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

Katie Schenk - November 20, 2017


Perceptions of the EMBA reach two different extremes.

There are those that believe it’s a watered-down version of the MBA as classes only take place on weekends, intensive weeks, mostly online, and, most usually, some combination of each scenario.

On the other hand, there are people that see the word executive before those three widely recognised letters and believe it to be the superior option. After all, many MBA candidates are after the C-suite and anything that actually says executive appears to be the better bet.

Neither one of these perceptions is correct.

An EMBA provides roughly the same education as an MBA.

But there are critical differences in the delivery of information and the students each programme desires. There’s also, usually, differences in price – and who foots that bill.

The degree that’s right for you might just be obvious at some stages, though there are quite a few years where the lines blur.

Key differences between the MBA and the EMBA

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 ten to fifteen years of experience in the field, rather than the three to seven that MBA degrees are aimed at. As such, the average age of EMBA candidates is closer to 40 than to 30 years old. According to the Executive MBA Council, the average age is 37.8 years old, and candidates have an average of 13.9 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 track, sooner may just be better than later.

It’s not necessarily faster to do an EMBA

Classic MBA programmes last between one and two 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 one to two 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, one-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. 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 €82,000. The cost for an EMBA is €100,000. 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 two degrees confer the same level of status and education – as INSEAD rightly note on their website.

It’s what that €100K includes that makes a difference. In addition to tuition and fees, you’ll also find books and learning materials in the mix, not to mention meals – and (as you can remain employed full-time) a serious reduction in opportunity costs.

And, some programmes offer even more. At Columbia, for example, you can expect your books (delivered to you at home or work) and the meals that INSEAD offers. But, they also throw in accommodation while you’re on campus or in the second-year seminar. (No, you won’t find travel costs included in either; that’s way too variable for universities to manage.)

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 (the Executive MBA Council reports that over 40 percent of students are now paying their way through this degrees), 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 more than 25 programmes. (The figures supplied here represent the school’s advertised EMBA costs, not the amount Prodigy Finance is necessarily able to extend to candidates.)

North America



So, how long does it take to recoup the investment?

Well, it all depends on what you believe to be a benefit; for some, the experience itself is enough. But, 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, between employer payments and loans, you may need more time to get organised. Fortunately, there are more programmes that don’t demand a GMAT score, so you may be off the hook there.

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