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Guide to Executive MBA Programs

ExecutivesExecutive MBA programs are designed for working professionals looking to take their careers to the next level. They provide middle managers, who have shown great potential, with refreshers in basic business and more specific education in the art of management. Ultimately, students in these programs are hoping to use the skills they acquire to catapult their career into the C-suite.

Often, campus-based EMBA classes are held on weekends once a month or during select weeks during the semester. For convenience sake, most students live in the region and drive or fly to the program's location. Many business schools also offer online MBA programs for those interested in a more flexible option. Typically, the same faculty members who teach full-time MBA students teach the executives, both online and on-campus. Practitioners often take an active role either by teaching courses, leading discussions, or offering tours of their companies. The students themselves have much to contribute because of their own experiences in the field.

Most students continue to work full-time while participating in an EMBA program. As a result, companies often have a stake in a student's success. Many employers pay for part or all of the tuition. Employers sponsor about half the students in a given executive MBA program at most schools. Regardless of whether they are providing financial support, employers are usually required by schools to sign off on an employee's participation. In fact, it's usually part of the application. After all, the schools want to be certain that you'll be able to get off work when you need to attend classes and that the company is aware of your ambitions.


Who is the right fit for an executive MBA program?

Executive MBA students have been around the corner office a few times. Compared to their counterparts in full-time programs, they tend to be older (mid- to late 30s) with more work experience. Usually, they are working full-time in a capacity that has them managing a team of some sort. They come from a wide variety of industries, including banking, consulting, healthcare, media, and even law.

While students might be highly specialized (a finance whiz or marketing guru), they are lacking the general management skills required of more senior personnel. That's often one of the big motivators for pursuing an executive MBA.

While you can make some generalizations, the type of student varies slightly from program to program. "Even within the EMBA world, the programs have different requirements for students' level of experience, with some accepting a lower-level manager and students in their early-mid 30s, while others target more seasoned, pre-exec, or even exec-level students," says Cindy Tokumitsu, an MBA admissions consultant for in Los Angeles. "It's important to research the programs to find the right fit for your level and amount of experience."

Nowadays, some entrepreneurs are signing up in an effort to take their businesses to the next level. "A second, increasingly common applicant type is entrepreneurs whose business is past the startup phase and is entering a significant growth phase, beyond the scale that a smart/capable person can run without specific business know-how," says Tokumitsu. "To acquire or improve management skills, candidates look to executive MBA programs."

Regardless of their background, to gain admission, applicants have to prove leadership potential and an ability to contribute to classroom discussion. Admissions committees seek well-rounded individuals, who are going to make for great team members and demonstrate budding management talents. Most schools ask applicants to provide a sponsorship form, essays, undergraduate and other educational coursework transcripts, recommendations, and GMAT or GRE standardized test scores. Many also require an admissions interview. In addition, international applicants -- to American programs -- have to prove their proficiency in English with TOEFL or PTE standardized tests. There is often an application fee as well. Much like the full-time MBA programs, the application process is quite competitive.


What do you learn in an EMBA program?EMBA students

Programs offer a core curriculum in subjects such as finance and operations management. Since most of the students already have a grasp of the basics and have demonstrated leadership skills, there's an emphasis on teaching them how to manage different departments and functions within an organization.

"Some schools have a lock-step program (meaning that all courses are required with no electives), while others provide the opportunity to choose electives and specialize in a particular area," says Jennifer Weld, an MBA admissions consultant at

Many of the programs also include education about working with teams that include members in multiple regions of the world across cultures and time zones. This can include overseas visits or meetings with executives from multi-national corporations. Ultimately, executive MBA programs want to help students learn how to see the big picture and create visions for the companies for which they are working. After all, these guys are aiming to be the ones with big ideas, who manage the cogs in the wheel as they execute their plans.

Often, there is an element of hands-on work, where individuals or teams are tasked with helping a real organization overcome a problem. The point is to help students stretch their minds, so they can tackle similar conundrums at their own companies. EMBA programs are supposed to immediately help participants add value on the job.


What is the career trajectory of executive MBA graduates?

The obvious benefit to an executive MBA program is acquiring new skills that will help graduates move up in their current company. But even those who are sponsored by their employer might end up moving on to other companies eventually (after the required commitment that usually comes when tuition payment is complete). While these students are not participating in the same kind of career planning that full-time MBA students experience, they do have the chance to grow their network. Their classmates, as well as alumni of the program, can serve as allies as they seek to become senior executives. What most executive MBA students will tell you is that they appreciate being able to immediately apply what they're learning in the classroom to their real world jobs. And the companies sponsoring them want to see an immediate return on investment, so that's a good thing.


What are the top Executive MBA programs?

If you're interested in pursuing an EMBA program, it's a good idea to research a variety of business schools in order to pick a program and school that matches your educational and professional goals. One potential criterion to evaluate schools is a program's ranking.

Different publications offer different rankings of both business schools and specialized EMBA programs. Bloomberg Businessweek's EMBA Rankings are based on surveys of graduates and directors of EMBA programs. Former students comment on "teaching quality, career services, curriculum, and other aspects of their experience," while program directors provide their own top 10 EMBA rankings. Feedback for 2011 was combined with survey results from 2007 and 2009. The final scores are based 65 percent on student responses and 35 percent on program director input.

Top Executive MBA Programs (Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 2013):

  1. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
  2. University of Chicago (Booth)
  3. SMU (Cox)
  4. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  5. UCLA (Anderson)
  6. Columbia University
  7. IE Business School
  8. USC (Marshall)
  9. The University of Ohio State (Fisher)
  10. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ross)
  11. IESE
  12. University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)
  13. University of Virginia (Darden)
  14. Duke (Fuqua)
  15. Norte Dame (Mendoza)
  16. Insead
  17. University of Maryland (Smith)
  18. Georgetown (McDonough)
  19. IMD
  20. Esade
  21. New York University (Stern)
  22. Emory University (Goizueta)
  23. Pepperdine University (Graziadio)
  24. University of Minnesota (Carlson)
  25. University of Texas-Austin (McCombs)
  26. Rutgers University
  27. Thunderbird
  28. Oxford (Said)
  29. Cornell (Johnson)
  30. Boston University
  31. University of Washington, St. Louis (Olin)
  32. London Business School
  33. Utah (Eccles)
  34. Georgia Tech (Scheller)
  35. Vanderbilt (Owen)
  36. UC Irvine (Merage)
  37. University of Washington (Foster)
  38. University of Texas-Dallas (Jindal)
  39. Rochester (Simon)
  40. Arizona State (Carey)


Executive Education Programs, BloombergBusinessweek, Rankings & Profiles, 2011,
"How We Rank the Schools," BloombergBusinessweek, Louis Lavelle, October 25, 2011,
"Top Executive MBA Programs of 2011," BloombergBusinessweek, Louis Lavelle, November 21, 2011,