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An MBA or an EMBA? What’s right for you?

Katie Schenk - October 23, 2019


They have been around for 75 years, so why are EMBAs suddenly so popular? As with everything else in business, it has to do with current trends and the push and pull of economics. In the case of the EMBA, those factors are both personal – and international.

EMBAs are increasing in popularity

There are 3 primary reasons for the rise, and all of them are tied to the current state of the economy in one way or another.

  1. Graduate ROIs – EMBA graduates expect a promotion (and the corresponding pay bump). As they should do, apparently, since the alumni from top universities can see a return on their investment quickly.
  2. Small business competition – Large companies may no longer see the widespread need to pay for the continued education of their staff, but that does not stop smaller firms. And, it is this investment that allows smaller companies to compete with the larger ones.
  3. Entrepreneurship is increasing – The marketplace is diversifying, and one of the major trends in business today is the prevalence of experienced entrepreneurs opening their own shops. An EMBA is one way for an entrepreneur to ensure their business starts off on the right foot.

MBA and EMBA differences and similarities

Executive MBAs (or EMBAs) are structured differently than traditional MBA programmes. They cater to working professionals, usually mid and upper level managers. 

When it was conceived and first offered by the University of Chicago in 1943, the EMBA was to provide additional business and management training to permanent employees. Large companies jumped on the bandwagon and enrolled their most promising managers. Typically, employers footed the bill, treating each degree as the investment it truly is.

As they evolved, EMBAs have developed unique structures. Just as an MBA from Harvard Business School is different from one from INSEAD (which differs from one from Stanford or London Business School), each EMBA programme is different. They’ll have different application processes and requirements and charge tuition according to their demands.

But, there are some critical differences between MBA and EMBA programmes that are rather uniform across the various universities offering them.

EMBAs want experienced candidates

EMBA programmes achieve such a vast amount of work in a comparatively shorter space of time because they accept candidates that already have comprehensive and varied experiences in the field. These aren’t career changers; EMBAs are planning to advance their career at their current company – or at least within their current field.

Most universities advertise their EMBA programmes to those that already have 10 to 15 years of experience in the field, rather than the 3 to 7 typically required of MBA candidates.

It follows naturally the average age of EMBA candidates is closer to 40 than 30 years old. According to the Executive MBA Council, the average age is 38.4 years old, and candidates have an average of 14.3 years of professional experience (with an average of nine years at management level).

If you’re approaching 30, you may want to consider whether you want to spend the time advancing your education now or later. The option is still open to you, though you won’t want to wait too much longer to make your decision. And, if you’re hoping to change your career track, sooner may just be better than later.

EMBAs last as long as MBAs

Classic MBA programmes last between 1 and 2 years, depending on where you study. And, these are intense years, packed to breaking point with classes, projects, activities, networking, internships, and job hunts. There’s not really any time to work outside of the classroom – especially if the language of instruction isn’t your mother tongue.

EMBAs also last 1 to 2 years; they’re not completed any faster. The difference is the amount of time spent in classroom activities. Many local EMBA programmes offer weekend classes whereas international EMBA degrees are achieved through intensive week-long gatherings on campus with a fair amount of self-learning and internet connection in between meetings.

These programmes are designed this way to ensure that candidates can keep their jobs and avoid semi-permanent relocation, as many have greater responsibilities than most (younger) MBA candidates.

If you’re looking for a shorter, 1-year EMBA, European offerings are likely your best bet. There are a few American universities trying the shorter formats (in both their MBA and EMBA programmes), but they are few and far between.

And, if you’re after the über intense experience, you’ll probably want to pursue a classic MBA, whatever age you are.

EMBA programmes are designed for employer sponsorship

There is nothing saying you can’t pursue an EMBA on your own dime. And, indeed, this is becoming more common, with as many as 52.8% EMBAs self-funding their degrees. But, traditionally, universities expect EMBA fees to be paid by the employer that’s reaping the benefits of the education (and the format, which doesn’t demand as much time away from the office).

This makes the cost of an EMBA appear much higher at first glance. At INSEAD, for example, the current advertised tuition for a traditional MBA is €87,000. The cost for an EMBA is €123,000. Both are completed in roughly a year, and the EMBA actually demands less time on campus.

So, what gives?

You’re not comparing apples to apples - even if the 2 degrees confer the same level of status and education – as INSEAD rightly note on their website.

It’s what the €123K includes that makes a difference. In addition to tuition and fees, there's a serious reduction in opportunity cost.

And, some programmes offer even more. At Columbia, for example, you can expect your books delivered to you at home (or work) and INSEAD offers meals on campus. They also throw in accommodation while you’re on campus or in the second-year seminar. You definitely won’t find these included in any but the rarest of MBA programmes. 

Costs are formatted this way so that as many expenses as possible are picked up by the benefiting employer. And, many companies have existing structures for travel reimbursement or ticketing to make it even easier on your side.

As more potential self-funded EMBA candidates emerge, universities are beginning to offer a separate structure for fee payment so that it’s not all yanked out of savings at once. And, you’ll find, there are plenty of programmes that offer scholarships or accept loans (including Prodigy Finance loans) to supplement or take the place of employer payments.

Prodigy Finance is currently able to offer international EMBA candidates loans to attend universities across the world.

Achieving ROI on your the EMBA investment

If you're self-funding your EMBA, you'll want an idea of the ROI before you begin preparing your applications. 

According to EMBAC, candidates enter their programmes with an average salary and bonus package of $207,731. They leave with an average salary and bonus of $235,774.

And, when it comes to dollars and cents (or whatever currency you’re working with), it takes roughly 17 months for an EMBA to pay for itself. There’s often a bonus to go with the salary bump that many grads receive.

But, of course, it all depends on how much you pay, how much your company pays, and what your salary is before you begin.

If you’re considering an EMBA, it’s time to research your options. 

Why not start with these lists?

Need an international student loan to pursue your EMBA?

Prodigy Finance can help you secure the funding you need to get the degree you want.

Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Post updated for accuracy and freshness on October 22, 2019. Originally published on November 20, 2017.

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