Executive MBA Degree What to Look For, Keys to Funding, and Expert Advice

Meet the Experts
Dr. Tim Swenson Read More
Donna Blackburn Read More
Antonia Matthews Read More
Barney Cohen Read More


Was this page helpful?

While MBA programs are designed to groom the business leaders of tomorrow, executive MBA programs are geared toward the leaders of today. Managers and entrepreneurs with solid experience in leadership positions can use executive MBA degree programs to further develop and hone their skills, meet their business objectives, and develop their full managerial potential to advance in their careers. Read on for an overview of how EMBA degrees work, what to look for in a program, how to find financial aid, and how to determine if pursuing an EMBA is the right choice.

A student’s perspective: Why did you choose to pursue an Executive MBA program?

I wanted to be a better manager. Since we were growing so fast, I was interested in learning how to better organize my company. I needed to learn not only how to delegate, but how to hold people accountable, especially my executive team.

Barney Cohen, president and CEO of Business 360 Northwest

Quick Facts About EMBA Grads

EMBA graduates generally receive a median salary increase of 29 percent at graduation and 43 percent in the five years after completing the program
41 percent of Executive MBA students received a promotion as they earned their degrees
27.3 percent of EMBA graduates’ employers paid for their education
EMBA students receive an average salary and bonus package of $181,965 by graduation

EMBA vs. MBA: Which One Works for You?

As with any graduate school program, it’s important for potential business students to evaluate what type of degree best fits their needs and goals. While graduates of either program can reap enormous career and financial benefits, the MBA and EMBA degrees are not interchangeable. Students who enroll in EMBA programs can expect a much different educational experience than their MBA counterparts, so an appreciation of these differences is imperative to make an informed decision. The following table compares EMBA and MBA programs in order for students to better understand these differences.

What to Consider EMBA MBA
Time commitment

Designed for those who are already established in their careers, these programs offer flexible course schedules that allow students to juggle school, job and family responsibilities. Classes are usually held on evenings and weekends.

MBA programs generally have less flexible course schedules. Classes are held during both daytime and evening hours, Monday through Friday.


The average annual tuition of an EMBA program is $75,000.

The average annual tuition for an MBA program is $40,000.

Who is a good candidate?

EMBA students already hold managerial positions. They have several years of experience in their careers and have normally been in leadership positions for at least five years.

MBA students are usually in the earlier stages of their careers. Some have work experience in their chosen professions, while others enter programs immediately after finishing a bachelor’s degree.

GMAT required?

Students are not required to complete the GMAT exam to be admitted into an EMBA program.

Students are typically required to take the GMAT in order to be accepted into an MBA program.


EMBA programs provide an intense focus on business coursework in a specific area; students are not required to take many elective courses.

Students in MBA programs are required to complete core courses in their program, and are expected to take a certain number of elective courses in order to graduate.

Teaching styles

EMBA professors often take the role of a facilitator, rather than a lecturer. They encourage exchanges among students and add their own expertise to the discussions.

MBA professors teach courses in a more lecture-based style.

A student’s perspective: How did you choose the school you attended?

I asked around. I talked to people about what I was trying to get from a program and got connected to two people who had gone through the program and highly recommended it. Once I did some research on my own, I came to the conclusion it would be a good match for me.

Barney Cohen, president and CEO of Business 360 Northwest

Executive MBA Programs: What to Look For

Those interested in earning an Executive MBA can benefit from hearing about the realities of these programs from those who run them. Our experts go into depth about what you should look for you in your future EMBA program and why it’s important:

  • AACSB Accreditation

    Accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is conferred on schools who have achieved the highest standards of business schools all over the world. Overall, graduates of AACSB-accredited schools come thoroughly prepared to meet the challenges of business, and are more attractive to potential employers.

  • Approach to Problem Solving

    Does the program have a balanced focus on problem solving? “It’s important to find a balanced program that focuses on both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of business, and provides a well-rounded MBA experience,” says Matthews. Swenson agrees, pointing out that effective leaders must know how to approach problems from multiple fronts. “Solutions rarely come from just one approach,” he says. “Lasting and effective solutions bring an analysis of figures as well as the human aspect together to not only solve the problem, but foster a culture of implementation and follow-through by organizations.”

  • Builds on Career Experiences

    Programs should enhance students’ previous career experiences. Executive MBA programs are aimed at mid- to senior-level managers working full-time jobs. “By their nature, EMBA programs attract students with varying and vast experiences in their chosen careers,” notes Swenson. “How the program incorporates those experiences into the curriculum is an essential aspect to consider.”

  • Cost

    Consider the costs of the program. Most generally include tuition and fees, books and other course materials, admission to conferences or other events, an international trip, and some other services such as meals. It can be a hefty price tag, but if the return on investment is there, it will be worth it. Students and alumni from the University of Alabama’s EMBA program create ROI statements to demonstrate how the program has translated into real-world benefits. “They show how the program has benefited current students and alumni personally, as well as their companies,” says Blackburn.

  • Does the Degree Require On Campus Time?

    In many cases, it does. Certain courses are required to be taken on campus, and that may be a stumbling block for students with work or family commitments. “Prospective students should understand the professional leave and travel requirements they’ll need to plan for,” cautions Matthews. “For some working professionals, attending on-campus courses just isn’t feasible, so they need to look for a program where 100% of coursework is offered online.”

  • Expert Faculty

    Faculty who teach in EMBA programs should be experts in their fields. “The Culverhouse College of Commerce EMBA faculty at the University of Alabama have extensive experience in research, serve as expert witnesses, or own their own businesses,” says Blackburn. Students can start their research by exploring college websites to research the backgrounds and experience of faculty members, and if possible, attend a class or arrange a visit with professors.

  • Networking Opportunities

    Both classmates and alumni are important parts of an EMBA student’s network. They’re vital for finding other contacts in the field and establishing relationships that can help in advancing a career. Many EMBA programs are offered with a cohort model, meaning students stay together and work with one another throughout the course of the entire program. “In the UA EMBA, we select diverse classes with students from different academic and professional backgrounds and industries,” says Blackburn. “The interaction in the class and in your teamwork allows for students to share knowledge and expertise so that you learn as much from each other as from the speaker.”

  • Overall Purpose

    The best EMBA programs are focused on advancing students’ careers. There’s a serious investment of both time and intellectual energy, so it’s important to carefully choose a program that will pay off in the long run. “Effective EMBA programs need to prepare leaders,” says Swenson. “They programs need to be focused on the student’s career development.”

  • Program Flexibility

    Flexibility is usually a prime consideration for EMBA students, who are typically busy professionals with other time commitments. “Some programs require students to take courses in a lock-step order, and some allow students the flexibility to create their own path to graduation (within certain parameters),” explains Matthews. “The latter allows students to take certain courses or subjects when they feel most comfortable, and can be important for students who expect life or career changes to impact how they flow through the program. A cohort model works nicely for students who aren’t looking for that flexibility and want a program that pushes all students through the coursework in the same order and at the same rate.” Whether students choose to study on-campus, online, or in a hybrid format, it’s vital the program affords them opportunities for meaningful interaction with their peers and faculty.

A student’s perspective:
What advice would you give to people considering enrolling in an EMBA program?

Be totally committed to the program. You need to give it 100 percent; don’t try to just ‘fit it in’ your schedule. There’s no point in doing it otherwise. Also, make sure you have a good business reason for doing it. Harvard helped me gain knowledge, skills, and confidence and even after 20 years, I am still implementing the lessons that I learned there.

Barney Cohen, president and CEO of Business 360 Northwest

Funding an Executive MBA Degree

Although earning an Executive MBA can be a good investment in a professional’s future, with tuition running about $75,000 per year, it’s certainly a costly one. Fortunately, prospective students can investigate several avenues to help pay for their education. Following are some funding options that are worth exploring:

Employer assistance

Many organizations offer tuition assistance programs, recognizing they will reap the benefits when their workers obtain more education and skills. Contribution amounts vary by company, and some have specific requirements that employees must meet in order to receive funding, so employees should talk to their human resources departments for specifics.


Similar to scholarships, grants provide funding that does not have to be repaid. Grants are generally offered through government agencies and are based on financial need.


Executive MBA students can qualify for both federal and private loans. Federal funds are generally the better option because they have lower interest rates, but private loans are an option for students who need additional aid. Before looking into private options, students should fill out a Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to ascertain how much federal funding they qualify for.

Outside scholarships

There are many professional associations, nonprofit organizations and private companies that offer scholarships based on a number of criteria—such as membership in a specific racial, ethnic or religious group. Other scholarships may be geared toward business majors or those who are members of a certain industry. Websites like FastWeb, Scholarships.com and FinAid are good places to explore.

School scholarships

In order to attract students, schools often offer scholarships to defray the cost of tuition and fees. Students can speak to the individual business departments for details.

Veteran benefits

Students who have served in the military may be able to receive funding for their EMBA degrees through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Find out how to activate benefits by contacting the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

A student’s perspective: How has earning an Executive MBA helped your career?

[It] showed me a structured way of looking at a business problem. That structure was grounded in theory and tested over time. Now when I encounter a problem that I don’t have the skills to solve, I look for someone who does have those skills. The world is filled with people who do certain things better than me. The program also taught me how to manage people. It taught me the power of a shared agenda with my employees. By implementing the things I learned about managing employees, I went from thinking it was hard to thinking it was fun.

Barney Cohen, president and CEO of Business 360 Northwest