Written by: Dr. A. Lee Smith, PhD, MBA

Hmmm, I know that I want to pursue an MBA degree, but should I consider the Executive MBA route or the more traditional option? If this question sounds familiar, rest assured that you are not alone. Many aspiring Master of Business (MBA) students ponder whether one option over the other will offer a leg-up advantage in their career pursuits. Before getting into the nuances of which is better, traditional MBA versus Executive MBA, let us start with understanding what each program has to offer and where there are unique differences.

The cornerstone of most MBA programs is their laser focused attention to teaching a wide spectrum of managerial principles that positions its graduates for key leadership opportunities across a wide industry landscape. All MBA programs are not alike. Depending on the mission of the Business School Department, the program may represent a basic qualitative design that touches on a little of everything related to business. Qualitative MBA programs will typically include core courses in:

  • Strategic Management
  • Leadership
  • Business Law and Ethics
  • Economics
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Human Resource Management
  • Finance
  • Operations Management


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Other MBA programs may take on a quantitative slant that still covers the business basics yet, includes more analytical courses including but not limited to:

  • Business Analytics
  • Machine Learning
  • Statistical Decision Making
  • Data Driven Business Strategies

So, first things first – Which program is right for me? This is the time to have that honest conversation with the person in the mirror and ask, (1) what are my strengths, what are my weaknesses and (2) what areas do I want to develop most? Both MBA and EMBA programs address the knowledge expectations commensurate with executive leadership positions.

Where the MBA and EMBA programs differ is in (1) how the disciplines are taught and (2) the degree of the student’s real-world industry experience. The MBA program accommodates the learner that has extremely limited experience in the subject areas that are taught in the program. On the other hand, the EMBA program is designed exclusively for the executive leader who is an active participant in the business sector.

The EMBA program is designed to bring the classroom and the boardroom in the same learning space. It is routine for the EMBA study to include multiple opportunities for students to address active business problems by offering real-world solutions in the real-world space; hence, the reason it is essential (and required in most EMBA programs) that the student applicant have substantial leadership experience as a condition for entry.

Okay, it is time to get specific on the basic difference between the two programs.

  • MBA typically does not require a minimal number of years working in the industry; recently graduated bachelor students and people with limited professional leadership experience are encouraged to apply. EMBA programs usually require professional managerial experience as a condition of acceptance. Years of experience range from 2 years to 12 years depending on the University.
  • MBA often takes 2-years to complete whereas the EMBA is intensely accelerated with most ranging from 12 to 14 months from start to finish.
  • Although there are numerous variations in an MBA program, most are exclusively classroom based with limited outside research requirements. EMBA programs usually include external research as a main requisite of the program.

MBA or EMBA? Well, it depends. For students looking to enter a Master’s in Business program, but lack the requisite field experience, the MBA track may be the best option. For the mid-level to senior-level manager looking to hone their leadership skills and can also devote the time for an intense and impactful program of study, the EMBA is the way to go. Regardless of choice, both programs are designed to prepare the student to compete in a forever changing global business environment.

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