Alternative MBA Options: Part 2 (The EMBA)

A few weeks back we ran a post on part-time programs as part of a broader concept: finding and presenting alternative MBA options to those applicants who desire an MBA but do not fit the traditional profile for an elite, full-time MBA program. Today, we continue the theme by exploring the Exeuctive MBA (EMBA) and looking at some of the elite and interesting options available to students in that space.

As alternative paths go, EMBA programs aren’t as universally appropriate as part-time MBAs and the experience doesn’t come nearly as close to that of a full-time student, but for a select group of candidates, an EMPA is the ideal degree pursuit. Whenever applicants have north of eight years experience, are working in a management position, and simply need added fundamentals and pedigree, an EMBA is often a terrific choice. Another way to look at an EMBA is to think of it as a broader perspective on business issues — executive programs are often known as the view from “50,000 feet.”

Executive MBA programs often use a modular approach that takes students through all of the key functions of business and adds conflict resolution, ethical issues, EQ training, and presentation skills, which makes for a program designed to “round out” an already accomplished business professional. Ranging between 15 and 24 months in length, far more accessible from an admissions standpoint, and rather expensive (especially if the employer is not footing the bill), this is one way that quality candidates who are beyond the age range for full-time MBA programs can still get the kind of training, networking, and pedigree that they are seeking.

One the most interesting and noteworthy trends surrounding the executive MBA is that at present, fewer companies are sponsoring students (either fully or partially) than in years past. This is due in large part to current market conditions, but another theory suggests that employers are catching on to the fact that a large majority of EMBA students are positioning themselves for new jobs (either internally or externally) by attending the program. In other words, the return on investment is still worthwhile for the student, but is becoming less so for the company (at least in the short term) who might have sponsored that individual in the past. Many of the companies that are still aggressively sponsoring EMBA students are those that take a longer view on ROI and believe that they can create executives with advanced skills, networks, and problem-solving abilities by exposing them to the teachings, modules, and colleagues that an Exec MBA provides.

There are many attractive EMBA programs available, but the list is perhaps best split into two distinct groups: 1) Kellogg and Wharton, 2) Everybody Else. The primary difference is in the perception of the programs on the part of corporations, although that can be traced back to how closely the EMBA programs at Kellogg and Wharton emulate the training of the business schools’ full-time philosophies and methodologies. Actual students sometimes enjoy the experiences more at other great EMBA programs, but at present, the reputational prestige of “the big two” makes it hard to pass up Kellogg or Wharton in favor of another intriguing option.

As for gaining acceptance, most programs feature much lower average GMAT scores than their full-time counterparts or don’t require the GMAT at all, and favor far more management experience. Unlike part-time programs that can be a safe haven for both young and old applicants alike, EMBA programs are a much better fit for someone who is “too old” for traditional full-time work but has all the other tools and is looking for an edge in advancing his or her career. Most top programs feature a minimum work experience requirement ranging between five and seven years and often post an average work experience of 10 years and management experience of five years.

The Truly Elite EMBA Programs

Kellogg — A 22-month program that brings students to Northwestern’s Evanston campus every other weekend (Fridays and Saturdays), Kellogg features a dynamic curriculum housed in one of the best facilities the university has to offer. Group projects make up close to a third of the work in the Kellogg EMBA program, which provides for the sort of networking and leadership development often specific to full-time and part-time programs. Kellogg also offers an EMBA program in Miami and four partner programs (in Israel, Hong Kong, Germany, and Canada) and the total number of students in all seven programs (there are two in Evanston) comes to over 800 people. Average full-time work experience is 14 years and Kellogg requires a minimum of eight years of management experience (and 10 of work experience), resulting in an average age of close to 40. Only 15% of students self-fund and it is worth noting that the GMAT is not required. In other words, Kellogg is not the option for the traditional full-time student with a great GMAT score who is just a bit too old … this program is for honest-to-goodness executives.

Wharton — A unique aspect of Wharton is that the school offers two locations for its two-year executive program (“MBA Exec”): the Penn campus in Philadelphia and a second location in San Francisco that is known as “Wharton West.” Both locations feature a program that closely follows the blueprint of the full-time MBA, which is one of the things that makes Wharton so popular among EMBA students. Unlike other executive MBAs, this program “looks and feels” like a more traditional business school experience. While Wharton’s Exec MBA program does not feature the severe work experience requirements of Kellogg, the admissions process is quite competitive, with an acceptance rate near 25% and an average GMAT close to 700 (yes, the GMAT is required at Wharton). As for noteworthy industries, over half of the students in each class go into either finance or technology.

Other Great EMBA Options to Consider

Thunderbird — A program that students seem to enjoy and corporations also hold in high regard, Thunderbird is often viewed as a great international business school, but it also boasts an executive program that is among the very best in the nation. Shorter than some of the other top programs (16 months), Thunderbird features a high number of self-funded students (42%) and a broad range of management experience despite a fairly high number for average work experience (eight years). The school can request, but doesn’t require, the GMAT, and offers a great value at $75,000 ($50,000 less than Kellogg). Many EMBA programs go out of their way to create group projects and hands-on learning opportunities, but Thunderbird takes a page out of Harvard’s book and employs a teaching methodology that is heavy on case studies.

USC Marshall — USC Marshall more closely resembles Kellogg’s EMBA program than just about any other EMBA program on the west coast. Featuring averages of 14 years for work experience and 10 years for management, Marshall tends to attract a lot of “true executives” rather than near-miss traditional MBA students. It also features a very balanced teaching approach that includes simulations and team projects, with a lot of company-funded students. For those students who don’t have corporate backing, the price tag isn’t all that bad — just under $100,000 for a 21-month program based in Los Angeles.

North Carolina — The top-ranked school from the perspective of EMBA students, according to a recent Wall Street Journal ratings study, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School is a top five overall option despite not receiving the same level of respect from many corporations that are polled for such rankings (UNC ranks 14th among corporations in the same WSJ poll). A 20-month program with pretty standard admissions requirements for work experience, Kenan-Flagler’s average GMAT score hovers just over 600, making it more accessible for many students. UNC is notable for the fact that 31% of students “self fund,” meaning they don’t rely on corporate sponsorship to participate in the program. People working in software and consumer goods seem to gravitate toward UNC, as nearly 50% of the class is made up of professionals from those two sectors. Finally, it is worth noting that the program cost — approximately $80,000 — is just over half that of Wharton’s, making for a very good deal.

Michigan — Ross is another EMBA program cut from the same cloth as Kellogg, featuring extensive work experience requirements (10 years total, five in management) and a high percentage of company-sponsored students. Perhaps not surprising, given its proximity to the major auto manufacturers, Ross stands out for the fact that over a quarter of the class works in the manufacturing industry (healthcare is another popular sector for Ross students). Ross isn’t cheap ($125,000) and it’s a pretty small class, but the GMAT isn’t required, so for someone with true executive experience, this could be a great option.

Name Brands with Quality EMBA Programs

The following are elite business schools with very solid EMBA options, with a notable comment for each:

Cornell (no minimum requirement for management experience)

Columbia (one of the most diverse EMBA programs)

Chicago Booth (huge percentage — 90% – of classes taught by tenured faculty members)

Duke Fuqua (a mere recommendation — 5 years — for minimum work experience rather than a requirement)

Haas (extremely diverse; extremely expensive)

NYU Stern (incorporates global studies better than almost any other program)

UCLA Anderson (extensive career service offerings)

Columbia-LBS (joint program that often requires a high GMAT score; only one-third of students are American citizens)

For more insight into part-time programs or MBA admissions, give us a call at (800) 925-7737. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!