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Degree Programs

Executive MBA vs MBA: which is right for you?

Published: June 2023

Choosing between an EMBA and an MBA can be just as daunting as any other strategic business decision, but each of these degree programs serves a different purpose depending on your needs. Are you an emerging leader looking to make your mark in the business world, or a seasoned professional looking to propel your career to the next level? 

In this guide, you’ll learn the differences between an MBA and an EMBA, giving you the information you need to decide which degree program best fits your career goals…

  1. What are the key differences between an MBA and an EMBA?
  2. How long does an EMBA take versus an MBA?
  3. What does it take to apply? Understanding admissions criteria
  4. What knowledge will you gain? Unravelling the learning outcomes
  5. What will be different after your degree? Exploring career impacts
  6. How to choose the right program for you?
  7. Weighing your options

What are the key differences between an MBA and an EMBA?

Let’s start with the basics. MBA stands for Master of Business Administration and EMBA stands for Executive Master of Business Administration. Both degrees will advance your career, but each offers unique benefits for different career stages. Let’s take a closer look at these differences.

How long does an EMBA take versus an MBA?

The path towards an MBA or EMBA varies in length and flexibility depending on what your current professional commitments are and where you choose to study.

For those with significant professional commitments but eager to advance their careers, a part-time EMBA program offers the perfect balance. These programs typically last an average of 15-24 months and allow you to pursue advanced learning without interfering with your work commitments.

On the other hand, if you’re ready to dedicate an entire year learning, a full-time MBA program might be just right for you. While there are also part-time MBA programs that offer more flexibility for those who need to balance work and study, an intensive full-time MBA program provides solid business foundations, setting you on a fast track to career progression.

What does it take to apply? Understanding admissions criteria

If you’re pursuing an MBA program, you must meet certain academic requirements. The Graduate Management Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are usually used as indicators of your readiness for a program. In addition to your test scores, your past academic performance and your analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in English are also important. 

Work experience, while not essential for most MBA programs, is highly valued. A few years in business can give your application an edge. At IMD, we require at least two years of work experience to join our MBA program. You’ll also need a recommendation from the business community to vouch for your potential.

In contrast, EMBA programs typically focus less on standardized test scores and more on your professional accomplishments, work experience, and leadership potential. IMD’s EMBA program, for example, requires applicants to have at least 10 years of professional experience and three letters of recommendation, one from your sponsor and two from individuals qualified to comment on your professional accomplishments and career potential.

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What knowledge will you gain? Unravelling the learning outcomes

Each program offers unique learning outcomes tailored to your career stage and aspirations, often allowing you to customize your learning journey.

In a top-tier MBA program, you don’t just absorb knowledge, you live it. You’ll get an intensive, hands-on learning experience with a focus on developing solid business foundations. You’ll explore a wealth of specializations – from finance to marketing, economics to healthcare – and design your own unique learning experience. IMD’s MBA program further enriches this journey with hands-on learning through case studies and real-world simulations, giving you a dynamic blend of theory and practice.

However, if you’re already an experienced professional looking to expand your career boundaries, an EMBA program offers a different but equally enriching learning experience. A globally recognized EMBA curriculum should offer a wide range of challenging modules in finance, marketing, business strategy and operations. This broad-based offering solidifies your foundation and prepares you to enter the world of executive business leadership with confidence.

While both programs are unique, they share a common goal: to shape you into a true leader. Whether you choose an MBA or an EMBA, expect to hone your critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills. As you navigate the complex world of modern business, these skills will be your compass to help you make strategic decisions and develop into a transformational leader.

Both degrees are a testament to your knowledge and readiness to become one of tomorrow’s business leaders. Yes, the path to get there is challenging, but the outcome will be a game-changer, you’ll emerge not only with new insights, but also with a new understanding of your own potential.

What will be different after your degree? Exploring career impacts

Whether you’re considering a strategic career transition – across functions, industries, or geographies – or you’re looking to significantly increase your earning potential, an MBA or EMBA degree will open doors that may have previously seemed out of reach. 

With an MBA, typically designed for participants with less leadership experience, you’ll gain the skills to develop into the leader companies are looking for. For example, an IMD graduate who completed an MBA specializing in renewable energy went on to work on the world’s largest nuclear fusion project. As a project performance manager, she made progress toward a more sustainable future and led several teams within her organization. 

Conversely, EMBA participants, who are typically already experienced leaders, can expect a quantum leap in their careers. The program is rich in advanced leadership principles and problem-solving techniques, refining their management skills. This, in turn, enables them to spearhead strategic initiatives, inspire transformative change, and add significant value not only within their own organizations, but also shape industry trends and standards.

IMD is the only school where you really dive into concrete, down-to-earth learning that enables you to immediately deliver and apply it in your professional environment.”

Christophe Regnault, Head Of Marketing | The LHoFT | Luxembourg

With either degree, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of all facets of business and become an attractive candidate for a variety of leadership roles, regardless of industry. Not to mention, the academic rigor and extensive curriculum will leave you well prepared for the challenges associated with such positions.

What’s more, you’ll not only earn a degree, but also become a member of an exclusive global network of high-achieving professionals. This influential network can open up opportunities and collaborations in unexpected places and guide you through unfamiliar terrain, making you a true global player.

How to choose the right program for you?

Now that you’ve explored the differences between an MBA and an EMBA, it’s time to match those insights with your individual career goals. Let’s explore how to find the program that fits your goals and personal circumstances. 

Assess your professional goals

Picking the right MBA or EMBA program starts with being clear about your career objectives and reviewing your current professional situation. There are several questions you can ask yourself to help you make your choice.

For someone who is new to the business world and has little real-world professional experience, an MBA will help them develop the skills they need to succeed in business situations. But a professional with a lot of leadership experience who wants to build on what they already know may not need this kind of immersion. They already have a lot to do in their current leadership position, so they may be better served by an EMBA program. 

Assess your personal circumstances

Finding the right business degree is often about balancing your personal circumstances and commitments with your school life. 

If you have already spent a few years as an executive and are looking for a balance between work and continuing education, IMD’s EMBA program is the perfect choice. The flexible schedule allows you to manage your work commitments and balance classes with other responsibilities.

For those who are at the earlier stages of their career and do not have the same commitments, IMD’s full-time MBA program is an excellent choice. You can focus fully on the business program and resume all other commitments after completing your MBA.

Keep in mind that these time commitments will depend on the school you attend. You might find a part-time MBA or an online MBA program offering flexibility that better suits your circumstances.

Consider the costs and benefits

Understanding the financial impact of the program you choose is key to assessing the potential return on investment (ROI) and determining its value.

IMD’s MBA program comes in at CHF 80,000 (about $88,000 USD) for one academic year, while the EMBA program fees are CHF 115,000 (roughly $127,000 USD). While tuition, lunch and learning materials are included in these prices, additional costs such as travel and living expenses must be considered to get a more accurate picture.

Once you’ve added up the costs, compare them to potential salary increases in your profession to determine the break-even period. You should also consider funding options such as scholarships and financial aid to help you manage the financial commitment. 

Seek advice from experienced professionals

Given the significant impact an MBA or EMBA can have on your career trajectory, it is invaluable to draw from the wisdom of those who have already pursued these paths.

Alumni networks, online communities, and professional networking events can provide valuable insight, highlight the pros and cons of each program, and offer a realistic view of the future.

Discover more about the IMD Alumni Network, a close-knit global community of more than 130,000 members

Weighing your options

So which is better: an EMBA degree or an MBA degree? The answer is: it depends.

Both hold immense value for aspiring business professionals; the immersive MBA serves as an excellent springboard for early career professionals, while the EMBA program empowers seasoned professionals to take their careers to new heights. 

Carefully considering your options in light of your personal and professional outlook will help you find the program that will enhance your professional development and generate the best ROI. If you are looking for assistance in making this pivotal decision, contact our IMD program advisors who are available for a personal consultation. They can assist you in selecting the most appropriate option based on your individual needs. 

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