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MBA vs. Executive MBA: Which Is Better?

Author: Michael Jackson

Like many people, for Jennifer Knight, the deciding factor between picking a standard MBA vs. an executive MBA came down to how best to juggle classes with her day job, which was running her family-owned mill in Jesup, Ga. I chose the executive MBA because I was still working in and running the family business," she said. "We had one to one-and-a-half years to sell the business, and the company was picking up the tuition for the executive MBA.

After the mill sold, she went to work for The Newport Group, and today she's running another privately held company, American Woolen Company, in Stafford Springs, Conn.

I was really glad I did it, she said. But if I could go back and do it again, I would do a full-time program. I don't think you get the submersive experience of graduate school, and in retrospect I would have been interested in making a career change. But I'm absolutely thrilled I got it. I learned a lot and I made some personal connections, plus it's good to have on your resume.

So if both the MBA and EMBA are accredited, which is more impressive and which is the better choice? Read on to find out the main differences between the two and, more importantly, which is likely to matter more to you in your career. (For related reading, see: When Is An MBA Worth It?)

What's In a name?

An MBA, or Master of Business Administration, is generally a two-year program, stretched out to three or four years if students choose to go part-time. Essentially a general management degree, an MBA doesn't require applicants to have professional work experience, but they usually must take the GMAT as part of the admission process to a school.

An EMBA, or an Executive Master of Business Administration, is also a two-year program, but it's aimed at business executives with five years' managerial experience. The average age of students ranges from 32 to 38 years old. However business rock stars—prodigies, fast-climbers, valuable executives that the company wants to hang onto, and maybe a real-life rock star or two—may not have to put in that much time. (For related reading, see: Executive MBA Programs: Managers Going Back To School and The GRE: The Cheaper Alternative for Business School.)

Weighing Work Loads

Full-time MBA students have full-day, intensive schedules, making it tough to maintain a job outside the program. EMBA students keep their full-time jobs, and typically attend classes on Fridays and the weekends.

In addition to core business-basics classes, MBAs can specialize in such areas as finance, marketing and entrepreneurship, and they can usually choose when to take a class. EMBA students face faster-paced classes, but they cover the same material. Programs offer fewer electives, and they're designed so that students take most classes, if not all, with the same classmates. This is great for networking but not so great if you can't stand working with the others you're grouped with.

Cost Differences

With an MBA, tuition's on you, though it usually costs a bit less than the EMBA. In the top ten business schools, expect the total cost to be more than $150,000. When Poets & Quants took a look at financial aid from the top 20 B-schools in 2011, Emory University's Goizueta Business School was giving aid to the biggest chunk of its students (85%) and Columbia Business School the least—only 55% of students compared to 80% or more at Duke, Dartmouth, UCLA and Virginia as well as Emory).

For an EMBA, usually your employer pays most—if not all—tuition costs. (After all, they're benefiting from the new skills their managers are learning.) And along with someone else covering your tuition, you're also receiving full salary. A company tends to require a few years' commitment after you finish the degree, so you must be willing to make that time commitment and stick to the career for a bit.

In terms of location, with an MBA you can attend classes at whichever school you get into and choose. For an EMBA, if you're working at your job, you're limited to area schools.

The Bottom Line

Just remember that neither an MBA or an EMBA guarantees job security. But both should equip you with important skill sets, a valuable business network and some prestige that comes with a higher degree; the preference ultimately comes down to your flexibility in timing and money. As a side note, in a 2009 survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, EMBAs were the most satisfied with their education. (For related reading, see: The Real Cost of an MBA.)

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