Executive MBA vs. MBA: What Are the Differences?

A businessperson at work on a laptop.

There are several ways to boost one’s professional career. When it comes to advanced degrees, two great options are a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or an executive MBA (EMBA). Contrary to popular belief and despite being off by just one letter, the two programs are not one and the same. Notable differences between the programs range from their students’ typical level of work experience to the time it takes to complete the degree work.

Read on to explore the differences between an executive MBA vs. an MBA.

What Is an Executive MBA vs. a Regular MBA?

Executive MBAs and MBAs are both advanced business degrees, but they differ in some key aspects.

A regular MBA is a general graduate degree in business that typically focuses on building leadership, management, and technical skills to pursue high-level roles. An executive MBA, on the other hand, expands on the subjects covered in an MBA curriculum, teaching established leaders advanced business concepts targeted to enhance their management skills and strategic thinking.

MBA and EMBA programs may also offer different concentrations so students can tailor their education so it aligns with their professional goals. Washington State University’s Online MBA program, for example, offers concentrations in finance, international business, hospitality business management, and marketing, along with a general track for students seeking a broader curriculum. The EMBA program, meanwhile, provides a comprehensive curriculum that emphasizes strategy, innovation, and leadership.

Five Differences Between an Executive MBA and an MBA

Students need to consider a variety of factors when examining the differences between executive MBA and MBA programs. Following is an examination of five key differences:

  1. Students’ starting point
  2. Curricula
  3. Time requirements
  4. Career options
  5. Costs

1. Students’ Starting Point

For individuals choosing between an MBA and an EMBA, an important factor to consider is the professional experience they would bring to the program.

Individuals who have 10-15 years of professional experience may find EMBA programs more rewarding. Compared with EMBA offerings, MBA curricula typically cater to individuals with less work exposure. An MBA is a great way to step up in an industry by taking on new roles and positions.

An EMBA, on the other hand, can help professionals enhance a set of already established business skills. Prospective MBA candidates should consider if it’s a better idea to wait a few years, gain experience in an industry first, and then go for an EMBA.

2. Curricula

While both degrees often require a similar number of credit hours, there are several differences between executive MBA and MBA curricula. MBA programs generally feature advanced business courses and offer concentrations in specific areas of business, such as finance or marketing.

EMBA programs typically focus on strategic business concepts and tools that can help students become leaders in organizational planning and management. Individuals who want to use their degree to be more effective in C-suite and director roles may find the EMBA the better option.

3. Time Requirements

Both the MBA and executive MBA require a serious time commitment—but a grinding 24/7 approach to learning isn’t a necessity for either program. An EMBA candidate may be more likely to have a family and an engaging career they can’t leave behind. To accommodate busy personal and professional lifestyles, schools that offer EMBA programs generally hold classes at night or on the weekends.

MBA programs often require a more traditional approach to learning. Classes are mainly during the day, and schedules are less flexible. It’s not unusual for an MBA candidate to leave their job temporarily to pursue the degree.

Despite the differences between executive MBA and MBA curriculums, students who choose online programs for either degree often have greater flexibility in scheduling than their in-person counterparts.

4. Career Path Options

While an MBA can be a good option for those moving into mid-level leadership roles, an EMBA often is a better choice for professionals working toward executive-level positions. Following are some career path options for EMBAs and MBA graduates.

Career Path Options for EMBAs

Top-level roles such as chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), and senior vice president (SVP) of operations are a few examples of careers that EMBA graduates may seek to pursue.

  • CEO - Establishes a company’s policies and directs its overall activities
  • CFO - Leads a company’s financial operations
  • SVP of operations - Manages an organization’s day-to-day activities

Career Path Options for MBAs

An MBA can provide the foundation for leadership roles such as:

  • Corporate controller - Oversees corporate billing, accounts payable and receivable, and budgeting
  • Finance director - Leads an organization’s finance team in strategic planning
  • Senior financial analyst - Reviews a company’s accounting data to determine risks and develop solutions

5. Total Costs

Expense is another crucial factor to consider when comparing an executive MBA vs. an MBA.

An MBA may be a less expensive option than an EMBA. The total tuition for WSU’s EMBA and MBA programs are:

  • EMBA - $57,162 (42 credits)
  • MBA - $32,328–$46,696 (36–52 credits, based on foundation coursework needed; excludes the cost of books)

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that financial assistance from a student’s employer and from scholarships, military benefits, and other sources may help defray the costs of pursuing either degree. For example, some companies may offer to pay for a top-performing employee’s MBA tuition, with the agreement that the employee will continue working for the company after graduation. Veteran status may also help offset the cost of tuition.

International programming might add to the costs of completing these programs.

Executive MBA vs. MBA: Choose the Right Option for You

If you’re a business leader seeking to enhance your management skills and excel in your role, Washington State University’s online Executive MBA program can help you pursue your goals.

Delivered from an executive point of view, the program delivers a comprehensive education that covers concepts such as:

  • Marketing management
  • Business analytics
  • Financial management
  • Strategy formulation and organizational design
  • International business management

WSU’s EMBA program aims to prepare graduates to become the innovative executive leaders of tomorrow. Discover the benefits of an executive MBA and how it can help you sharpen your leadership skills.


Recommended Readings

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Graduate Management Admission Council, “Should You Pursue a Part-Time MBA or an Executive MBA? 3 Things to Consider as You Make Your Business School Decision”

Indeed, “MBA vs. Executive MBA: Which One Is Right for You?”

Payscale, Average Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Salary

Payscale, Average Corporate Controller Salary

Payscale, Average Finance Director Salary

Payscale, Average Senior Financial Analyst Salary

Payscale, Average Senior Vice President (SVP), Operations, Salary

ThoughtCo, “Why Business Students Get an Executive MBA”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Chief Executives