While an MBA often appeals to people wanting to switch industries, an executive MBA can attract those who simply want to switch offices. Graduating from middle manager to a C-suite position – such as CEO or COO – within their current company is a common goal among EMBA students, experts say.
Students often "feel that they need this to move up the ladder and take the next step," says Bill Aaronson, the associate dean for graduate programs in the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia.
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They are typically working professionals in their late 30s or early 40s with more than a decade of experience in their industries. But not all midcareer professionals should choose this degree to propel their career. Some are better off completing a specialized master's degree or an online MBA.
EMBA experts weigh in on what kinds of professionals these programs usually attract and what students get out of them.
1. Professionals who want a broader pool of knowledge: Employees working for 10 years or more have likely developed core skills in a specific discipline. If they want to expand what they know about other fields, though, an EMBA could help.
"Most of the participants in our executive MBA program have chosen breadth over depth,” says Larry Murphy, executive director of executive education at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. At Fisher, an EMBA class has about 40 students. They meet for three days, once a month to complete their degree, which takes about a year and a half.
Most programs, Murphy says, educate students on the basic principles of business such as strategy, operations and marketing. Some programs may offer concentrations or specializations that let students get a specific kind of EMBA, such as an EMBA in health care, he says.
If students truly want to narrow their focus, other kinds of degrees could be more appealing. A finance expert who wants deeper knowledge in that area, Murphy says, could pursue a master's in finance.
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2. Professionals who are experiencing change within their industry: At Fox, EMBA students come from a range of industries, but there is one that stands out: health care. About 20 percent of EMBA classes, which typically have between 25 and 30 people at Fox, come from this field, Aaronson says.
"They want to learn more about the business of their industry," he says, pointing out that it has recently experienced a major upheaval, partially because of the government's new nationwide health care plan.
In some cases, students may pursue an EMBA to also change their thinking and approach to their job. Students who work at nonprofits, he says, may need to learn how to profit to help their organizations survive.
"No margins, no missions," he says, quoting an industry aphorism.
Paul Velasco, the director of executive education at University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, says he has also noticed many professionals from the information technology field drawn to EMBA programs. As people advance in this industry, they may need to develop skills that are an integral part of an EMBA program such as leadership, finance or accounting, he says.
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3. Professionals who can handle a challenge: "Busy people tend to get things done," says Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council, which provides resources for EMBA programs and tracks changes within this area of academia.
Experts agree that EMBA programs don't leave students with a lot of free time. Students at Mendoza, Velasco says, may spend between 17 and 23 hours per week preparing for their monthly three-day residency session.
Many programs require students to learn in class three days a week once a month. Global EMBA programs can require a week of in-class time in a single month overseas.
"The real investment is time," he says. This time is often carved out while students usually work full-time jobs and juggle family commitments. "It's not something for the faint of heart," says Murphy, from Ohio State University.
This hectic schedule, which lasts for a year and a half at many programs, may come with a handsome reward. The average salary and bonus for recent EMBA graduates increased by 14 percent from the time they started classes until they graduated, according to the Executive MBA Council 2013 Student Exit Benchmarking Survey.
The skills they learn, such as leadership, are a "huge value for executives looking for executives," Desiderio says. Students with this degree may be able to throw their name into the hat.
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