MBA vs. EMBA: What are the Pros and Cons?

Applying to a top Executive MBA program? It’ll help to know a few things about the competitive EMBA admissions process. Below you’ll find the pros and cons of applying to an Executive MBA program.

The Pros:

  1. Higher Acceptance Rates. EMBA acceptance rates are higher than MBA acceptance rates (with some exceptions). For example, Kellogg’s 2008 acceptance rate for its MBA program was 24%; its EMBA program’s rate was 33%.
  2. Less Emphasis on GMAT. Can’t be bothered to take the GMAT? You’re in luck – many top EMBA programs don’t require applicants to take the GMAT. (And if they do require it, their expected scores are lower than those expectations for top MBA programs.)
  3. Keep Your Job. You can continue working while pursuing an Executive MBA. Almost all EMBA programs are part-time programs that allow you to commute to their evening or weekend classes so you can keep working and living at home.
  4. If you are over 30 and certainly over 35, you may find that the more experienced and older students in EMBA programs allow you to learn more from your peers than if you were in a classroom with full-time MBA students, who are usually in their mid- to late-twenties.

The Cons:

  1. The Commute. Not having to pick up and move your life to a new city for two years is certainly an advantage for many established working people, but having to commute between your hometown and the campus can be quite exhausting, not to mention expensive.
  2. Work + School = No Time to Play (or Breathe). Working full-time, studying part-time, and commuting in between, doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Throw a family and volunteer activities into the equation and you’d be hard pressed to find time to breathe. Well, no one said pursuing an EMBA was easy….
  3. Few Programs. There aren’t as many EMBA programs as there are MBA programs, so you may struggle to the program that’s best for you academically, socially, geographically, and schedule-wise.
  4. Not all MBAs are Created Equal. Many top recruiters view the EMBA degree as an “MBA-lite” and prefer younger job applicants who’ve completed a more rigorous, full-time business degree. While it may be the best option for you as a mid-career professional, you can’t ignore this drawback.

Please visit Best Executive MBA Programs 101 to view expert resources detailing how you can apply to top EMBA program efficiently and successfully.

By Linda Abraham, president and founder of and author of MBA Admission for Smarties, the premier admissions consultancy and essay editing company that has helped applicants around the world gain admissions to over 450+ top schools since 1994. Visit for all your MBA admissions consulting needs today.


  1. Your article is essentially misguided as very few people are realistically choosing between the full-time and Executive MBA paths.

    Every school that offers both full-time and Executive MBA programs does so to cater to the career development needs of two different groups of managers. In general, the two different groups possess different levels of seniority and different career goals. The participants in full-time MBA programs are typically 3-5 years out of their undergraduate degrees and using an MBA to switch career paths. This requires a curriculum that focuses on developing deep, technical skills through a large slate of elective courses in order to launch a career in a new path. In contrast, participants in EMBA programs have established careers and established areas of expertise. Their interest in earning an MBA degree typically 12-16 years into their careers is to help propel themselves into the senior ranks of management or an entrepreneurial path. Instead of a deep exposure to a narrow set of technical skills, EMBA curricula typically allow participants to develop mastery in the soft skills that distinguish a leader and develop a broad, integrated view of the disciplines of management. The difference in these curricula is not one of rigor, but one of matching to career development needs and goals.

    If one were to believe that an Executive MBA was “MBA-lite” and that the full-time MBA is more rigorous simply because the latter requires full-time study for two years and allows (some) participants to take courses with a lot of quantitative tools, then one could conclude that a four-year undergraduate degree in business must be even more rigorous than an MBA. Of course, I am not suggesting that. What I am suggesting is that well-designed, rigorous business degrees for participants just out of high school, versus participants with 3-5 years of post-undergraduate experience versus participants with 12-16 of post-undergraduate experience won’t look the same. As someone who has taught the same topic in undergraduate, full-time MBA, and Executive MBA programs, I encourage you not to confuse rigor with inefficiency.

    To address your claim regarding recruiters, I think you may be comparing apples and oranges as it is quite unlikely that a new graduate from a full-time MBA program and a new graduate from an Executive MBA program are actually going to be applying for the same job. So, let’s control for that: how do you think an employer would compare two candidates for the same job when both candidates have 15 years of organizational experience, but one earned his MBA 15 years ago and the other earned his MBA this year from the same university? One might conclude that the more recent MBA experience would be more valued by an employer.

    I hope these comments are helpful. Best wishes,

    Daniel A. Szpiro, PhD
    Associate Dean for Executive Education
    The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management
    Cornell University

  2. Dear Danny,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would like to respond:

    1) The article is not addressed to people to whom it doesn’t apply. It is addressed to those who are trying to choose between full-time regular MBA programs and Executive MBA programs. It is not misguided to direct an article to even a small group of people. Clearly you believe it is an inconsequential number; I believe differently, or I wouldn’t have wasted my time writing an article of interest to no one. I wrote it because I am regularly asked this question.

    2) While I am sure your analysis of the characteristics of the MBA and EMBA class is true for Cornell, it isn’t true for many other programs where the overlap between MBA and EMBA in terms of experience and age is more significant. For example (stats are from Businessweek) Chicago Booth’s full-time MBA program has an average age of 28 (middle 80% isn’t provided) and the middle 80% range of work experience is 36-85 months. For its EMBA program, the average age is 36, the middle 80% age range is 30-43, and the middle 80% range for work experience is 85-228 months. For Wharton’s full-time program, the average age is 28 and the middle 80% for work experience is 36-84 months; Wharton’s EMBA program reports a middle work experience 80% range of 72-192 months, an average age of 34, and a middle 80% age range of 29-40 years. Clearly there is significant overlap here, and much more than at Chicago Booth. Similarly, at Columbia’s full-time program the average age is 28 and the middle 80% range for work experience is 34-83 months; for its EMBA program, the average age is 32, the 80% range for age is 27-37, and the 80% range for work experience is 48-144 months. For many EMBA programs, interest in the executive MBA education begins much earlier than you indicated, and many full-time MBA students are older and more experienced than you indicated.

    3) I am not endorsing or disputing the “MBA-lite” label. I am just saying it exists and those contemplating an EMBA should be aware of it. I completely agree with you that applicants need to determine first what they want to get out of the program and then choose the program that best fits their needs. I also did not imply that length of program equates with rigor. Otherwise high school could be viewed as more “rigorous” than an MBA, and an AA degree could be viewed as equal in rigor. Obviously ridiculous.

    4) I don’t think that referencing a hypothetical straw-man comparison of dubious validity and with a questionable conclusion addresses the legitimate career services concerns of applicants choosing between an MBA and an EMBA program. Unlike your “control,” those trying to choose between an MBA and EMBA usually don’t have 15 years of experience, and they certainly don’t have the option to turn back the clock and earn an MBA 8-10 years ago. If they want to make a significant career change, they value recruiting and career services, and at many EMBA programs those services are very different than those offered by the full-time MBA programs. In general the full-time programs offer more robust assistance to career changers than do executive MBA programs, although Cornell may be an exception.

    I have no axe to grind here in a debate over whether the full-time MBA or EMBA is “better.” They are both great for the right person and terrible for the wrong one. I highlighted the tremendous strengths of the EMBA in the “The Pros.” Those strengths don’t eliminate the cons. As someone who has advised applicants to MBA and EMBA programs for over fifteen years, recommending each as appropriate, I think is invaluable for consumers of a very expensive education to understand both.

    Best Regards,

    Linda Abraham

  3. Great article. I’ve read this article a few times over a course of a few months and I agree with it. The Executive MBA reminds me of an Executive Jurist Doctorate. The Executive JD is still a Doctorate degree but your ineligible to sit for the BAR so you can’t practice law with it. The Executive JD, minuses off about a quarter of the classes.

    Before I went and got my MBA, I did consider the Executive MBA. On a comparison in my geographical location with 3 other colleges the Executive MBA was about 3 classes shy of a traditional MBA. I’m curious as to how the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE) feels about it. During my studies for the MBA, I had a friend who went for an EMBA. We started at the same time and she did graduate a semester ahead of me. We noticed that the teaching styles and work load were different.

  4. I have a quick question for author. Myself right now I’m in process of researching an MBA vs emba program. I’m 36 years old, marketing manager, with 6-7 years of experience. I do have a master degree from law and administration, but it s not from US school ( it’s from europe). My job situation is little complicated, I work for small marketing/ consulting company , but from project to project. It’s not a steady , guaranteed position. I want to invest in to myself to find a better, and steady job. So here is my dilemma, FT MBA – is cheaper but more time consuming and with ppl with short work experience, but according to your article is better to find a job after. Emba programs , are something I would feel better in, since I do have experience and would feel better because of the age group, but , again , according to your article is more design to executives who stay at their job, and it’s treated by recruiters as a MBA lite. So basically, makes any different or point to do emba and look for job ?? Or it’s better to push for FT MBA or maybe PT MBA ….

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