Lonely Island or Unexplored Continent

Differences between the MBA and the EMBA

Are you currently trying to decide whether an EMBA would be a smart option for you? If so, there are others facing the same problem. While the traditional MBA has been a popular choice among business graduates and executives, the EMBA degree is gradually gaining momentum, with about 35% of professionals with experience opting for it, meaning approximately 125,000 new students over Europe and the USA. You may be wondering why you should choose an EMBA rather than a traditional MBA. What is the difference between the two and what are the actual benefits of the EMBA?

Applicants and structure

The EMBA usually enrols people who have at least five years of experience (the requirement differs from school to school) in a managerial position and who are generally older than traditional MBA students. Thus, while the EMBA programme is similar to the MBA in terms of the types of courses offered, it is designed to suit more mature, experienced applicants in the pursuit of practical experience, as opposed to MBA students who want to learn the basics of theory.

Does this mean that the EMBA does not offer basic courses such as Accounting or Marketing? Most EMBA programmes offer the courses taught in the traditional MBA, yet the style of teaching may be different. While a traditional MBA may require you to focus on a specialised field such as accounting or marketing, an EMBA may not allow you to do so. Some may perceive this as a restraint, others may take it as a blessing, as the EMBA allows them to take electives based upon the various hard or soft skills that they want to acquire, which rarely limit their learning to a particular field. For example, some EMBA students may wish to strengthen their leadership skills, while others may seek to study financial management or accounting. Thus, a student who wishes to learn a particular type of financial management can opt for that elective and is not obliged to take other similar courses; someone who wishes to polish their soft skills such as leadership and presentation may opt for those electives.

Another distinction between the EMBA programme and the traditional MBA is that EMBA classes are smaller in size and thus they tend to have a bigger impact on individual students. Moreover, because of the higher level of experience and advanced understanding of students, EMBA classes may also be better in terms of quality and class discussions. However, EMBA programmes are more focused upon management in terms of course content and teaching methods. Conversely, the MBA may focus on a number of disciplines such as marketing, finance, human resources, etc.

The curriculum

The curriculum in traditional higher education programmes is usually a mixture of theory and practice, and this holds true for traditional MBA programmes. The course content for EMBA programmes is mainly focused on management rather than on other specialised areas such as in the traditional MBA. However, management is combined with other specialised fields such as marketing, human resources, and finance to offer courses such as managerial finance, marketing management, and accounting for decision-making. Students are usually allowed to opt for electives and take courses which are appropriate for the needs of their organisation or for their own career goals. MBA programmes, on the other hand, are not specifically tailored towards management only and allow students to explore various areas of specialisation.  

Teaching methods

The EMBA programme, being relatively new and catering for a smaller group of students, appears to be a lonely island in the ocean of higher education. However, it is actually an amalgamation of the teaching requirements of higher education institutes and the learning requirements current managers have during the course of their jobs. EMBA students may require more personalised coaching, which helps them achieve their personal career goals or gives them exposure to more challenging alternatives. Most schools and universities understand the need for a more practical experience with students who are already working, such as in the EMBA programme, and base their teaching upon concepts that can be implemented immediately. Thus, teaching methods may include an emphasis on giving students international exposure by offering them a week-long module in another country, and boosting students’ personal and career development by showing them how they can use the knowledge they have gained during their modules to suit their organisation's needs or their personal career advancement needs.  Accordingly, the EMBA teaching methods include workshops, seminars, discussions and one-on-one coaching to help students realise their personal goals and enable them to tailor their knowledge. For example, an EMBA student may not particularly need to know about the various advertising methods but may wish to learn how to advertise products in the fast-moving consumer goods segment. One-on-one coaching will enable the student to gain a better understanding of how to use this knowledge to their advantage.


An additional advantage of the EMBA programme is the opportunity for these managers who have gone back to school, to network and associate with others who have the same or more experience in similar fields. As the Princeton Review states, "The EMBA programme has the additional advantage of giving managers the opportunity to network with other managers and create new career opportunities". Opportunities for networking exist as managers complete the course with the same group of students, helping to develop mutually beneficial relationships and improve future job and/or business opportunities. Ram Athurik, a private career counsellor and digital marketing expert in the United States, says, "While an EMBA and MBA programme are rather similar in curriculum, the EMBA provides current managers with an additional advantage of networking and a hands-on experience!"

Hard skills and soft skills

While most EMBA programmes are funded by employers to help their employees enhance their skills, who later benefit from this additional expertise, many people pursue an EMBA programme independently. Some EMBA students want to set up their own business; progress to the position of CEO, COO, CFO; or obtain a higher managerial position. Depending on student preferences, the EMBA programme's teaching may consist of theoretical lectures and workshops for the acquisition of hard skills such as financial management or accounting, or it may focus upon discussions, practice sessions, and group projects which help with soft skills such as leadership, teamwork, and presentation.

EMBA programmes are designed to be practical and applicable when learning new hard and soft skills, and they do not heavily emphasise the basics, since students require further instruction to build on their current knowledge.


Speaking of flexibility, it is important to note that EMBA programmes usually have the same duration as the MBA, which is approximately two years. However, the added advantage is that students do not have to give up their salary in order to return to school. Thus, professionals can pursue EMBA while working, with the programme being particularly tailored to a flexible schedule. EMBA students usually meet once a week or during the weekends so that students can work on weekdays. Moreover, they are also likely to meet in diverse settings which are convenient and provide a more comfortable atmosphere. Additionally, technological advances such as video conferencing, open source learning platforms such as Moodle, and other online applications give students easy access to study materials to keep up to date even if they are unable to attend classes. These applications also allow students to collaborate easily on group projects and assignments while juggling other work commitments. In the words of Amy Preston, student of the EMBA programme at the London School of Economics, states, "I am glad I waited to gain professional experience and go for an EMBA rather than a traditional MBA. It is a completely different educational experience and one that has provided me with great benefit."

Thus, the amount of flexibility, networking opportunities and exposure that the EMBA offers may not be prevalent in a traditional MBA. Moreover, an EMBA degree usually means you are given more weight in the job market and a higher salary. Hence, while relatively new, the EMBA programme may not be a lonely island in the global ocean of higher education for long, as more people in senior management positions are opting for an EMBA.

This article has been produced by Advent Group and featured in the 2015-2016 Access MBA Guide

Featured Schools

Sort by A-Z / Z-A