is US$82,000, according to EMBAC.

The average cost of tuition for the world’s top-five EMBA programs, according to the FT, is over US$141,000, with the HKUST-Kellogg EMBA the most expensive at US$185,650.

There are more affordable well-ranked EMBA programs. A place on MIP Politecnico di Milano’s EMBA costs US$40,000.

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So, is an Executive MBA worth it? While the cost is significant, there are various funding options and benefits to keep in mind:

  • Enrolling in a part-time EMBA program means no opportunity cost—you can continue to work and earn a salary to fund your studies at the same time. You also avoid the additional costs associated with full-time programs such as living on campus.
  • There’s a chance your employer could sponsor part of the cost, as an investment in you and the skills you will bring back to them. In 2020, 17.6 percent of EMBA students received full sponsorship from their employers while 28.6 percent received partial sponsorship.
  • Business schools offer scholarships to students of varying amounts, with the majority of students receiving some form of financial aid.

Ultimately, the impact an EMBA can have on your career and salary means you can achieve a strong return on your investment shortly after graduation.

Executive MBA admissions: Applying for an EMBA

Typical EMBA admission requirements include:

Business schools favor management experience, international experience, and a proven track record working in teams.

You will need to complete an application form and provide documents including your resume, references, applications essays, and any transcripts for degrees you have completed in the past.

You can submit your GMAT score or your Executive Assessment (EA) score, a test designed specifically for EMBA candidates and accepted by business schools globally.

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Your test scores are considered along with the rest of your application and aren’t the deciding factor in successfully applying. If you have a strong application in other areas, substantial high-level work experience for example, then a below-average GMAT score may be accepted.

So now you know the answer to the question: What is an Executive MBA? You have all the knowledge and tools you need to successfully apply to an Executive MBA program and the next step is choosing your school.

Ready to apply? Get your free copy of our MBA Application Guide for Working Professionals for expert guidance on elevating your story and help you stand out from the pool of other qualified applicants.


Matt Kefford

Matt Kefford - BusinessBecause

Matt Kefford is a writer for BusinessBecause and mba.com, writing stories and creating social media content covering business education. He's also a contributor to the GMAC Connect Blog.

Matt is an experienced media professional, he’s previously written for national news organizations including The Sunday Times and i News, as well as a number of regional titles. He’s also worked in social media for Sky News.

Matt has a B.A. in History from the University of Leeds and an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Sheffield. He is also a gold standard accredited journalist with the National Council for the Training of Journalists.