MBA vs EMBA: Choosing the right qualification for your career

MBA and EMBA programmes differ in structure although they share a relatively common curriculum.

By Aisyah Liliana 

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“Is an Executive Master in Business Administration (EMBA) qualification superior to a Master in Business Administration (MBA) qualification?”  is a question many potential MBA applicants have at the back of their minds when choosing from the hundreds of accredited Executive MBA and MBA programmes offered in schools around the globe.

To put it simply, both qualifications are equal in terms of value upon graduation. However, the difference in programme delivery, formats set the two apart. Additionally, both programmes are designed to serve different career aspirations.

Executive MBA and MBA programmes have different admission requirements

One of the significant differences between both qualifications is the target candidate. While both qualifications are catered for mid-career professionals with significant working experience, both MBA and EMBA applicants are at different stages in their careers.

Typically, full-time MBA applicants are often looking for an immediate career change or are seeking broader experience for career advancement. MBA applicants may have up to five years of prior work experience, depending on the criteria set in the programme requirements.

Conversely, an EMBA applicant generally has more extensive work experience ranging anywhere from 10 to 15 years.

Full-time MBA applicants will need to acquire good GMAT scores (a minimum of 600 points for most institutions and 700 points for top-tier schools) in addition to submitting application essays during the selection process. The EMBA applicant typically has more business knowledge acquired through work experience and therefore may not be required to undergo entrance examinations, unlike the average MBA candidate.

This, however, depends on the institution that is offering the programme, as some run their own in-house tests, while others have signed up to a version of the GMAT aimed at EMBA applicants.

Additionally, EMBA and MBA applicants hoping to enrol in programmes offered by top-tier institutions will be required to submit letters of recommendation during the admission process. EMBA applicants will be expected to provide documents that indicate the support of their current employers and this is particularly important for applicants who are under sponsorship schemes with their employers.


MBA and Executive MBA programme structures may differ

Executive MBA programmes are specifically designed for working professionals who are juggling both studies and career at the same time. EMBA students can expect a more intense pace of learning than their MBA counterparts to minimise distraction due to career and family commitments. EMBA students will learn the same things as MBA students due to the similarities in the curriculum but in half the time.

While there may be a slight difference in programme duration between the two, the difference is mainly due to the part-time structure of EMBA programmes. Executive MBA classes are generally scheduled for evenings and weekends, with a major portion of learning occurring online to enable students to maintain their current positions on a full-time basis while they learn.

The demands of an MBA are not lesser in any case, full-time MBA students can expect intense schedules and many may not find it possible to maintain their careers outside of the programme.
MBA students have more freedom in choosing specialisations, as there are plenty and in various areas on offer out there compared to their EMBA counterparts.

While EMBA students cannot expect many electives to choose from, there are more targeted EMBAs for those who wish to specialise in various fields including some of the following areas, data analysis, start-up entrepreneurship, strategic thinking, supply chain and operations, and even corporate-level strategy.


EMBA or MBA – Which has a better return of investment?

Based on the Financial Times Global Executive MBA ranking of the best 100 programmes worldwide, the gap in average salaries between EMBA and MBA graduates is $220,000 for the former and $146,000 for the latter.

Here’s where the research findings become interesting, MBA graduates enjoy the largest salary boost, which is up by 107% compared to their previous earnings. EMBA graduates, however, report a salary increase by 59%.

The top-ranking programmes around the globe, according to FT’s Global EMBA Rankings List are the Yale MBA for Executives programme, offered by the Yale School of Management in the US. Graduates from this programme reportedly experience a 123% growth in salary averaging at $285,000 per annum.

Three schools in China also sit at the top of the list. They are the SJTU Antai EMBA programme offered by Shanghai Jiao Tong University: Antai, the BI-Fudan MBA offered by BI Norwegian Business School / Fudan University School of Management and subsequently the HKU-Fudan MBA (International) programme offered by The University of Hong Kong. Graduates from these programmes reported a salary increase of 117%, 107%, and 106% respectively.

The EMBA-Global Asia programme offered by EMBA-Global Asia: Columbia/HKU/LBS school where graduates of this programme reportedly earned a salary increase of 98%.

The EMBA programme offered by Korea University Business School, South Korea is not far behind and graduates of this programme also reportedly earned 98% more than previously.

The Arizona State University: Carey’s EMBA/SNAI EMBA programme graduates reportedly earn 96% more while EMBA graduates from the Yonsei University School of Business of South Korea earned 91% higher salaries.


Graduates of the HEC Paris International EMBA programme, from HEC Paris, a top-five ranked school on the list of Executive MBA Ranking 2019 reportedly earn 89% higher than previously.

The University of Oxford EMBA from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and the Cambridge EMBA by the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School graduates report a salary increase of 89% and 88% respectively.

One major difference in terms of return of investment that needs to be taken into consideration is tuition cost. EMBA candidates have, until recent years mostly enjoyed having their tuition fees covered by employers due to the mutual benefits reaped through the nature of these programmes.

More recently, institutions have started offering scholarships for EMBA candidates to pursue qualifications in top business schools. As EMBA students tend to juggle studies and full-time employment, the issue of financial constraints may be completely averted.

This is in stark contrast with MBA candidates who are predominantly self-funded with some exceptions. So, while the fees for a full-time MBA is generally lower than an EMBA, students need to take accommodation costs and loss of income into account when evaluating the return of investment of these programmes.