The Worst Things EMBA Students Say About Their Experiences

complaintEvery two years when Bloomberg BusinessWeek surveys the latest graduating class of Executive MBAs from the best business schools, it invites students to provide open-ended comments about their business school experience.  And every two years, the students serve up candid comments, willing to share personal experiences, insights and opinions.

A sample of those comments are published by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in the online profiles of each of the schools. While the vast majority of remarks are quite favorable to each school, there are almost always graduates who want to see their schools address issues or perceived problems to make the Executive MBA program better. Over the years, the most common complaints have focused on the career services office. It’s rare when no graduates gripe about career placement—but it becomes a real sore point among EMBAs who are paying top dollar for their degrees.

Poets&Quants searched through the latest batch of remarks to find what an applicant would never discover in a school marketing brochure or website. As usual, there was plenty of constructive criticism and, perhaps, a few sour grapes. Each respondent is guaranteed anonymity so that every student is encouraged to provide a tell-it-like-it-is response. Many have legitimate gripes, given the high tuition and expectations they bring to the school. Some may have an axe to grind.

Whether fair or not, the comments do reveal challenges at schools that all applicants should at least be aware of. That’s because the comments shed light on real student satisfaction. EMBA students pay hefty sums for these programs. So prospective applicants should have a full understanding of what they’re buying into when they go to a program. We chose a wide variety of schools with highly admired programs to give would-be applicants a sense of the things they may likely encounter.


What are the most critical things the Class of 20121 had to say about their MBA experience? A graduate of Wharton’s EMBA program, the most expensive MBA degree offering in the world, voiced a complaint that is not unusual among Executive MBA graduates: the failure of their employer to acknowledge their new degree. “I am back to work full-time in largely the same role as pre-EMBA — but I am not the same,” the Wharton graduate wrote. “The program’s biggest fault was that it didn’t totally prepare me for this awkward transition with my employer. I think the degree is a catalyst for professional change, whether originally intended or not. I wish I’d known that earlier.”

If you had the chance to sit down and talk privately with some of these grads, you might also hear complaints about the caliber of classmates or the lack of support from career management offices that are more geared to help full-time MBAs than executive students. In some cases, schools accepted students with much less work experience than expected and therefore less able to contribute in rigorous class discussions with more seasoned professionals. As one University of Michigan EMBA told BusinessWeek: “The only recommendations I would make is that they should strengthen the admissions process to filter out any individuals who weren’t at the same caliber as the majority of the class who were elite. Or do more to filter them out during the program.”

Far more frequently, however, the career development office that came in for criticism. “I would have appreciated a little more time dedicated to helping us figure out what other career paths existed,” explained a Columbia Business School EMBA student. “Many of us were actually looking to switch careers and it didn’t seem like the school was prepared for that.”

Here are the most critical things recent graduates said about their EMBA experiences:

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

“The career management service that is offered is understaffed and under resourced. As a result, most career opportunities are sourced primarily through the full time career management office. The school needs to do a better job at marketing the students’ level of expertise / seniority to companies and sourcing better job opportunities.”

“Many firms do not understand the value this education provides nor can they differentiate this program from the full time counterpart. This would be a service to both graduates and the program. Current career service has a format that does not take advantage of the trick experience of the student body therefore does not address its very different needs.”

“I am back to work full-time in largely the same role as pre-EMBA — but I am not the same. The program’s biggest fault was that it didn’t totally prepare me for this awkward transition with my employer. I think the degree is a catalyst for professional change, whether originally intended or not. I wish I’d known that earlier.”

“Some classmates were a little young (i.e. had not yet even completed seven years of work, let alone management experience) — Wharton should emphasize quality over quantity.”

“I would like to see more direct interaction between the business school and other programs within the university.”

“Certainly the food and lodging could use improvement. Also, there are many outside learning opportunities (such as Global Modular courses) that were additional charges — these should be available and covered by the cost of the program.”

  • jackofalltrades

    It is clear that there is an overwhelming need for these executive programs to have a strong support from the career services department. This is true for most graduate level programs in Asia. Since executive programs actually have higher profit margins than the standard core degree programs, perhaps it should merit the needed support services such as career development. I am also curious on other reasons why the schools do not treat executive programs at the same level as standard core programs. Would it be because it is possibly a less selective program than let us say, an MBA?

    • JohnAByrne


      Some of this is a hold over from the days when most Executive MBA students were sponsored by their companies. Schools felt that it would be something akin to betrayal to help an EMBA student find a job elsewhere when his or her company was footing the bill for the education. Now that a minority of students are fully sponsored by their companies that has changed dramatically, but some schools haven’t caught up. And then there is the inevitable conflict for students who are still sponsored, either partially or fully, by their companies.

  • dualdegree

    improved career services seems to be an equally common wish item among all MBA degree programs from my observation. Whatever format: full-time, executive, part-time, or accelerated 1 year, it seems that career services is commonly called out for improvement. In my opinion, I would not focus on admit rates for executive format MBA programs. The best programs are highly selective and competitive despite higher admit rates. Admissions in executive MBA programs is often collaborative with the ad com and includes pre-screenings and feedback on likelihood of being a successful candidate. This is to accommodate busy executives and not waste their time. It tends to reduce the number of less qualified applicants and boost the qualified pool, which raises admit rates, but not quality or competitiveness. If anything, many would argue a top quality EMBA program is tougher to gain admission to than other MBA formats because of the experience requirements that would render most full-time and part-time counterpart applicants as uncompetitive and unlikely admits.
    In the end, most schools could improve career services IMO….

  • I’ve spent 15 years in administrative roles in EMBA programs. Over this period I’ve had the opportunity to get feedback from several thousand EMBA students about career support resources.

    EMBA students are rarely disappointed about the quality of the support they receive to write a better resume, to improve their interview skills, or to more effectively leverage professional networks. There is really only one lightning rod issue that upsets a subset of EMBA students: on-campus recruiting. EMBA students look at the large-scale efforts of their schools’ Career Management offices in bringing employers to the full-time MBA students and want the same treatment.

    Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking. The bottom line is that employers do not come to university campuses looking for experienced hires. Employers come on-campus to interview large pools of junior candidates looking for entry-level roles. Full-time MBA students are relatively homogeneous in two key career-related characteristics: they are early in their careers and they are typically career-switchers looking to start in a new career path. That’s what on-campus recruiters look for. They are not searching for candidates with 10-15 years of industry experience and that’s what most EMBA students possess.

    In one of my previous roles as an EMBA Program Director we worked with the Career Management office to ensure that every employer that came on-campus was explicitly asked if they would like to meet with EMBA students and interview those potential candidates for appropriate openings in their organizations. Less than 5% of the firms coming on-campus to interview full-time MBA students took advantage of this offer. Time and time again, these organizations told us they use executive search to fill positions that require 10+ years of industry experience and they look within their industries for candidates with MBA degrees rather than starting at business schools. It’s just more efficient that way.

    I’m not aware of any EMBA program that has chosen not to bring employers on-campus to interview students. I know of many more EMBA programs that work hard to bring employers on-campus for EMBA students but are up against hiring practices that just don’t lead to that result.

  • Mahadev Narayanan

    The Executive MBA programmes have to be different for different streams of Engineering and the students should be grouped according to their industry and work experience and age groups. The School Managements would have to continuously interact with different industries in different sectors who would have different business scenarios and need different solutions with different yardsticks according to local and global locations/destinations. Therefore the curriculum would have to be designed according to the needs of the Industry which would give a push to the career for the candidate in the existing work place or a higher level of responsibility in the similar industry where required.

  • Aks

    Carlson EMBA program is a joke… Top something school with no top professors – the research but with nothing notable. They claim their top Strategy guy from MIT (zero previous creds) Aks is top in the space but he turns out to be the 3 level deep employee of his wife the Dean. Students leave his 32 hours with nothing that could be gained from a book… He verbally pukes the book at every class session with nothing to add. Time to exit.

  • IshaniM

    It is a good read and thanks to the admin for the post. I intend to talk about a University in Bangalore called Jain University which has Executive MBA program to offer to the students. Unlike other EMBA programs, their curriculum is flexible and train students in real time situations. The University believes that Education is the only medium to bring change in the society and has successfully carved out a niche for itself. If you want to know more, Please Visit

  • IshaniM

    I agree with the admin. EMBA can be a bad experience if decisions are taken in haste. EMBA is a great career opportunity and it provides an edge in the job market. It is imperative to understand that EMBA is a professional course that leverage your profile. So, candidates should know their interest of the course and make right choice in terms of College/University selection. As per Nielsen survey, Jain university, one of the top private university located in Bangalore, India is revered for its EMBA course and preferred by the candidates for the flexibility it offers and acceptance of the course by the potential employers. To know more, please click here: