If you’re looking to up your game professionally and give yourself a competitive edge, you may be considering an executive MBA program.
Unlike a full-time MBA program, EMBAs let you keep working while getting your MBA, and executive programs are generally fast-tracked, so take less time to complete than the two years required by full-time programs.
EMBA degrees can position you for a promotion, especially for careers in finance, marketing and accounting. And although a well-regarded and rigorous EMBA program will sharpen your skills and look good on your resume, it’s not a guarantee that new doors will open for you. That’s a critically important factor to consider, because an EMBA isn’t cheap and employers reimburse for less than they once did.
According to the nonprofit Executive MBA Council in Orange, Calif., employers partially sponsored about 36 percent of students in 2014 and fully funded the EMBA educations of about 25 percent. Although the percentage of programs offering scholarships and fellowships is now at 53 percent, the average annual cost of an EMBA program is nearly $75,000.
A new survey of Executive MBA programs from my firm Ivy Exec, found that a degree from a top-tier firm could cost more than twice that. For example, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania’s EMBA program costs $181,500 for a two-year program. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business offers a 21-month EMBA course of study for $174,000, Columbia University’s school’s program costs $163,940 for its 24-month program and the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley’s costs $159,900 for a 19-month course. According to the Executive M.B.A. Council, 232 universities offer the degree, enrolling about 26,000 students a year.
After investing that much in an MBA, students will want to see some kind of payoff—a shift in position and responsibility at their current organization or a higher position and salary at a new company. Wharton and Columbia say their programs result in a 60 percent salary increase. But other schools, like New York University’s Stern School of Business say EMBA’s see a 35 percent increase and those at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan can expect a 42 percent salary increase for their approximately $145,000 investment. So what does this all mean?
For one, committing to getting the degree may mean you are also committing to wracking up debt. Many students borrow more than $50,000 to pursue an EMBA. At Georgetown University’s McDonough School, for example, EMBA students graduate with an average debt of more than $112,000; at Pepperdine University, 82% of students have an average debt of $92,000. One reason is that companies are no longer as willing as they once were to pay for executive programs.
Before you commit to an executive MBA program be clear-headed about what you hope to gain from it and keep your salary and career expectations realistic. EMBA programs—which run at an accelerated pace and generally don’t require applicants to take the GMAT standardized entrance exam—are sometimes considered less prestigious than a traditional, full-time MBA program. (There are lots of billboards marketing these programs, for example, something you generally don’t see for full-time MBA programs.)
And a common complaint among EMBA students and grads is a lack of career management support from their programs. For example, students complain that schools don’t bring employers on-campus to interview EMBA students the same way they do for full-time MBA students.
The average EMBA student, however, has about ten more years of organizational experience than their counterparts in full-time MBA programs. According to the Executive MBA Council, the average EMBA student is 37 years old with 14 years of work experience and still working. That’s one reason why companies don’t court EMBA students during on-campus recruiting—the students are over-qualified for the positions they are looking to fill.
Yet programs at top-tier schools like University of Chicago’s Booth School and Wharton at Penn care about the value of their brand and do quite a bit to make sure it never gets degraded; an EMBA degree from a top school almost certainly has value. But how you turn that degree into meaningful career movement is another challenge, and one you might want to tackle even before starting a program.
If your goal is to switch careers—not just advance in your current career—you might be better off in a full-time MBA program rather than an EMBA program. But if you’ve got several years experience in one career and want to move your career to the next level, an EMBA program is a better choice. Do your research before beginning a program and discuss with your manager how the degree could be used to help you transition to a higher-level position at the company.
Graduates of EMBA programs are highly satisfied with the experience, according to the Executive MBA Council’s 2014 Student Exit Benchmarking Survey (released in March). Graduates touted class size, the compatibility of the class schedules with their work schedules and the quality of other students. The average salary and bonus package for graduates rose from a start of $155, 848 to $181,965. In addition, 53 percent of graduates received new responsibilities and 38 percent received promotions during their time in the program.