MBA vs. EMBA: What’s the Difference? Find the Right Path for Your Business Career

Last updated June 6, 2024

Working professionals can hone their leadership and business skills by earning a graduate business degree. But which is better, an MBA or an EMBA? We asked a business school professor and a recent grad from the University of Fredericton (UFred) about their experience with these higher education credentials.

If you aspire to become an in-demand business leader with your current employer or want to sharpen your leadership skills to make the next big jump in your career, completing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree or Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) credential is one of the best ways to acquire the knowledge and skills you need to continue to work and grow in your chosen field. Or, if you are an entrepreneur leading a start-up or other small business and want to leverage the knowledge and networks of an MBA program to expand your business, pursuing an MBA or EMBA could be beneficial.

But how much of an investment of both time and money is required for taking on a graduate program and how do you determine which one is right for you? While MBA and EMBA degrees require a significant commitment of your time and money, they can be well worth the investment over the long term.

To help understand the differences between an MBA and EMBA, we spoke with professor Raeleen Manjak of the University of Fredericton’s School of Business about the benefits of each degree, along with Pierre-Marc Gervais, a pharmacist and business owner who recently graduated from the EMBA program at UFred. He provides his thoughts on how the EMBA program was the right choice for him at this point in his career.

Advantages of a graduate business degree

An advanced business degree such as an MBA or EMBA creates a competitive advantage for the person who holds it and the organization they work for, says Professor Manjak, who has been teaching Human Resource Leadership courses in UFred’s MBA and EMBA programs for about four years, bringing her background and expertise in human resource management to the program’s curriculum. She guides the university’s strategic HRM program and contributes to course development.

Once someone has earned an MBA or EMBA, they can use those skills, abilities and new ways of thinking to be a more creative problem-solver, find efficiencies and apply critical thinking. Manjak said the University of Fredericton’s graduate business programs focus on the leadership skills that students require for both personal and organizational success.

When considering an MBA, Manjak suggests asking yourself: Am I curious about problem solving? Do I want to understand the bigger picture in a business environment? If you answer yes, then an MBA may be the right program for you. “You should be someone who wants to understand those foundational business concepts that drive innovation and drive creativity,” she says.

Ideal CandidateEarly to mid-career professionals with at least 2 years of work experienceMid-career executives who have managed people and business units
Work Experience2-5 years recommended5-10+ years, with management experience
Learning OutcomesBroad management skills and business fundamentals.Leadership and strategic decision-making at a senior level.
Duration1-2 years full-time, or up to 3 years part-time.1-2 years, part-time or modular format.
ScheduleFull-time or part-time options. Large group project work requires the ability to collaborate with others.Designed for working professionals; classes in the evenings, weekends, or in intensive modules.
Learning EnvironmentDiverse cohort of students with varying levels of work and academic experience. MBA programs are offered in a more traditional, full-time academic experience. However, many business schools also offer part-time and online alternatives.Classes are held on evenings, weekends or in intensive week-long sessions to accommodate students’ work schedules. Some incorporate international travel and project work, allowing students to gain global business exposure.
CostThe average annual tuition for an MBA program in Canada was $30,464 in 2022/23. Full program tuition (1-3 year MBAs) for the top business schools in Canada range between $83,000 and $93,000 for domestic students.The average annual tuition for an EMBA program in Canada was $53,227 in 2022/23. Full program tuition (1-2 year EMBAs) for the top business schools in Canada range between $112,000 and $125,000 for domestic students.
Admission RequirementsMost programs require: transcripts from a recognized undergraduate degree program, a resume with 2+ years’ minimum work experience, GMAT or GRE scores, an application essay (written or video), and 2+ letters of reference.Most programs require: a resume with 5+ years’ minimum work experience and 2+ letters of reference. Some programs require: an undergraduate degree and GMAT or GRE scores. *Many EMBA programs offer degree and GMAT/GRE exemptions for candidates with significant leadership experience.

Ideal candidates for an MBA or EMBA

MBA and EMBA programs can equip working professionals with the knowledge, skills, and business acumen to become effective leaders who can improve financial outcomes for the businesses they represent, while also enabling the expansion of career options.

Embarking on a graduate business degree will not only sharpen your leadership skills and your strategic thinking to help you make smarter decisions, but it will also improve your marketable skills by exposing you to all aspects of running a business – from managing people to understanding financial statements and the various demands of navigating a constantly changing business landscape.

MBAs are structured for those just starting to get a foothold in the business world, while EMBAs are designed for executives or those ascending the executive ranks, with about five-to-15 years of job experience. MBA programs tend to be designed more for those who have about two-to-five years of work experience following the completion of an undergraduate degree.

Manjak explains that the courses in an MBA program are longer in duration than the courses in an executive MBA. “You’re doing the same work, just in a shorter period,” she says. “You have that condensed, focused; a very immersive experience inside that learning environment; whereas it’s a little more protracted inside the MBA program.”

Cost of an MBA vs EMBA

In today’s competitive job market, an MBA or EMBA is an increasingly popular option for those professionals looking to advance their careers, get a salary bump, or land that next role. According to the 2022-2023 EMBAC Student Exit Survey, graduates reported receiving a 23.9% increase in compensation — combined, both salary and bonuses, while in the program.

According to Statistics Canada, the average annual cost of tuition for an MBA program in Canada was $30,464 in 2022/23, while the average EMBA cost $53,227 for domestic students. The full tuition for a one-three year MBA program from the top  business schools in Canada, including University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and Ivey Business School at Western University, ranges between $83,000 and $93,000 for domestic students, while one-two year EMBAs cost between $112,000 and $125,000. Online MBA and EMBA options, such as those at the University of Fredericton, where an MBA is about $26,000 and an EMBA is about $31,000, can be significantly lower in cost.

While EMBA degrees are designed for more seasoned professionals who want to take on roles with greater responsibility and accountability, overall, an MBA or EMBA can give you the competitive edge needed to rise above your current position, change careers or make a bigger impact in the job you’re currently in.

What to expect from an MBA or EMBA program

Prospective MBA students should consider their current lifestyle before diving into a program that will demand upwards of 20 hours of work a week on top of the commitments of a job.

“Do you have a young family? Are there a lot of expectations on your time? Where are you at in your career trajectory? Are you working 80 hours a week?” asks Manjak. “Or are you working 40 hours a week and have the flexibility to adjust as expectations change? You must take into consideration all of the various demands on your time.”

It’s also a good idea to speak to someone in an MBA program so that you can get a fulsome understanding of what the expectations are on time, resources, and energy. Most MBA or EMBA university program coordinators can connect you with students in a current program or a recent grad to discuss what the time and course demands are like before committing yourself to 12 months-three years of intensive study.

As a former student of the UFred EMBA program, Gervais says the courses he studied gave him the tools to take his career to the next stage. Both the hard and soft skills he learned in the UFred EMBA program have been instrumental in helping him feel more confident in being a business owner, especially when it comes to accounting and learning how to read a balance sheet and income statement. “It’s particularly rewarding for the first time you go to a meeting with all the directors; you don’t feel out of place. You know what you’re talking about, and you can ask the right questions,” says Gervais.

He discovered there was a benefit to studying for his EMBA while working because he saw the direct application to the challenges and opportunities that exist in his workplace day-to-day. What’s happening in one sector is often a challenge that has already been remedied in another sector represented by other students. When the students come together within that collegial environment, they have the opportunity to share common experiences and strategies to solve problems.

Choosing the right program for your career goals and personal schedule

As a husband and father of young children, Gervais worked on his EMBA from January 2020 until completion in December 2023. As much of that was during the height of the pandemic, he took longer and was studying under difficult circumstances. He had worked in management roles at different organizations before deciding to pursue his EMBA. He recently joined the family business of customs brokers and freight forwarders at Axxess International as a Vice President.

“A key priority for me was to be able to have a work/study and family life balance. I had to choose something that I could fit into my schedule — something that offered flexibility. You need to put in 10-15 hours a week to be able to succeed in the EMBA program. The quality of the program was another factor for me. I wanted something serious with a good reputation that would bring value to me,” says Gervais.

Throughout the EMBA program, he found that the course material and instructors delivered important lessons he could apply to the challenges of his job and the business.

“I was always reflecting on what we learned and how I could apply it, including those issues related to human resources and the processes we put in place to assess employees. I found I was also learning a little bit more about myself and who I am as a leader,” he says.

When he finished pharmacy school, Gervais had gone to business school part-time to learn the basics of business management. “As a business owner, you try to reflect on decisions you’ve made, but you’re not sure, exactly, if you’re doing the right thing or not. When I started my EMBA program, I was about to move to a new position for the provincial pharmacist owner’s association. The timing was great for me to keep evolving as an individual, but also as a professional. You never know where life is going to take you.”

Gervais chose the EMBA program at the University of Fredericton in equal parts because of the curriculum and reputation but also for its flexibility which would allow him to continue working and studying without having to spend large amounts of time attending classes onsite away from home. His employer was pleased and supportive of his interest in taking on the EMBA program.

“It helped that my boss also had an MBA. He told me: ‘If you see good ideas that you have learned, share them with me’.”

After weighing all the options and pros and cons of taking an MBA versus an EMBA, Gervais offers this advice: “If you want to do an MBA or an EMBA, do it for yourself first and foremost. What you’re going to get out of the program is the amount of effort that you put into the program. The grades were just a by-product of the effort that you put in, but I wanted to be a better business leader. That’s all that mattered to me,” he says.

Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is a journalist and communications professional with extensive experience creating engaging content internally and externally for various B2B and consumer audiences. As a journalist, she has written about and interviewed leaders in the health care, education, legal, enterprise technology and cannabis sectors.

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