For students researching graduate business programs, the choice between a traditional Master of Business Administration program and an executive MBA alternative can be a little confusing. After all, the degrees both have roughly the same name. Are they really that different? In most cases, the programs each have a slightly different focus. As a result, they target slightly different students with varying backgrounds that will guide them through the advanced business coursework. Typically, those students eligible for an executive program are older, more experienced, and may even be considered “rock stars” within their existing organization. As a result, their courses, attendance, and tuition requirements differ quite a bit from a more traditional graduate program in business administration.

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The Executive Difference: Older, More Experienced Students

While traditional MBA programs typically require anywhere from zero years of experience to as many as five years of experience, an executive program will often demand a minimum of 5 years’ managerial experience with increasing responsibility. The average student in an executive program brings about 10 years of experience to the table and has held at least three different management positions within their organization. In most cases, this makes them a seasoned expert in the art of managing teams and administrative skills. The unique application for this program may, as a result, waive the GMAT score requirement and focus more heavily on essays that demonstrate the applicant’s management experience. The difference in length of experience also has a direct impact on the courses required in the executive program.

Coursework: A Bit More Advanced for Executive-Level MBA Students

Because there are lofty requirements for work experience and management work for executive program applicants, their coursework tends to be more advanced overall. Executive programs typically do not require so-called “foundation” courses that cover the basics of accounting, finance, management, and marketing, since their applicants have likely already applied these skills in their workplace endeavors. Students in an executive program also will not take introductory administration or accounting courses, instead focusing on the high-level courses that most traditional MBA students take in their second year. Laboratory classes, with simulated, executive-level experiences, also comprise a significant part of the program. This stands in stark contrast to more conventional MBA programs, where labs and residency experiences are often only worth a single credit and take place just one time prior to graduation.

Higher Levels of Educational and Occupational Satisfaction

Perhaps because executive MBA candidates have more experience and have already defined a solid career path for themselves, graduates of these programs indicate a higher level of satisfaction with their education than students of conventional MBA programs. These graduates also indicate that they are far more satisfied with the job opportunities that they have taken advantage of after receiving their degree. In many cases, students also report great satisfaction with the ROI of their executive program. It’s worth noting, however, that the higher expense of executive programs is often offset by full employer reimbursement. Reimbursement at this level is often afforded to more seasoned candidates who are considered future high-level leaders.

A Great Option for Experienced Managers

Executive programs are designed to turn seasoned managers into promising executives, with high-level skills that are often left out of more traditional MBA programs. For this reason, the executive MBA should be considered only by applicants with significant managerial experience, a history of increasing responsibility, and a documented history of achievement on the job.