EMBA vs MBA: Which is Better? A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing

EMBA vs MBA – Which is better? A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing Your Degree

Executive MBAs (or EMBAs) are a lesser-known route to getting an MBA. Generally, applicants tend to think of EMBAs as a “watered-down” MBA – but this may not always be true. In this article, we will discuss the differences between the EMBA vs MBA, the pros and cons of each degree, and explain why it is more or less suitable for applicants in different circumstances.

What is an EMBA?

Background – Executive MBAs originated in the mid-20th century to meet the educational needs of managers and executives. These degrees, unlike their traditional MBA counterpart, allow students to earn an MBA in two years or less, while still working full-time.

Curriculum – Unlike MBAs, which typically include a core curriculum as well as a number of electives, EMBAs tend to focus almost entirely on the core curriculum, eliminating much of the electives. Thus, it would be more appropriate to label the EMBA curriculum as “concentrated” rather than “watered-down”.

Some EMBA programs, such as the Yale EMBA, have specific areas of focus, and are intended to attract executives from particular industries. For example, at Yale School of Management, the three primary areas of focus for their EMBA program are: Asset Management, Healthcare, and Sustainability.

Thus, while an EMBA may be the right degree for your needs, you should be especially careful to ensure that the curriculum for the EMBA is focused on your areas of interest.

Logistics of Attending an EMBA Program – Potential EMBA applicants are often (justifiably) concerned about adding to their already busy full-time schedule. However, most EMBAs are well-tailored to even the busiest full-time jobs. For example, Daniel Hartley, a graduate of Wharton’s EMBA program, explains: “I was frequently working 100-hour weeks as a Director at Boston Capital, but had little trouble balancing my schedule. Classes were held in Philadelphia every other Friday and Saturday, so I just traveled every two weeks, for a couple days.”  

A schedule consisting of classes every other Friday and Saturday is very common among EMBA programs. Some programs, including Wharton, will have a weeklong “immersion” at the beginning and/or end of the program, to jumpstart the curriculum.

Cost – Although the EMBA vs MBA is generally shorter, in many cases, these programs are not necessarily less expensive. For example, Wharton, Kellogg, Columbia, and NYU-Stern’s EMBA programs all have a total tuition cost (for the entire program, not per year) of more than $170,000.

You can see a full-list of the most expensive Executive MBA programs below, courtesy of our friends at Poets and Quants:

Figure 1: 25 Most Expensive EMBA Programs

School Total Tuition Increase Since 2011 2011 Tuition App Fee
 1. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) $181,500 5.4% $172,200* $180
 2. Northwestern University (Kellogg) $180,084 17.0% $153,900 $150
 3. Columbia Business School $175,200 18.1% $148,320 $250
 4. New York University (Stern) $170,200 18.2% $144,000 $215
 5. University of Chicago (Booth) $168,000 18.3% $142,000 $175
 6. London Business School/Columbia $166,911 15.8% $144,156 $250
 7. Duke University Global EMBA (Fuqua) $166,000 13.2% $146,600 $225
 8. Cornell University (Johnson) $161,360 15.5% $138,800 $150
 9. UC-Berkeley (Haas) $159,900 6.6% $150,000** $200
10. Trium (NYU/LSE/HEC-Paris) $159,500 13.9% $140,000 $180
11. Yale School of Management $155,500 NA NA $225
12. Hong Kong UST/Northwestern $155,000 24.5% $124,500 $200
13. London/HKU/Columbia $154,140 20.6% $127,920 $250
14. MIT (Sloan) $149,000 NA NA NA
15. Georgetown/ESADE $148,625 NA NA $175
16. University of Michigan (Ross) $146,000 12.3% $130,000 NA
17. UCLA (Anderson) $138,758 28.2% $108,240 $200
18. INSEAD (Europe section) $136,000 11.1% $122,400 $270
19. University of Virginia (Darden) $129,900 NA NA $250
20. IESE Business School $128,464 NA NA NA
21. Georgetown University (McDonough) $126,000 14.5% $110,000 $175
22. University of Southern Cal (Marshall) $123,000 10.8% $111,000 $150
23. Cornell/Queen’s University $121,530 17.2% $103,680 $150
23. Rutger’s University $90,000 —– $90,000 $73
24. Pepperdine University (Graziadio) $118,775 12.4% $105,650 $100
25. IMD $117,000 -11.7% $132,500 $210

However, not everyone should despair at these numbers. In many cases, companies and employers may be willing to partially or fully pay for EMBA tuition. In fact, in 2009 32% of companies completely reimbursed employees for the cost of their EMBA. Many of the companies that did not completely or partially reimburse employees for the cost of their degrees, offered incentive bonuses upon graduation.

In short, if you are thinking of applying to an EMBA (or an MBA), it is worth asking your employer whether they will help pay your way.

Rankings – if you are questioning the differences between an EMBA vs MBA, you may have noticed that the two degrees are ranked as separate programs. Still, the top MBA programs tend to also be highly ranked on the EMBA rankings. Bloomberg-Businessweek used to create the most definitive EMBA rankings, but discontinued those rankings in 2015. Nonetheless, you can get a good sense of the EMBA rankings from their 2013 and 2011 rankings below – or you can see their full rankings here.

Figure 2: Ranking of Top-20 EMBA Programs

Rank 2013 Rank 2011 Business School Location Graduate Poll Rank Director Poll Rank Teaching Curriculum Support
1 3 Northwestern (Kellogg) US 7 3 A+ A+ B
2 1 Chicago (Booth) US 20 2 B C C
3 7 SMU (Cox) US 1 16 A+ A+ A+
4 9 Pennsylvania (Wharton) US 30 1 A C A
5 5 UCLA (Anderson) US 8 6 B B C
6 2 Columbia US 13 4 C B B
7 4 IE Business School Spain 3 14 B C B
8 8 USC (Marshall) US 4 13 A+ A+ A+
9 14 Ohio State (Fisher) US 2 29 A A+ A
10 6 Michigan (Ross) US 6 10 A A A+
11 12 IESE Spain 5 18 A C B
12 11 UNC (Kenan-Flagler) US 9 12 A A A
13 NR Virginia (Darden) US 10 11 A+ A A+
14 10 Duke (Fuqua) US 29 5 C B A
15 27 Notre Dame (Mendoza) US 11 21 B A B
16 18 Insead France/Singapore 24 9 A A B
17 17 Maryland (Smith) US 12 21 A+ A+ A+
18 24 Georgetown (McDonough) US 14 16 A+ A B
19 28 IMD Switzerland 16 15 B A B
20 19 Esade Spain 15 42 B C C
21 13 NYU (Stern) US 32 7 C B A

But these rankings beg the question: should you actually care about the EMBA rankings? Ultimately, the value of an EMBA (or a regular MBA) boils down to three factors:

  1. How much you learn (many MBA graduates and critics believe this is actually the least significant of the three factors);
  2. Who you meet – the network and connections you establish; and
  3. Your employment prospects after graduation – where you can work, how much you earn, etc. For EMBA graduates, this question centers more on your ability to rise up in your current organization.

For factors 2 and 3 above, it may be safe to assume that sticking with the well-known and highly-regarded MBA programs is a safer bet. For example, employers (and other applicants) are unlikely to know that the Ohio State (Fisher) EMBA is higher-ranked than, for example, NYU-Stern. Thus, when considering EMBA programs, you should also consider the reputation of the MBA program overall.

Comparing the EMBA vs MBA

So which one is better? Let’s take a look at a the key considerations. We have also provided a graph summarizing these differences between the EMBA vs MBA below.

1. Time/Duration of the EMBA vs MBA: 

Are you in a rush? Do you need to get this degree quickly? Almost every MBA program is two years long. EMBAs, however, may be as little as 12 months long, provided you are ok sacrificing the name-brand reputation of your school. See, for example, the University of Toledo. For top-tier EMBA programs, the average length is between 20 and 22 months. So if time is of the essence, go with the EMBA.

Conclusion: Advantage EMBA

2. Age and Experience while receiving an EMBA vs MBA: 

EMBA students tend to be a little older than their MBA counterparts. The average age of an EMBA student is approximately 32-38 years old. In contrast, the average age of an MBA student at top programs is 27-29 years old.

Moreover, EMBA students typically have between 8-10 years of professional experience under their belts, whereas MBA students have between 3-4 years (or in some cases, are fresh out of undergraduate schools). If you are a seasoned professional, you may not have much to gain from networking with individuals significantly younger and less experienced. Thus, the EMBA would be the preferred choice for networking (and, most likely, for working with your peers).

But what if you’re younger – say, in your mid-20’s – then which program is better? From a networking standpoint, it seems that ingratiating yourself into a group of 30-something professionals pursuing an EMBA would be a fantastic opportunity. You can learn from your more-experienced peers, and gain valuable connections higher-up in large organizations and companies.

The downside of this approach is twofold: first, your age and relative inexperience might prevent you from being accepted. EMBA programs typically have groups of student that take all of their courses together. Part of the allure of these programs is that these students are at the same or similar points in their career trajectory. Admissions offices might not want to change the demographics of their incoming class by admitting younger students.

Second, the curriculum of an EMBA vs MBA may not be suitable for someone with less work experience. Typically, an MBA offers specialization options, like finance, real estate, marketing, or entrepreneurship, which allows students to customize their MBA education based on their interests. MBAs focus on academic fundamentals, and aim to provide students with an understanding of the core disciplines of business and management.

Conversely, EMBAs have limited customization, and the curriculum may be most suitable for individuals with extensive professional experience. The focus is on real-world application of concepts and theories, which may not resonate with individuals whose experience in the real world is limited.

Conclusion: All else being equal (see below about purpose of getting the degree): If you’re under 30, consider an EMBA only if you have extensive working experience, otherwise, go with the MBA; If you’re over 30, the EMBA might be the better choice.

3. Purpose of getting an EMBA vs MBA: 

Generally speaking, EMBA vs MBA applicants can be split into two groups: individuals who want to pivot in their professional career, and individuals who want to advance in their current career. For example, if you are a second-year associate at Bain or McKinsey, and you are looking to make a jump up in the company, you are in this latter group. On the other hand, if you are currently working at non-profit and want to make the move to consulting, you are in the former.

Although this is a generalization – and obviously contingent on the individual circumstances – the MBA is likely better for individuals wishing to pivot into a new career. Why? Because they will have limited knowledge of their intended industry or profession, and the specialization and elective options of an MBA will afford them the necessary foundation to start in a new direction. This would also apply to younger professionals, whose experience to this point is still too brief to be considered an expert, and should therefore lean towards the MBA.

On the other hand, for more experienced individuals wishing to simply rise in a given industry or institution, an EMBA may be the better choice – especially if the company is paying for it (see below).

Conclusion: If you want to rise in your industry or organization, and you have substantial experience, go with the EMBA; If you want to pivot in your career (or if you are a youngster), go with the MBA.

4. Cost/Tuition of EMBA vs MBA: 

MBAs are expensive. For the most part, so are EMBAs. MBA’s typically cost between $50,000 – $60,000 per year, for two years. EMBAs, on the other hand, have a much greater price range. The average EMBA tuition is $65,000 for the entire program – or roughly 50% of the typical MBA programs. On the other hand, the top-tier programs (as indicated above in Figure 1) may actually cost more than the traditional MBA.

In addition to the actual cost of the program, you must consider whether your employer will potentially pay for some or all of your degree. As mentioned above, a relatively high proportion of EMBA vs MBA students have the entirety of their tuition covered by their employer. It was once the case that most or all EMBA students were sponsored by their employer. Sadly, this is no longer the case.

Although similar statistics do not appear to exist for the traditional MBA, suffice to say that it is not unheard of for an employer to pay your way. Among the reputable companies that will pay for MBAs are: Apple, Disney, Starbucks, UPS, and Google (where you can also use InGenius Prep’s services as part of the employee perks packages, were you so inclined).

Conclusion: If you are not name-brand conscious, the EMBA is the less expensive option. If you are, then it will depend on whether your employer will pay you way. If not, the two options are pretty similar.

5. Curriculum in the EMBA vs MBA: 

This was largely covered above. But in short: EMBAs offer a practical, concentrated curriculum of core business disciplines and their application. MBAs also offer this core curriculum, but additionally have greater elective options, which allow students to focus on particular areas of interest – finance, marketing, etc. Which curriculum is right for you will largely be a product of your age, experience, and the direction you hope to go in once you’ve gotten your degree.

Conclusion: (repeat from above) If you are young, inexperienced, or want to change career directions, go with MBA; If you are older, experienced, and want to move up in your current job or industry, go with the EMBA.

6. Class Schedule and Balancing a Job during an EMBA vs MBA:

If you intend on keeping your full-time job, then an EMBA is more appropriate. Balancing an MBA – which often places an incredible emphasis on spending time in class and socially with classmates – and a full-time job would be extremely difficult. Traditional MBAs have class schedules much like those in college, so if you think you could re-do college while also balancing your current job, go for it.

Conclusion: If you have a full-time job, go with the EMBA.

7. Salary and Employment after EMBA vs MBA:

According to the GMAC, a whopping 95% of individuals graduating from traditional MBA programs are employed after graduation. If you aren’t familiar with post-graduation statistics – that number is very high. Indeed, the percentage of companies hiring MBA graduates – based on the GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey – has been trending up since 2009 (see figure 3, below)

Figure 3: Percentage of Companies Hiring MBA Graduates

Percentage of Companies Hiring MBAs

No such statistic exists for EMBA graduates, likely because most, if not all of the students at EMBA programs are currently employed.

What about salary? The average starting salary of an MBA graduate in the US is $100,000 (see figure 3 below). Conversely, the average starting salary for EMBA students (upon completion of the degree) is $164,845.

Figure 4: Median Starting Salaries for Newly Hired MBAs

Median starting salary for newly hired MBAs













But how do we compare these numbers? After all, we are comparing individuals at totally different stages in their careers. One way is to consider how much individuals’ salaries increase after completing their degree. At Wharton and Columbia, the EMBA programs boast an impressive 60% salary increase post-graduation. Other programs such as NYU’s Stern School of Business say EMBAs have, on average, a 35% increase, and those at Ross School of Business at UMich can expect a 42% increase in salary.

Unfortunately, when discussing salary increases, there is no simple way of comparing these two degrees because the individuals pursuing them are too different. That said, you can use this information to gauge whether or not either degree is worth the substantial investment. If you are already making $100,000 and are thinking of pursuing an MBA in hopes it will improve your financial prospect, perhaps you may want to reconsider.

For anyone considering applying to MBA or EMBA programs, I would strongly recommend that you peruse the website of the programs to which you are applying, to ascertain what kinds of jobs (and salaries) their recent graduates are getting. For instance, Yale School of Management publishes a substantial “employment report” each year, detailing the jobs, industries, and salaries if its recent graduates.  

Conclusion: Neither degree comes out clearly ahead in this race. Your employer may be more likely to sponsor an EMBA, and if so, that should be the preferred option when considering cost.

In case you didn’t want to read all of the analysis above about the EMBA vs MBA, I’ve included a short graphic below:

Duration 24 months ~20-22 months for the highest-ranked programs (but can be between 12-36 months)
Age of Students Average is 27-29 years old Average is 32-38 years old
Cost/ Tuition ~$100,000 – $120,000 (per year) Average is ~$65,000; Up to $170,000 at top-tier schools.
Curriculum Core Curriculum + Electives Mostly Core Curriculum
Classes Regular class schedule Nights, Weekends (often every-other Fri/Sat)
Starting salary $90,000 $164,845
GMAT Required? Yes Yes


About the Author

Joel Butterly, Co-founder and CEO of InGenius Prep, is an experienced admissions counselor and entrepreneur. Joel comes from a rich educational background—his immediate family alone has 14 Ivy League Degrees—from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Dartmouth.

Joel attended Dartmouth College, where he studied Government, Geography, and the Philosophy of Ethics. He was inducted early into Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. He graduated with a double major in Government and International Studies, and a minor in Ethical Philosophy.

After Dartmouth, Joel attended Yale Law School, where he served on the executive board of the Journal on Regulation, as well as the Law School’s entrepreneurship society.

Joel currently resides at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. He lives with his fiance – Emily – who teaches and is receiving her PhD in Medieval History from Yale.