Midcareer professionals often seek higher education opportunities that allow them to continue full-time employment, such as executive master of business administration (MBA) degrees. These programs, designed for business leaders with 8-10 years of experience, help students gain the leadership skills necessary for career advancement. Executive MBA programs create cutting-edge leaders who can adapt to a rapidly changing business world.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment in management fields to grow by 5% from 2019-2029. People with MBAs compete for many of these positions.
Our executive MBA rankings provide prospective students with a snapshot of the best available programs. This page offers information about admission requirements, accreditation, financial aid, curricula, and careers after graduation.
What Is an Executive MBA?
Harvard University offered the world’s first MBA in 1908. Thirty-five years later, the University of Chicago enrolled students in the inaugural executive MBA program, aiming to help working professionals maintain their family and career responsibilities while studying to advance American business.
More than 75 years later, business schools across the world continue that vision by offering executive MBA programs to midcareer business leaders. Service-oriented professionals with a desire to make an impact on the world excel in business school. These learners prepare to lead teams in corporate settings, healthcare environments, educational institutions, or government agencies.
Consulting firms, technology companies, and accounting organizations often hire new MBA degree-holders, but other industries seek out those with executive MBAs to provide leadership, management, business, and financial skills.
Some of the fastest-growing job fields include financial management and public relations management. Of course, nearly anything relating to technology can expect a steep growth curve as well. No matter the industry, business professionals can find work in management, operations, marketing, finance, and more.
Typically, business leaders who earn executive MBAs continue in the same field after graduation, just in more advanced positions. In some cases, however, career switchers can use the executive MBA to transition from one role to another.
Online MBA Programs for You
Grow your career, leadership, and business acumen with an accredited online MBA program.
Why Get an Executive MBA?
An MBA is the keystone business degree for aspiring professionals. A traditional program focuses on business fundamentals. An executive MBA, by contrast, helps current leaders better understand the tools, technologies, and environmental changes of modern business. By earning this degree, experienced professionals can position themselves for greater responsibility, new leadership roles, or higher salaries.
Once enrolled, a degree-seeker can align their educational experience with their career goals by selecting a general executive MBA or a specialization.
Students in executive MBA programs can complete their degrees in just over one year. Very few graduate schools in other fields compress their programs so tightly that students can finish in such an abbreviated timeline.
Research from EMBAC, an organization that centralizes information on executive MBA programs, found that 40% of graduates reported receiving a promotion. In addition, 53% of EMBAC’s respondents said they had shouldered more responsibility at work.
Executive MBA graduates earn 13.5% more after graduation than they did upon enrollment, on average. An executive MBA can open top executive positions and other high-paying roles in the corporate world.
What the Best Executive MBA Programs Have in Common
While every school delivers a different experience, the best executive MBA programs share several characteristics. Prospective students can enhance their research by considering each school’s accreditation status, affordability, academic quality, and reputation.
They are accredited. Prospective students should always seek accredited programs in higher education. Regional and national accreditation apply to entire institutions and ensure that schools meet rigorous standards. Generally, employers and other educators hold regional accreditation in higher regard. Every school in our executive MBA rankings holds accreditation. Executive MBA students should seek program-specific and regional accreditation from:
Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
They are affordable.
Affordability considers the price for students who receive grants and scholarships, the percentage of students receiving financial aid, and the amount of debt students carry after graduation. Some schools, like Bethel University, offer a low per-credit tuition rate at the outset. Others may provide large percentages of their students with scholarships. Affordability ensures that students can focus on their studies and earn the best return on their investment.
They uphold academic excellence.
A program’s retention rate, graduation rate, and amount of full-time faculty all indicate academic excellence. When many students continue from one year to the next, this demonstrates that a program meets its enrollees’ expectations. A robust faculty with plenty of full-time professors indicates that the school prioritizes the program.
Their MBA programs are reputable and robust.
We consider factors like admission rate and yield to measure reputability. When a school admits very high percentages of applicants, they may not demonstrate enough of a competitive edge. Conversely, when many of the admitted students enroll in the program, this can signal their high expectations for the school. A robust program offers extensive concentration options, like those in University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MBA. These schools also feature customizable electives, good career services, and international programming.
What To Expect From an Executive MBA
An executive MBA prepares midcareer professionals to advance in leadership roles in businesses, public agencies, or nonprofit organizations. The degree was established in 1943, when business schools began to consider how they might help strengthen post-war American enterprises. Today, the executive MBA has grown into a widely recognized degree.
In general, each enrollee takes about 60 credits in just over one year of study. Accelerated online coursework helps facilitate this compressed timeline.
An executive MBA applicant usually needs 8-10 years of professional experience and a bachelor’s degree to receive acceptance. They may also need to show support from their employer since these programs can be both pricey and academically demanding.
The executive MBA provides an education similar to the general MBA but with more emphasis on general business management and fewer electives.
The MBA Admission Process
An online executive MBA candidate must possess a bachelor’s degree, preferably in business or a related field. While prospective students benefit from strong undergraduate GPAs, those with lower undergraduate grades do not necessarily need to worry.
In executive MBA programs, an applicant’s background and experience matter more than their grades. As a rule of thumb, business schools expect applicants to an executive MBA program to bring 8-10 years of professional experience from the business world.
Once an applicant has submitted their transcripts, test scores, resume, and essays, they may receive an invitation to interview with the admissions committee. Before offering a place in the program, some institutions also expect each candidate to send a letter of support from their employer.
Is an executive MBA the same as a general MBA? If not, which degree best suits aspiring business professionals?
In general, a traditional MBA serves younger, less-experienced students with a longer timeline from enrollment to graduation. Executive MBA programs cater to midcareer professionals who need an abbreviated time frame.
Some schools only admit applicants with 10 or more years of professional experience to their executive MBAs. In some cases, applicants decide based on their qualifications. Similarities and differences between these two business degrees include:
Comparing Executive MBAs to General MBA Programs
Sometimes requires a standardized test for admission
Often requires GMAT or GRE scores
Students can typically complete the program in 12-18 months
Full-time requires about two years, which may stretch to 3-4 if taken part time
Often return to school as professionals
Many have 1-3 years of experience
Pace of Classes
Courses usually run in an accelerated format
Courses often follow a traditional semester calendar
May cost less as a shorter program, but cost per credit may be higher
May cost slightly more due to program length
Less likely to offer many specializations
More likely to offer several specialization options
Executive MBA programs usually combine a core curriculum with electives and at least one practicum course. The core courses cover topics such as leadership, analytics, and the foundations of business. While coursework varies in executive MBA programs vary among institutions, degree-seekers commonly encounter classes in:
Enrollees in this course foster their negotiation skills. These learners participate in mock events that address making deals and resolving disputes between organizations. Students highlight effective negotiation strategies in multicultural and multiparty settings. Topics include planning strategy, process management, and quality evaluation of negotiation strategies.
While completing their practicum, learners receive a first-hand glimpse at the challenges faced by companies in a growth stage. Each enrollee completes a study on one issue their host company faces.
In this course, learners focus on the elements and factors involved in leading a multinational company in a changing global environment. Instructors combine lectures, readings, and case studies for students to discuss and debate what’s involved in establishing and managing a transnational company in the modern era.
Degree-seekers delve into the theories and concepts that support decision-making in marketing. Students learn to evaluate the considerations behind all the components of marketing management. The course may include hands-on simulations that highlight strategic issues in modern marketing. In addition, learners discuss, analyze, and evaluate real-life examples of marketing strategy.
Students explore the legal and ethical challenges of leading multinational, publicly traded companies. Course topics include the fundamentals of ethical analysis frameworks, including virtue-based, consequentialist-based, and right-based reasoning, along with inconsistent interpretations of organizational responsibility. Learners also receive an introduction to the legal and ethical norms that guide the global economy.
How Much Will an Executive MBA Cost?
Many factors can influence program cost. For instance, the best executive MBA programs often charge higher prices, thanks to the prestige of their alumni networks. Online programs usually cost less than on-campus degrees, and public schools typically charge less than private institutions. In-state schools generally provide substantial discounts to state residents.
Most degree-seekers, however, do not have to pay the whole cost entirely out of pocket. Aspiring enrollees can access private scholarships, grants, government-backed loans, or teaching or research assistantships. Executive MBA students often work while attending school, which can partially or fully fund their programs.
These enrollees may also access funds for school through their employers. Some companies pay a portion or all of their employees’ tuition, provided that learners maintain strong grades. The following links provide more information on public and private sources of income for MBA students.
An MBA can help open the right doors to new career opportunities. Graduates can also command higher salaries across a spread of corporate sectors and industries. For working professionals with about 10 years of experience and a desire to advance professionally, the executive MBA can offer the education they need to succeed.
Business is one of the fastest-growing and highest-paying fields in the modern American economy. The BLS reports that management professionals earned a median annual salary of $105,660 as of 2019, and people working in business and finance earned a median salary of $69,820 — nearly twice the median salary for all occupations.
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
Public relations managers create and distribute material that builds broad awareness of an organization’s work and industry. Fundraising managers hold a similar role in the nonprofit community, except that their emphasis lies in acquiring and managing donations. Some positions require bachelor’s degrees, but many employers prefer applicants with master’s degrees.
These managers oversee organizations’ culture and administrative functions. Besides serving as a link between management and employees, these professionals help recruit, hire, promote, and fire staff. In addition, they play a key role in strategic planning. Most human resources managers hold a related degree and several years of professional experience. Some companies also require these experts to earn industry certifications.
Financial managers prepare reports for top executives, help set financial strategies, and direct corporate investments. They work in many industries, but the finance and insurance sectors hire the most financial managers. These managers hold extensive business education and at least five years of relevant experience in preparation for their roles.
Top executives hold titles such as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and chief marketing officer. These professionals serve in the corporate world, at public agencies, or in nonprofit or educational settings. With its leadership emphasis, an executive MBA offers an excellent academic background for aspiring top executives.
Midcareer professionals should carefully consider several important points when researching the best executive MBA programs. Online rankings offer a critical snapshot of top degrees, but prospective students should also consider factors before investing in online MBAs, such as:
Prospective students must limit their options to regionally accredited schools to ensure they can receive financial aid, maximum credit transferability, and a rigorous education. Many of the best executive online MBA programs also hold programmatic accreditation with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Part of an MBA’s value lies in the curriculum, but the school’s brand, reputation, and alumni network also contribute to the strength of a program.
Cost and Financial Aid
Top-billed schools often charge steep prices for executive MBAs. For some students, those prices represent a valuable investment. For others, a regional school with lower costs offers the same benefits at a more affordable price.
How much do recent graduates of the school’s executive MBA program earn? Does that figure represent a significant increase over the average salary of a student just entering the program?
Online learning first emerged in 1982, when a single school started offering computer-delivered courses to business executives. A few years later, accredited schools began offering full degrees over the internet, and by the mid-1990s, online education had begun to take off. It took a few more years, however, before online education reached widespread parity with brick-and-mortar programs.
Employers now value online education as much as traditional learning systems. The executive MBA easily translates to an online education model due to its practical emphasis and collaborative style.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 26% of college students enrolled in at least one online class before 2020. With the pandemic of 2020, however, nearly every student from kindergarten through postdoctoral study has completed at least some coursework online.
Many working professionals prefer taking classes in distance programs. The online MBA offers flexibility, diversity, accessibility, technology, and access to on-campus resources. For most midcareer professionals, the clincher comes from the ability to maintain full-time employment while earning a degree online.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is an executive MBA worth it?
Yes. A professional with 10-15 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree can reap significant rewards from pursuing an executive MBA. Executive MBA graduates receive promotions and increased professional responsibilities at work to deliver a strong return on investment for their degrees.
Are online executive MBAs cheaper?
Not necessarily. Top executive online MBA programs often charge high prices. These schools invest in luxury hotels, gourmet meals, and notable instructors. Schools with regional reputations, however, may charge more reasonable prices. The cost per credit for an executive MBA may still be higher, but the total price could be less than a traditional MBA.
Is an executive MBA as good as an MBA?
Some people mistakenly believe that the word “executive” implies a superior program. From an employment perspective, the two degrees offer essentially the same benefits. The differences between an MBA and an executive MBA lie in their form and delivery, not in their outcomes or career advancement potential.
What's the difference between an executive MBA and an MBA?
On-campus and online executive MBA students can maintain their employment while pursuing their degrees. Typically, however, traditional MBA students pursue their studies full time. To facilitate part-time study, executive MBA programs often provide accelerated class schedules and abbreviated curricula. Executive MBA coursework provides an overview of business leadership rather than a specific concentration.
Will an executive MBA help my career?
While no one can ensure professional advancement, executive MBA programs can help midcareer professionals take the next step in their careers. The coursework gives students the tools to advance professionally, the internship helps learners apply fresh skills, and networking with alumni can lead to securing an advanced position.
Top 5 Online Executive MBA Rankings
Online executive MBA programs are ideal for working professionals. These degrees provide flexible distance learning formats that can lead to career advancement. On this page, readers can explore the top 10 online executive MBA programs for 2021. Follow the link below for more information on how we rank schools.
Situated at the heart of coastal Wilmington, UNCW takes pride in its foundations as a veteran-serving institution. Established in 1947, the school originally educated soldiers returning from World War II.
At UNCW, the executive MBA program combines an intensive online curriculum with three in-person events. Degree-seekers visit campus for two weekend-long residencies that focus on collaboration and hands-on management training. Before graduation, students also attend a week-long international immersion in Europe or Asia, which takes the place of a capstone project.
Core course requirements for UNCW's program include business law, economics, operations management, and corporate finance. Each learner also selects two elective courses, with options like global strategy and management, healthcare analytics, and investment management.
Other online executive MBA options at UNCW include concentrations such as healthcare management, finance, or marketing.
Applying to UNCW
A candidate with a regionally accredited bachelor's degree, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and at least two years of professional work experience may apply. Required materials include a resume, a cover letter, two recommendation letters, and a minimum 500 score on the GMAT. The school also accepts GRE scores.
Program at a Glance
School Type: Public Accreditation: SACSCOC, AACSB Tuition: $415/credit (in state); $1,093/credit (out of state) Required Credits: 42 credits Program Length: 23 months Delivery Format: Online with some in-person requirements
Located about an hour west of Los Angeles, CSUSB's campus features access to the best aspects of natural and urban environments. The school, founded in 1965, welcomes more than 20,000 students annually.
CSUSB's executive MBA program provides a solid foundation in business basics, requiring learners to complete a zero-credit bootcamp before the end of the second quarter. The fully online bootcamp lays the groundwork with coursework in accounting, finance, and information management.
Core requirements for CSUSB's program cover data-driven decision-making, corporate strategy in a global economy, managing the supply chain, and marketing management. Each student completes the program through a comprehensive examination and a culminating portfolio. Elective options include an internship and a short-term study abroad course.
Applying to CSUSB
Each candidate must possess a regionally accredited bachelor's degree with a preferred minimum GPA of 3.0 and two years of professional experience in a leadership role. Application materials include a statement of purpose, two recommendation letters, a resume, and an interview.
Program at a Glance
School Type: Public Accreditation: WSCUC, AACSB Tuition: $1,200/credit Required Credits: 32 credits Program Length: 18 months Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous and asynchronous)
WSU maintains a strong dedication to diverse research initiatives through projects exploring clean energy, food production, health, and security. The school emphasizes public engagement and community service at home in Pullman, Washington, and abroad.
WSU's online executive MBA delivers coursework in business analysis for problem-solving, comprehensive strategy building, leadership, and applied ethics. Required classes include strategic planning and leadership, global business, and managing efficient and innovative business.
Students can opt to participate in a five-week international program, which includes a study abroad component. The program culminates in a final capstone project and presentation, in which degree-seekers explore business problems and create business plans to provide solutions.
Applying to WSU
WSU considers applications from individuals with accredited bachelor's degrees and five or more years of professional experience. The program prefers a minimum 3.0 GPA. Required materials include one recommendation letter, a statement of purpose, a resume, an organizational chart, an interview, and GMAT scores.
Program at a Glance
School Type: Public Accreditation: NWCCU, AACSB Tuition: $1,264/credit Required Credits: 44 credits Program Length: 16 months Delivery Format: 100% online
Located in Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, UH Mānoa dates back to 1907, where the school began as a college of agriculture and mechanical arts. Today, UH Mānoa maintains a strong reputation for oceanography, astronomy, tropical medicine, Pacific Islands studies, and volcanology.
UH Mānoa's online executive MBA seeks primarily to connect students across neighboring Hawaiian islands. The cohort-based program kicks off with a five-day residency. During this in-person immersion event, students explore modern business challenges through the lens of the program's foundational curriculum.
The program also requires 14 in-person Saturday sessions, with the school providing airfare stipends for students who live elsewhere in Hawaii.
Degree-seekers at UH Mānoa can choose a concentration in healthcare management or travel industry management. The core curriculum includes courses in marketing management, managerial finance, and data analytics. Learners also choose a final thesis or capstone project.
Applying to UH Mānoa
Each candidate needs a 3.0 minimum undergraduate GPA and at least five years of work experience. Application materials include a statement of objectives; a resume; two recommendation letters; an interview; and GMAT, GRE, or executive assessment scores.
Program at a Glance
School Type: Public Accreditation: WSCUC Tuition: $1,015/credit Required Credits: 48 credits Program Length: 22 months Delivery Format: Hybrid
Known for its excellence in research, UNR also innovates in robotics, ecology, archaeology, and heart health. First opened in 1874, UNR now features a lively environment with advanced facilities and NCAA Mountain West basketball teams.
UNR's executive MBA program emphasizes collaboration and creates tightly knit cohort teams that proceed together through the curriculum. Through group assignments, distance learners can network with colleagues from the very beginning. UNR also connects students with alumni and offers access to job postings and corporate partners.
UNR takes full advantage of the cohort model, with a curriculum that builds upon prior concepts. Core courses for the executive MBA at UNR include statistics for decision-making, financial reporting and analysis, and financial management. Participants also explore personal branding, managing organizations in a global economy, and strategic management for executives.
Applying to UNR
Each candidate must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA, plus at least four years of professional work experience. The online application requires a resume, statement of purpose, two recommendations, and GMAT or GRE scores.
Program at a Glance
School Type: Public Accreditation: NWCCU Tuition: $5,000/term Required Credits: 36 credits Program Length: 2 years Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)