Choosing Between An Executive MBA, Part-Time, Or Full-Time MBA

Rebecca Heath Anderson on Part-time and Executive MBA Programs

For many of you seeking an MBA, a full-time program may not be an option—especially if you’re working a full-time job. Luckily, many top programs feature alternative options, namely part-time MBA programs and Executive MBA programs (EMBAs). This article will help you understand how these alternative options compare to the full-time MBAs that top schools offer.

How does a Part-time MBA or an EMBA Compare with the Full-time Alternative?

Straight off the bat, it is important to note that the actual course content of a part-time or EMBA program is rarely any different from the same business school’s full-time MBA program. If, for example, you decide to get a Wharton EMBA, you will be taking the same courses from the same faculty members that you would have if you started a full-time program. The curriculum will be as rigorous and challenging either way.

Likewise, a part-time or EMBA will also allow you to gain the same skill set necessary to advance your career as a full-time program. And, notably, you will also have the opportunity to connect with the business school’s valuable alumni network. The alumni community includes graduates from all programs, so you’ll be able to make connections with alumni from part-time and full-time programs to help you achieve your career goals. 

These assertions are backed up by personal experience. Menlo Coaching’s senior consultant, Rebecca Health Anderson graduated from the part-time Kellogg MBA program at Northwestern, while also working as the marketing director for an NGO. 

Rebecca has spoken extensively about her time at Kellogg and offers a lot of wisdom about what made the part-time MBA experience stand out:

Part-time MBA Curriculum 

Rebecca was drawn to the rigorous curriculum and quality of professors like Tim Calkins and Harry Kraemer. Being in a part-time program allowed her to experience the same curriculum, taught by the same professors as full-time MBAs. Some of her courses were even in the Evanston building alongside full-time students which, in turn, led to a number of networking opportunities.

Experiential Learning in Part-time MBA Programs

Rebecca speaks fondly of her experiential Leading and Managing Teams course,  where she consulted with a local business to help them build teams and manage conflict. She also participated, as a part-time student, in the Global Initiatives in Management program which involved a two week trip to Brazil and Argentina, where she met with multinational and local organizations, as well as local politicians. 

Part-time MBA Career Advancement

Coming from a communications and marketing background, Rebecca was able to use her part-time MBA experience, in real-time, to increase the teams and functions she was leading at her job. She notes that while she was able to advance in her job at the time, other part-time MBAs used the opportunity to take advantage of on-campus recruiting and career services to pivot to entirely new careers in different sectors.

Flexibility in Part-time MBA programs

While these other factors make the part-time MBA as useful as a full-time one, Rebecca also praises Kellogg’s flexibility with regards to its part-time program. She was able to scale back her classes when she had annual board meetings, and even take a quarter off from classwork entirely during a particularly travel-heavy period. Some of her classmates were able to fly in from Texas or Seattle on weekends while others started families or took promotions. All of this was possible because of the part-time MBA’s commitment to flexibility.

Part-time MBA vs. Executive MBA

If you are considering a Part-time or an Executive MBA, you may be asking yourself what the difference between the two really is. Both are nontraditional programs, of course, and the differences at different institutions will certainly be a factor. Other differences between the two programs could include their level of flexibility, the frequency of class meetings, and the overall length of the program, but it is important to familiarize yourself with the basics of each.

For schools that have both types of programs, the biggest difference between the two is the age and work experience of the participants. EMBA cohorts are largely made up of older professionals who have more work experience (10-15 years in most cases). Part-time programs have more or less the same profile as full-time programs (with a few oleander outliers): students that are about 5 years out from their undergrad degree with matching work experience. Most part-time MBAs will be in their mid to late 20s, but it is not unusual to see students into their 30s.

Top business schools will differ in the specifics of what they offer in part-time and EMBA programs, and it is important to remember that some schools will offer both programs, while others might only offer one, and still others might not offer anything but a full-time program. 

For example, Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB do not offer either, and instead have the Program for Leadership Development and Leadership and General Management Program, respectively. Yale offers an EMBA, but not a part-time option. This means that if you are set on Yale SOM but cannot join the full-time program you will need to consider their EMBA program by default. Finally, Anderson’s alma mater, Kellogg, is an example of a business school that offers both: it has an Evening & Weekend MBA program as well as an Executive MBA track. 

You can hear more on her thoughts on the benefits of attending a part-time or EMBA program here:

Should You Apply for a Part-time or EMBA Program?

The easiest way to know if you are right for a Part-time or EMBA program if you can or are willing to leave your current job for a two-year hiatus. If that sounds like an attractive proposition, then you should most likely apply for a full-time MBA. Conversely, the inability or unwillingness to take that time off means that you will need to look at a part-time MBA or EMBA if you want to obtain the degree. But that is hardly the only reason to consider a part-time MBA or EMBA. Consider the following two ideas and see if they sound like they might be a better fit for you:

  • Matured Experience. Candidates who have a certain amount of work experience or are into their 30s might prefer an EMBA or part-time MBA program. Sometimes this is because an institution is hesitant to accept students who are more than a certain number of years out from their undergrad experience (as is the case with HBS). But it also may be the case that taking classes with students your own age with similar work experience might be a lot more engaging than the alternative.
  • Low GMAT Scores. Part-time MBA and EMBA programs are, quite simply, less stringent about GMAT scores. Schools may even let you take the Executive Assessment—a shorter and easier to study for exam—instead. If your scores are not up to snuff and unlikely to improve, you may have a better shot in a part-time program. 

Part-time MBAs and Executive MBAs provide a great, flexible alternative to their traditional counterparts and do so without sacrificing the quality that top business schools are known for. If you have questions about either of these, you can look at some of the specifics of various Part-time and EMBA programs.

choosing between MBARebecca Heath Anderson is a Senior Consultant and Director at MBA admissions consulting firm Menlo Coaching. She earned an MBA at Kellogg and holds her B.A. in Journalism and English Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rebecca has a wide range of business experience, from project management at a Fortune 500, to non-profit leadership and entrepreneurship. She recently served as Chief Marketing Officer for a business incubator and its related tech ventures. Rebecca has been coaching MBA applicants since 2018.

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