The ABCs of Executive MBA Programs

And if you’re expecting an eMBA to give you specialized skills, make sure it really can. Only about 9 percent of programs have a specific industry focus (the most common is health care). And while some eMBA program curricula are as robust as their full-time counterparts, others are more generic general management degrees offering basically the same education to all comers.

Does your organization share your attraction to the eMBA? Does it share your vision of your future potential?  Will it support your eMBA?

On a basic level, you need to know whether MBAs are valued in your organization. Are your seniors actively encouraging you to get one or merely humoring your ambition? Have a candid and thorough conversation with your supervisors and mentors. What future do they see for you in the organization? What specific positions or responsibilities might an eMBA open up for you?

Ideally, your organization will back up its enthusiasm with an offer of sponsorship. Though fewer and fewer will cover the full ride, at schools like Wharton, 51% of its Philadelphia class still gets at least half its tuition covered by employers. And according to 2010 research by the Executive MBA Council, 66 percent of eMBA students obtain some kind of tuition reimbursement from their employers, and a full 30 percent receive full tuition reimbursement.

If you’ll be on the hook for your tuition, can you really afford it? Does the eMBA program you’re considering offer financial aid to eMBA students? While schools like Duke and UCLA help more than half their eMBA classes in some form, programs like Chicago Booth provide no financial aid.

Your organization’s support means more than promises of promotions and tuition sponsorship. You also need logistical support — a concrete commitment to and plan for allowing you to leave the office early every other weekend. Do you have it?

Is this really the right time for an eMBA?

You, your employer, and your family and friends may all be sold on the value of the eMBA, but that doesn’t mean you should pursue it now. If your marriage is going through a rough patch, if a child has special needs or special demands on your attention, or if your health is shaky, you’ll need to address these issues before beginning an eMBA. If a rival gunning for you at work might exploit your absence, if your boss seems dissatisfied with your performance, if your company is struggling, or if your team panics when you take a day off, you may not be ready for an eMBA. Don’t assume nagging concerns will rectify themselves: work them out now. Since the typical entry age for eMBAs is more fluid (anywhere from 27 to 48) than for full-time MBAs (where the late 20s is still the sweet spot), you can usually afford to wait a year to address any issues.

Can your personal life handle the pressure? Are your family and friends on board?

An eMBA is much more than just the average 6 to 12 hours per week of class time (usually weekly or on alternate weekends). It also requires anywhere from 20 to 25 hours of out-of-classroom study–not to mention commuting and those occasional weeklong sessions and overseas treks (64% of Executive MBA Council member programs require an international trip). Do you have that kind of time in your life? Look back at your life; have you successfully handled this scale of time-management challenge before? You don’t want to make an eMBA the dry run for something it turns out you really can’t do.

Similarly, how does your family feel about you being AWOL for household chores (which they’ll have to do) or important life events? Before you decide on an eMBA, make sure your spouse and kids know exactly what changes lie ahead for them once you’re enrolled.