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How does an MBA compare with an Executive MBA?

Studying an MBA or an Executive MBA (EMBA) is something many people consider, without realising how different the programmes really are

While both offer advanced business education, they target distinct demographics and career stages. MBAs suit early to mid-career professionals who want to fully immerse themselves in education for a year or two, while EMBA programmes are tailored for experienced executives seeking to advance without interrupting work. Understanding these nuances aids in making informed decisions about which programme aligns best with career goals. Which one should you choose?

Who Shall Venture Where

First, the difference between MBA and EMBA candidates can often be quite a few years of leadership experience. Stephanie Kutschmann, Programme Manager of MBA Programmes, at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, says MBAs are usually undertaken by “early- to mid-career professionals seeking to transition into management roles or switch industries.”

EMBA programmes, on the other hand, “are designed for experienced professionals with several years of work experience, usually around 10 years or more, and at least three years of management experience” highlights Kutschmann.

Whilst an MBA candidate may be seeking to enter business leadership, an EMBA participant already will have leadership experience. They are established professionals aiming to bolster their leadership skills, strategic thinking, and networks, rather than gain all three.

A Tale of Two Curricula

When thinking of the two, it’s important to also consider the curriculum and design of the programme: how is the programme formatted? Does it have the content you are looking for?

MBA programmes offer a comprehensive education, covering fundamental business disciplines such as finance, marketing, operations, and leadership, with some allowing you to specialise too. Meanwhile, Executive MBAs look to build upon existing professional experience, focussing on advanced skills and senior leadership.

“MBAs are for leadership starters, with the programme designed to provide that all-important foundation to propel candidates into the world of management,” says Martin Butler, MBA Academic Director at Vlerick Business School. “Whereas Executive MBAs are not designed for career starters but more for career accelerators.”, he says, and do not provide this same foundation, and the content is much more geared towards preparing participants for senior leadership.

Both full-time MBA and Executive MBA participants leverage these programmes as pathways to expand their networks and enhance their career prospects. Both not only provide robust career support services, but also incorporate industry-centric events directly into their curriculum.

The Executive MBA format revolves around accommodating busy schedules and aligning with the demands of their professional commitments. “This allows EMBA students to balance their professional responsibilities alongside their studies, often extending over 17 months, with classes typically held on Fridays and Saturday mornings” says Ana Côrte-Real, Head of Faculty and Executive MBA Director at Porto Business School.

Moreover, MBAs are usually taught in full-time schedules, over the course of one or two years. This allows participants to fully immerse themselves into their MBA and the benefits that come through solely focusing on education, such as the added time spent on campus participating in extracurricular activities and clubs, as well as the socialising and networking with new classmates and friends, and potentially exploring a new city or country where they’ve decided to study.

Interestingly, the annual Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) Prospective Student Survey1 found that part-time professional MBAs have steadily increased in popularity for early-career professionals wanting to continue their studies whilst working.

The type of practical experience differs too. Côrte-Real highlights that while MBA students, with less experience delve into practical projects and work experience, EMBA programmes integrate “real-world case studies and executive coaching sessions to enhance leadership skills and decision-making abilities.” In other words, EMBA participants come equipped with their own experiences, problems and challenges, ready to share with their peers and learn from one another. MBAs candidates are not expected to come with the same level of history, more just an appetite to learn.

An Epilogue of Career Paths

Where you want to go in your career next will likely have a huge impact on what business education programme is for you, notes Nalisha Patel, Regional Director for Europe at the Graduate Management Admission Council.

“Those with some strong, grounding work experience who are looking to invest in their next career move and who want time to safely explore what that looks like across various management roles or through entrepreneurship, are perfect for an MBA.”, says Patel. “Those who have leadership experience and want to take stock and develop their broader business acumen to grow into a more strategic or high-ranking role are very suited to the EMBA.

The difference in course content and outputs is reflected in the standardised tests for the different programmes. For example, the MBA usually requires the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and EMBA, often the Executive Assessment (EA), so it’s worth comparing the tests to get a sense of what you’ll need to prepare for.”

The seniority of positions that graduates step into differs when it comes to both types of MBAs, but the sectors often remain the same. “Many MBA graduates find employment with Consulting, Financial Institution as well as Energy industry, globally, as the programme prepares them for a global career”, says Winston Wee, Senior Director of Admissions at Asia School of Business.

However, many EMBA graduates, who already have a foot in the door, are likely to stay in the same company but move on to become CEOs and Presidents, transitioning to executive leadership, rather than gaining a managerial position or switching industries.

So, when deciding whether to apply for an MBA or an Executive MBA, it’s important to consider your experience, the time you have available, and what you truly want to achieve post-studying – then you will know which programme is a natural fit.

Originally published by Financial Times

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