Getting an MBA vs. an EMBA

One can get an MBA, and one can get an Executive MBA. From the student’s perspective, the executive MBA could be a good choice for those wanting an MBA but not looking to stop working full-time. As a matter of fact, for those who already have over 10 years of work experience (and especially over 15 years of work experience), an EMBA could very well be the only practical option, because MBA programs do not encourage such seasoned applicants.

But nonetheless, for many people, one feasible decision is whether to get an MBA or wait a few more years and get an EMBA. So what is, really, the difference? Aside from the practical considerations of finances, scheduling, and admissions requirements, which one is more suitable for you?

Well, the difference is really in your current situation and beliefs about your own future prospects in life. It is more of the attitude that makes one program more suitable than another, not the practicalities — the older half of an MBA cohort (especially outside the US) can easily fit in as the younger half of an executive MBA cohort in terms of age or work experience. But the key differences are what the students are looking for.

The MBA, if one were to really boil it down to its core, is for those who think they are way above their current jobs. The typical, yet oft unspoken rationale, for pursuing an MBA is to get out of a bad job, bad company, bad industry, or bad geography, at least according to one’s own preferences. Most often, MBA students feel they deserve and are able to find something much better. Otherwise, why would anybody leave their jobs to spend two years doing no wage work and spending a lot of money?

So MBA students typically believe that their post-MBA job will be a lot greener than the job they left two years previously. They also believe that they have the energy, will, and luck to go on to Very Important Things in their lifetimes, perhaps with a 50/50 shot at CEO of a Fortune 500 or a billionaire entrepreneur. At the least, they are thinking of partnership at a major investment fund or consultancy, maybe within 5-8 years.

That is all very good, and that ambitious young person unhappy with his or her current station in life is exactly what the MBA is designed for. To those who have never seen a 6 or 7 figure income, the prospect of getting one is very attractive.

The Executive MBA student, on the other hand, will be a bit older, possibly with a family, and by most standards in a pretty stable position somewhere in middle management or in a small business for him or herself.

The EMBA, to boil it down, is for those who have realized that they will most likely not become CEO of a Fortune 500 or a billionaire entrepreneur. This may be due to a lack of interest, priority, or perceived opportunity. Usually, executive MBA students are thinking about more practical goals, such as the extra 20% days of holiday they can earn if they could get that particular promotion one year earlier. Or they are eyeing a switch from a self-employed consultant to the more stable life of corporate middle management.

In short, the aims and career dreams of the executive MBA student are much more subdued, realistic, and practical. The purpose of the executive MBA is much more clearly defined for the executive student. In terms of actual learning, he or she may simply be trying to learn how to better interact with the HR department rather than thinking of ways to revolutionize the HR industry (as an MBA student would dare dream). Also, the executive MBA student is more likely to be financially sponsored by his or her employer, making it a much cheaper affair.

So if you are still uncertain of your future and believe in the possibility of great things for your business future, the correct program for you is the MBA. If you are quite sure of the big direction life holds in store for you at this point, and it’s just a matter of some details, then the correct program for you is the executive MBA.

There is no need for one side to judge the other — both profiles contain pros and cons. But the big question is, which profile describes you better currently?

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This Veritas Prep GMAT instructor received a degree in Economics from Princeton, and is currently pursuing a PhD. He has worked as a business consultant, research analyst, and adjunct faculty member at various institutions.