Guide To The Top EMBAs In Chicago Metro Area

Chicago Booth School’s EMBA program was ranked No. 1 by U.S. News


The quickest route to the degree is at Notre Dame’s Chicago program where students complete their requirements within 17 months, five months earlier than at Chicago Booth. While most EMBA programs have been slow to put more of their courses online (that’s largely because EMBA students are choosing an EMBA over an online MBA due to the face-to-face learning), there are two programs that now offer significant content online: Loyola, which says that a quarter of its EMBA is online, and Purdue which has a substantial online component that allows students to earn the degree in just six Monday through Saturday residencies on its campus.

Of course, some would-be EMBA students today are looking more seriously at online programs that can offer even more flexible scheduling with professional and personal responsibilities and can sometimes be considerably cheaper. The University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business has seen enrollment in its iMBA program explode, in part because students can get the degree for just $22,000. That is a very different market, however than the traditional Executive MBA experience with much more high-touch, in-person teaching, and subsequent networking opportunities.

At the very top of the market in both price and prestige, Chicago Booth vs. Northwestern Kellogg, it’s worth noting how each school differentiates its EMBA offerings. Besides the cost differential, with Kellogg priced $20K above Booth, Kellogg offers two start dates a year in January and September versus Booth’s only start in June. Booth students take their classes every other Friday and Saturdays, with five week-long residencies. Kellogg students go to class twice monthly on Fridays and Saturdays, with four intensive residencies, including one for orientation in Evanston and a global network week of study abroad.


The class profiles for both schools show that Kellogg is more successful than Booth in enrolling a higher percentage of women, with Kellogg at 31% and Booth at just 22%. Booth students tend to be a year younger, averaging 37, with 13 years of work experience, compared to Kellogg’s 38-year average, with 14 years of work experience. Booth says that 121 of its current crop of 240 EMBA students already have advanced degrees, while Kellogg notes that 68% of its students are in senior-level positions in their companies, with 11% at C-level.

At Chicago Booth, there are 18 courses in the core with four electives that a student can choose to take in such focused areas as capital markets, corporate finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, strategy or leadership and management. Kellogg has 18.5 units in core courses (with each credit translating into a full course), then 3.5 to 5.5 credits for what Kellogg calls “advanced courses,” and finally 4 to 8 credits for electives. The cohort size at Booth’s Chicago campus is 80 students, while Kellogg aims for 65 to 75.

As is typical of all MBA programs, students are signing up for a general management curriculum. “We are a program that believes in the fundamentals,” says Keegan of Booth. “We are still a strong general management program but students still have the chance to take electives from our faculty. They can take four electives during the course of their program. They are taught over two consecutive weeks on campus, two in the first week and two in the second. We have 30 on offer. We also invite our EMBA alumni from all over the world to take the electives for a small fee with current students. About 125 alums come back and take classes. They audit the courses but have to be a valuable part of the interaction in the classroom. They are not coming back just to hang out.”

According to Greg Hanifee, associate dean of Kellogg’s Executive MBA Global Network, the EMBA at Kellogg is a three-way intersection: “It starts with developing yourself to be the best leader you can be combined with research and rigor our faculty bring to the classroom. This is met with a cross-cultural collaboration and team approach that has been at the heart of Kellogg for so long. It sets the stage for students, for whatever their potential might be.”


But what makes Booth and Kellogg EMBAs truly unique is the way each approaches global content. A more typical EMBA approach is taken by Loyola Chicago which boasts a week-long immersion abroad to meet with business and government leaders. Notre Dame’s Chicago EMBA students partake in a weeklong, project-based international immersion where they will work with a global company or organization in such places as Brussels, China or Turkey to help tackle a specific business challenge. “We want our students to have a cultural experience and provide some academic experience on the economy and the history of the country but two of the days are spent on consulting projects,” explains Michael Brach, director of degree programs at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

Booth and Kellogg, however, take this up a formidable notch with an unusual level of global exposure, particularly Chicago’s EMBA program which features a full five weeks of required learning with the school’s entire global cohort. Booth enrolls 80 EMBA students on each of its three campuses in Chicago, London, and Hong Kong. During kick-off sessions at the start of the program in June, all 240 newbie students converge on Chicago for a week’s worth of classes and orientation (there’s also a local orientation during the first week of classes on a student’s home campus).

In the program’s first quarter, all the students will also meet for two more international weeks, one in London and another in Hong Kong. Then, after the more typical every other Friday and Saturday classes, students will again come together with their global cohorts in quarters six and seven over a pair of week-long international sessions for core courses in Chicago.


In comparison, Kellogg uses a partnership model with non-U.S. schools to give its EMBA students global exposure. Each EMBA student at Kellogg is required to take two global electives that can be completed within five or six days on any of seven campuses, including Canada, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. A student could go to Tel Aviv for electives on technology startups and venture capital or could go to Germany for a course on luxury brands. Then there also is a required Global Network Week, an annual week-long event that brings together students from Kellogg’s entire EMBA network in Evanston in August. The Evanston EMBA students will take courses on campus for six days.

Kellogg also offers a few optional emerging markets courses that also take students outside the country. A TechVenture India class, for example, begins in January with classroom lectures, heads to two of four cities—Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore—in India in March for a week and wraps up with a required research paper. 

The upshot: Kellogg essentially requires EMBA students to be outside the country for roughly a week. Booth requires its Chicago-based EMBAs to be outside the country twice as much time as Kellogg, at its own campuses in London and in Hong Kong. Plus, the entire global cohort gathers for three full weeks in Chicago. That’s a lot of intense bonding with professionals representing 48 nationalities from all over the world. Students, moreover, can also choose to take a quarter of classes in London or Hong Kong, above and beyond the required global interactions. In both cases, the schools cover accommodation and meals, while students pay for the airfare.

Not surprisingly, Booth’s global exposure is the single biggest highlight of the EMBA program. “The global experience piece by far is a highlight for the students,” adds Keegan. “It’s not just traveling to London and Hong Kong or Chicago and London, it’s having a meaningful intellectual exchange with students. Our goal is to have students from all over the world be in a classroom setting and work in study groups. They get this incredible network of Booth students from 50 different countries. That experience by far is the highlight. We see students who transfer between the campuses fairly regularly. Someone can start in Chicago and take a quarter in London or Hong Kong, so we see a lot of mixing of the cohorts.” 


Hanifee of Kellogg also agrees that his EMBA students also consider Kellogg’s global week a highlight.“You’d think there’d be a lot of pushback on it since we made it mandatory, but there’s been zero,” he says. “In order to be a leader in the next 20 years you have to have a global perspective so it’s important for us to give it to them. Still, we’re also people and humans so if something comes up in their lives, or if their job does not allow them to go, we’re rational and will figure out how to achieve it with coursework and other classes.”

Obviously, both Kellogg and Booth boast academic rigor. But Booth’s requirement for a standardized test is a tipoff to how seriously the school approaches the idea that its program requires hard work. “We are a rigorous academic program,” insists Keegan. “Our faculty believes in that. Our school believes in that. So our students know they are getting the real deal, the same intellectual academic experience as anyone else at the school. That means we find pretty special people. They have to believe in that. They have to handle the work and value it, too.”