The ABCs of Executive MBA Programs

Considering an executive MBA?  Shiny business school brochures promise enhanced critical and strategic thinking, freshly honed soft skills, exalted networks, and the chance to apply your classroom takeaways in the workplace in real time. While it’s true that a reputable and rigorous EMBA can be a career-changing experience, EMBAs don’t come cheap and as life commitments go, they are major, unavoidably impacting every part of your life: career, family, and extracurricular. So before you sign away two years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars, you need to ask yourself some hard questions:

What goals motivate you to consider an EMBA?

Better pay? Accelerated advancement? A qualified eMBA can certainly deliver these. The Executive MBA Council reports that in 2009, students increased their salary 9 percent on average on earning their degree (to a mean $136,722), and 2008 students increased it 17 percent. Likewise, a third of eMBA students were promoted and 44 percent earned greater job responsibilities.

But if you hope an eMBA will help you make a career change, you need to take a closer look: the eMBA will not give you the internship opportunities that enable full-time MBAs to sample new careers and get vetted by future employers. People do change careers with eMBAs, but you should not count on the school’s brand and placement office to do the work for you (and if your employer is sponsoring you, you may be committed to returning there, in the short-term, anyway).

Likewise, if you want an eMBA just to add a credential to your resume or to keep up with the Joneses, make sure you have no illusions about the time and financial price you’ll have to pay to fulfill these cosmetic goals.

Is an eMBA really the best way to achieve these goals? Can an eMBA program deliver what you want it to?

Executive MBAs are expensive (up to $172,200 total for Wharton’s San Francisco program) and can require up to 34 hours of your class and study weekly (excluding commutes).  Since you aren’t made of money and do have a life, you’ll need to really analyze whether the eMBA is the best way to achieve your goals. If you seek a higher income, perhaps a new position with another company or a new industry can accomplish that. If you seek faster advancement, maybe you just need to hone your golf game, add a certification or two, or get more involved in a professional association.

If you’re expecting a program to turbocharge your income or give you the CEO’s office by age 40, do you have evidence that your target programs’ graduates enjoy that kind of success? Check with the school’s placement office, of course, but also talk to graduates who’ve been out for a few years. Did the program get them where they thought it would?

  • TK

    Thank you very much for your article, “ABC’s of executive MBA’s”, especially for those tough questions about job and family. I am considering 2 programs, Kellogg and Olin. Could you share some insights regarding each program,, especially the quality of teaching and recognition in the market.

    Thank you.

  • Edward

    This summaries the pluses and minuses pretty well. I’m going through an EMBA program right now and this, combined with work and family commitments, is really tough. Expect to have no life for the better part of two years.

  • Stuart

    I’ve seen some of these EMBA programs up close, and sometimes the sight really isn’t that pretty.  The article says the most important thing — i.e. the degrees are expensive and it is really important not to think of these as career-switching degrees, and especially if one is over 30.  The fact is so many people getting degrees from the tip-top brand name schools figure they will, let’s say, be able to switch from being a high tech engineer/program manager to working in i-banking/vc/pe.  And then they get really bitter when they realize, for instance that a Wharton EMBA (mentioned in the article as an example) hasn’t actually resulted in their being more connected to the Wharton network nor more likely to enter finance than when they started.  The fact is these EMBA degrees, by tradition, were for managers who were sponsored by their companies and who wanted to move up the ladder of a company to which they were expecting to be loyal for many years.  Fewer and fewer companies will pay for their employees to get the degrees, though, so the students are often self-funded without a clear ROI path. This can lead to great disappointment when people realize they are “stuck” in the careers they were pursuing prior to the MBA and no other dramatically different paths have opened up to them. People really need to look past the hype and identify very specifically what their reasons are for wanting to earn the degree, and then they need to ask very hard questions about whether they can actually obtain those results through the program they are considering.  It is certainly not enough to say, “well Wharton is top-notch in finance or McKinsey hires a lot of folks from Chicago-Booth.”  These firms (finance firms or McKinsey) don’t typically hire out of EMBA programs.  If you want to pay 6 figures just to claim the degree from an institution of top reputation, just so you have the name on your resume for your own sense of prestige,  well, you will have paid dearly for that prestige — and not have much else to show for it.

  • Nish95

     I finished my Executive MBA in 2009. I have been in IT field for almost 20 years. I thought, it would help me to at least get into a Management function, unfortunately, i am not able to enter into Management. The career growth in USA sucks. Why is this? I do not understand.

    • Lanny

      I’ve been in IT since 1999, and had 4 yrs of enlisted military management experience prior to starting in IT. I recently left a mid-level management position where I managed two senior engineers both of whom held MBA degrees, and I only have a bachelor’s degree in IT from University of Phoenix.

      From my experience, corporate management is more than just knowing how to get the job done. At it’s core corporate management is all about politics and communication. If you present well, and most managers like you, then you’ll eventually get the promotion within your organization to become one. If, on the other hand, you don’t fit in with management or have a hard time communicating with them, then don’t expect to get a chair at their table.

      The bottom line is this: People do business with people they know, like, and trust to get the job done.

      Therefore, if you already know your corporate leadership, then you have to make sure the like and trust you to get the job done. Of course, there are always credential requirements for certain positions, but generally speaking a MBA or EMBA will only help you to get an interview with people you don’t already know.

      Hope this helps,

    • Tom Miller

      Nish95, part of the problem is timing, in 2009 the economy was tanking pretty badly. So getting into management would be more difficult. With that much IT experience and now an eMBA perhaps you need to start looking at consulting firms or even starting your own.

  • ZR

    Excellent article, to the point and close to reality.

  • Tara

    I began an international EMBA with a ranked supposedly decent US program only to find out they were cancelling the program after my class graduates ( it was the partnering issue and revenue share as well as bungling ). I found out two weeks into the program via internal staff they would be cancelling it, they would not admit it until we actually had written documentation stating they were cancelling the program and we laid it out, only then did they admit it. I immediately tried getting my money back but they refused, I was stuck doing an MBA program that was being terminated upon my classes completion. At the time I had been admitted to LBS’s Sloan Program among many other EMBA programs and wanted my money back to switch. To this day i am still annoyed as i have to mask my degree program as a regular MBA. As well, they had regular MBA students attend our EMBA with no real business experience. Essentially fraud was committed as they admitted us fully knowing they would cancel our program prior to my classes commencement.

    I write the above as a warning to EMBA students, if a program is not making money or whatever schools will end an EMBA program.

    • EMBA-Interest

      @ Tara,
      Sorry for the experience but thank you for sharing. It is important to do your best to pick the right programs, but clearly nothing is for certain…
      Thanks and Best Wishes…

    • I am glad I stop to read more about the EMBA, not that I will pursue it because of financial issue; I refuse to pay over 100K for a program. I have met lots of people that with MBA or not have achieved great thing in life. I am a registered nurse and make about 120,000 a year, with only an bachelor’s program, and I am currently finishing an MBA online (28K), to move to administration… learned a lot because I study my books very well. I do not see how someone can charge 100K + to relearn Ethics, and all the other topic mentioned in the introduction of the article. Basically, I have taken four ethics classes, in healthcare, law and in business…same thing…it only changes the situation it applies to.

  • deltaqueen

    Executive MBA programs are typically for people who are currently in management and their companies are paying the tuition for these seasoned executives to enhance their education. These people for the most part have career opportunities at their current company, since the company is investing in their education and their companies see value in providing this credential to these mid-management level people. The professional MBA is typically for people who want to advance their careers, perhaps change career paths, network into a new company and position. These are your late 20 to 30 somethings who might have a few years work experience behind them and want to aim for the executive ranks. These are the up and comers who, in being hired from the top-10 ranked schools, will be pursued to take on greater management roles in the future.

  • IshaniM

    This piece of information is very informative. I express my thanks to the Admin. Yes, taking up Executive MBA is a big decision but at the same it is important to overcome crisis in career. The student should make choice of universities wisely and after elaborate research must plan things out. One such university, Jain University in Bangalore, India offers Executive MBA program. Their curriculum is not only flexible but they train their students in keeping real time situations in mind. For the ones who would like to know about it, Please Visit