Date Updated: April 6, 2021
Executive MBA programs benefit learners aiming to advance their existing careers in business or management. In contrast to a standard MBA, an executive MBA (EMBA) moves beyond the fundamentals and emphasizes the more detailed aspects of leadership in business. EMBA programs, though similar to traditional MBAs, look closely at executive management and strategies.
An EMBA best serves students looking to further their careers by acquiring new skills and credentials. EMBAs can also lead to increased earning potential: according to PayScale, professionals with EMBA degrees earn more on average than those with traditional MBAs.
Online executive MBA programs offer working professionals an accessible pathway to career advancement and higher salary potential. This guide offers detailed information on the best executive MBA programs, what students can expect from these programs, and career paths and options available to graduates.
2021's Top 10 Executive MBA Programs
|1||Purdue University||West Lafayette, IN|
|2||University of North Carolina Wilmington||Wilmington, NC|
|3||California State University-San Bernardino||San Bernardino, CA|
|4||Washington State University||Pullman, WA|
|5||University of Hawaii at Manoa||Honolulu, HI|
|6||University of Nevada-Reno||Reno, NV|
|7||Texas Southern University||Houston, TX|
|8||Jacksonville University||Jacksonville, FL|
|9||Carlow University||Pittsburgh, PA|
|10||Bethel University||McKenzie, TN|
What Are Executive MBAs?
The University of Chicago offered the very first executive MBA program in 1943. The program sought to bolster the business field in the aftermath of World War II. Aimed primarily at midcareer professionals, EMBAs intended to push upper-level management workers to become more effective leaders.
EMBA graduates often pursue "C-Suite" careers — roles which usually include "chief" in the title, like chief operating officer or chief executive officer. These positions entail leading entire departments within a company or the whole company itself.
However, EMBA-holders can also pursue other jobs. The EMBA degree prepares graduates to switch careers, providing them with extra credentials and experience to make their resumes stand out. EMBA graduates may, for example, pursue careers in the nonprofit sector or start their own business.
Typical EMBA students are around 38 years old and hold an average of 14 years of work experience. They work in all types of fields and industries, and generally hold a substantial amount of experience in management. Interest in the EMBA has also grown in recent years, with a 31.9% increase in applications between 2015 and 2019. This growth signifies an increased demand for highly qualified professionals in leadership and management positions.
Companies and organizations across all industries and sectors require the skills and qualifications of EMBA-holders, making this degree a great option for any business student interested in advancing their career.
Why Get an Executive MBA?
Earning an EMBA offers a wealth of benefits. Students earn the credentials necessary to pursue advanced roles in business, including chief officer positions. The executive specialization option for MBAs emphasizes top-level management skills and prepares students for leadership roles. An increased salary potential and a focus on nuanced business skills continues to draw a growing number of business professionals to the EMBA. Consider the following benefits:
- Increased Earning Potential: On average, EMBA graduates earn higher salaries than those with a traditional MBA. By the end of their EMBA program, students tend to earn a 13.5% pay increase on average.
- Career Advancement: According to the 2019 EMBAC Student Exit Survey, 40% of EMBA students earned a promotion by graduation. The EMBA provides midcareer professionals with advanced credentials and skills to take on leadership roles.
- Career Switching: Earning an EMBA also provides graduates with the qualifications they need to enhance their resume in a competitive job market. Midcareer professionals who want to change careers or start their own businesses would benefit from the skills emphasized in executive MBA programs.
The Top 10 Online Executive MBA Rankings, 2021
Our ranking of the best executive MBA programs features accredited institutions offering flexible online degrees. This page lists the 10 best executive MBA programs for 2021. To learn more about how we rank our programs, follow the link below.
What the Best Online EMBAs Have In Common
Each program's experience is unique, but many top schools share the following characteristics.
They are accredited. All of the schools on our lists are accredited. This means an outside regional or national accrediting agency approved each school's educational programs based on specific standards of quality and rigor. Programmatic accrediting bodies examine specific departments to ensure their degrees prepare students for careers in the field. Common accrediting agencies includes:
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
- International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
- They are affordable. Our rankings feature schools with competitive, affordable tuition rates. The schools in this ranking offer a variety of pricing and payment options, including flat-rate and per-semester costs, in-state and out-of-state tuition, and bundling of materials and tuition costs. The University of North Carolina Wilmington offers some of the most competitive rates on our list at just $415 per credit hour.
- They are reputable. We feature schools with positive reputations in the industry. The schools in our rankings tend to hold high graduation and retention rates, and often boast strong job placement and advancement rates for graduates. They also employ professors at the top of their field, like Purdue University, where 98% of the business school faculty hold an advanced degree and 48% hold a doctorate.
- They offer strong academic programs. Many executive MBA programs in this ranking hold programmatic accreditation from a top accrediting agency for business programs. They offer well-rounded, thoughtful curricula that arm students with the skills and knowledge they need to take on executive roles in leadership and management.
1. Purdue University
|Public university in West Lafayette, IN, accredited by HLC and ACBSP|
Since opening with just 39 students and six professors in 1874, Purdue University has grown, now enrolling over 45,000 students. Purdue runs multiple campuses around Indiana and offers a variety of online degrees.
Purdue offers multiple fully online MBA programs with format and pacing options to suit all types of learners. Housed in Purdue's online School of Business and Information Technology, the accelerated, competency-based MBA program offers credit for prior learning and experience, tailoring coursework to specific skills.
Students in the accelerated program take two traditional online courses and 52 one-credit modules. Learners complete these modules at their own pace. Purdue allows students to use prior work experience to test out of modules.
Students decide how many one-credit modules they take each six-week session, paying a flat-rate tuition for each term.
Applying to Purdue
All applicants must speak with an admissions counselor and complete an interview to determine educational goals and placement. Students then complete an enrollment agreement. Graduate students must hold a bachelor's degree and submit official transcripts.
Program at a Glance
2. University of North Carolina Wilmington
|Public university in Wilmington, NC, accredited by SACSCOC and AACSB|
Founded as Wilmington College in 1947, the University of North Carolina Wilmington now serves a student body of nearly 18,000. The university boasts a 79.1% graduation rate, offering 56 bachelor's and 36 master's programs.
UNCW's online executive MBA takes only 12 months of full-time study. The program requires 42 credit hours, including a 30-credit core curriculum and six elective credits.
Students choose from a variety of concentrations, including business analytics, finance, healthcare management, and international business. Students complete most coursework online, and attend two weekend residencies on campus.
Students also complete a one-week international residency during the program. Students may travel to a variety of locations in Europe or Asia; this residency serves as the required capstone in applied learning.
Applying to UNCW
Applicants to the EMBA program must hold at least two years of work experience. Applicants must submit a resume, a statement of interest, two letters of recommendation, official undergraduate transcripts, and official GMAT scores. UNCW looks for undergraduate GPAs of at least 3.0, and GMAT scores of at least 500.
Program at a Glance
3. California State University-San Bernardino
|Public university in San Bernardino, CA, accredited by WSCUC and AACSB|
Located just 60 miles east of Los Angeles, California State University San Bernardino serves more than 20,000 students. CSUSB offers more than 70 academic programs, including a growing variety of fully online options.
CSUSB's executive MBA program offers students the flexibility of fully online courses. Learners choose between traditional and accelerated pacing. The program, designed for early- and midcareer professionals with at least two years of work experience, requires 44 credits.
At the start of their second quarter, students complete a short MBA boot camp, emphasizing skills in each specific specialization area. The program includes core courses in marketing management, financial theory and corporate finance, and information systems and technology management.
Students complete the program with an MBA portfolio consisting of an essay and a collection of work that embodies their studies during the program.
Applying to CSUSB
Applicants need two years of managerial experience. They submit a resume and official undergraduate transcripts demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA in the final 90 credit hours of a bachelor's degree. Additional admissions materials include two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and an interview.
Program at a Glance
4. Washington State University
|Public university in Pullman, WA, accredited by NWCCU and AACSB|
With campuses around the state, Washington State University serves nearly 21,000 students, offering over 240 academic programs. WSU emphasizes civic engagement among students, with 81,323 hours of civic work logged in the 2018-2019 academic year.
Designed especially for working professionals with some management or leadership experience, WSU's online executive MBA program requires 44 credit hours. The executive program explores functional business tools, strategic planning and leadership, global business, and managing efficient and innovative businesses.
This fully online program culminates in a two-part capstone project where students examine a business strategy or issue, then create a business plan. Students may also attend the annual three-day leadership conference to network, listen to industry keynote speakers, and acquire new skills and knowledge from leaders in business.
Full-time students often complete the program in as few as 16 months.
Applying to WSU
Applicants must hold at least five years of managerial experience and a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Applicants must submit a letter of recommendation, statement of purpose, a resume, a sample organizational chart, GMAT scores, and official transcripts. Prospective students also sit for an interview.
Program at a Glance
5. University of Hawaii at Manoa
|Public university in Honolulu, HI, accredited by WSCUC and AACSB|
Situated on a serene 320-acre campus in Honolulu, the University of Hawaii at Manoa opened in 1907. Today, UH Manoa offers hundreds of academic programs, serving 17,490 students from all 50 states.
UH Manoa's online executive MBA program integrates in-person residencies with synchronous online webinars, providing flexibility for working professionals.
The program begins with a five-day residency in Honolulu to help students integrate into their cohorts. Following that initial residency, students attend synchronous online courses in the evenings and attend occasional Saturday courses on campus.
The core curriculum includes classes in marketing management, accounting for decision-making, leadership and organizational behavior, and business policy and strategy. Students also take a required practicum course in consulting for client organizations.
Executive MBA students can pursue specializations in healthcare or travel industry management.
Applying to UH Manoa
Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least five years of work experience. Applicants must submit official GRE, GMAT, or EA scores; official transcripts; a resume; two letters of recommendation; and a statement of objectives. Students must also sit for an interview.
Program at a Glance
6. University of Nevada-Reno
|Public university in Reno, NV, accredited by NWCCU and AACSB|
Founded in 1874 with just seven students, the University of Nevada Reno now offers more than 145 academic programs, including a substantial offering of online learning options. Just 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe, UNR maintains a scenic 290-acre campus.
Delivered entirely online, the executive MBA program at UNR includes 36 required credit hours over two years. Students complete the program in cohorts.
The core curriculum emphasizes advanced topics in statistics, financial and marketing management, financial reporting and analysis, and economics. In total, students complete 12 courses, and must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA for all coursework.
UNR's program accommodates full-time employees pursuing their EMBA. Students complete all coursework online asynchronously and take at least one proctored exam per course.
Applying to UNR
All applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and at least five years of professional experience. Admissions materials include a resume, official GMAT or GRE scores, a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.
Program at a Glance
7. Texas Southern University
|Public university in Houston, TX, accredited by SACSCOC and AACSB|
Texas Southern University opened in 1927 in Houston, Texas. Today, TSU enrolls 9,700 students in more than 100 academic programs. Part of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the TSU Tigers have an array of conference championships and titles.
The executive MBA program at TSU uses a cohort model. Over two years, each cohort completes 12 courses in 10-week sessions. Students may pursue a general business track or a specialization in energy finance.
The EMBA at TSU offers managerial courses like accounting, statistics, and communication. Other classes include organizational and management theory, supply chain management, and financial and economic analysis. The program culminates in a global strategic management capstone course.
Students take a 7- to 10-day international business trip to an economically developing country during their program. Potential trip locations include China, India, and Brazil.
Applying to TSU
Applicants must submit official transcripts, a professional resume, a statement of purpose, and two letters of recommendation. TSU does not require standardized test scores. Applicants should hold at least five years of managerial experience.
Program at a Glance
8. Jacksonville University
|Private university in Jacksonville, FL, accredited by SACSCOC and AACSB|
Jacksonville University's 260-acre home campus, just 20 minutes from the beach, combines the best of downtown and coastal life. Since opening in 1934, JU has grown to host a student body of more than 4,100 learners.
JU's Davis College of Business offers an executive MBA program focused on leadership development. The degree allows working professionals to earn their degree without disrupting their work life. Classes occur once a month. Students can attend these classes on campus or online.
The program includes 31 credits in the core curriculum, featuring courses in managerial accounting, global corporate strategy and research, and statistics for decision-making. Classes geared toward leadership development include competing through information technology, executive communications, and managing corporate innovation.
JU's executive MBA also offers immersion experiences locally and internationally. These immersions provide students with real-world opportunities to apply business knowledge.
Applying to JU
Students must hold a bachelor's degree and at least five years of managerial work experience. Applicants must submit a resume and unofficial transcripts. Students with a GPA lower than 3.0 may need to submit a statement of intent, test scores, and letters of recommendation.
Program at a Glance
9. Carlow University
|Private university in Pittsburgh, PA, accredited by MSCHE and IACBE|
A private, Catholic liberal arts institution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carlow University opened in 1929. Carlow's home campus in the Oakland neighborhood sits just outside the city center, offering a variety of sights, museums, and restaurants.
Carlow University offers an accelerated executive MBA program. The degree is ideal for midcareer professionals looking to take on executive positions.
Carlow's EMBA requires 10 classes which students can complete in as few as 40 weeks of continuous study. Courses include business writing, strategic analysis, business analytics, marketing management, and decision-making.
This advanced program best suits professionals with at least eight years of work experience. Students move through the program in cohorts. Carlow's program includes supportive, personalized attention from expert professors and mentors.
Applying to Carlow
Applicants must hold at least eight years of professional experience and a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must submit official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal essay.
Program at a Glance
10. Bethel University
|Private university in McKenzie, TN, accredited by SACSCOC|
Originally founded as a seminary in 1842, Bethel University now enrolls over 3,000 full-time students. With seven campuses around Tennessee, Bethel offers Christ-centered academic programs to students from all backgrounds.
Bethel University's online executive MBA program best suits students with managerial experience seeking career advancement. The 36-credit hour program requires around 21 months to complete. Students can graduate more quickly if they take multiple classes simultaneously.
Learners take 30 credits within the executive track core curriculum and an additional six hours in elective courses. The curriculum includes courses in organizational behavior and development, managerial economics and accounting, marketing management, and business ethics.
For a culminating experience, students complete a six-credit organizational development project.
Applying to Bethel
Applicants must hold two years of work experience and a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA. They should submit an application, official college transcripts, a professional reference, a resume, a statement of purpose, and two professional references.
Program at a Glance
What to Expect From EMBA Programs
Executive MBA programs may differ in credit loads, specific course offerings, delivery method, and admission requirements. Even so, many programs share commonalities: Typically, EMBA programs take 18-24 months to complete, depending on enrollment and required credits. Many programs require 18-30 credits, which may vary based on work experience and prior education.
Learners working full time may benefit from pursuing a fully online executive MBA. Many online programs operate asynchronously, meaning classes don't meet at scheduled times on certain days, so this flexibility allows students to complete their coursework around their job obligations.
Executive MBA programs generally require substantial post-baccalaureate work experience for admission, as these programs are geared toward midcareer professionals. Like other graduate-level programs, EMBAs may require a statement of purpose or intent, professional recommendations, and standardized test scores like the GRE or GMAT.
Courses offered in EMBA programs often echo similar options in traditional MBAs. Learn more about EMBA courses below.
Popular EMBA Courses
Many courses in executive MBA programs cover similar topics to those in traditional MBA programs. However, the discussions and depth of each course vary, as EMBA students come from mid-level careers, hold more substantial work experience, and are aiming for upper-level positions.
Although specific courses vary by program, the courses listed below offer an example of what you might expect to take while pursuing your online EMBA.
- Leadership: Often split into multiple classes covering specific issues in leadership, this course examines how top executives use leadership skills in upper-level management. Students may explore aspects of leadership in business and society.
- Business Accounting: This course teaches advanced accounting skills for business professionals. The curriculum emphasizes managerial aspects of accounting.
- Risk Management: Risk management classes cover topics in managing, analyzing, and identifying financial and organizational risk. The subject matter is geared toward the role of managers and executives in identifying and managing risk, including modeling and minimizing risk.
- Marketing: Taught from a supervisory or managerial perspective, EMBA courses in marketing emphasize identifying audiences and best practices for reaching consumers and stakeholders. The course may also emphasize making marketing decisions on behalf of a company or organization.
- Organizational Structure: In this class, EMBA students examine organizational structures to understand how to build effective workplace systems. They also study management styles, analyzing changes in these structures over time.
Financing your Executive MBA Degree
Higher education is a sizable investment, so learners should find financial aid sources helpful. Fortunately, prospective EMBA students can take advantage of a variety of aid and funding options.
Graduate programs sometimes offer teaching assistantships, tuition waivers, or other scholarships for full-time students, though these are uncommon in MBA programs. These options, as well as school- and state-based grants, are funding students do not repay. Private and federal student loans, on the other hand, can meet financial needs and cover school expenses, but students must pay them back, plus interest, upon graduation.
Regardless of which funding options you choose, ensure you have a plan for paying for your degree prior to committing.
What Jobs Can an Executive MBA Get You?
An EMBA often provides a pathway to high-level leadership positions.
The professionals who undertake this degree generally aim to advance their current careers or even start new ones in a competitive job market.
Fortunately, an EMBA provides the skills and credentials necessary for a variety of career options, and not all within the corporate realm.
The EMBA offers a way to change positions within the same company or industry, and it can also give students the opportunity to shift careers or start their own business. Many EMBA graduates take up "C-Suite" positions like chief executive officers and chief operating officers; however, some graduates move into the nonprofit sector, run their own companies, or take up leadership roles in other fields.
The careers below serve as examples of potential careers for executive MBA graduates.
Top Executives: Typically, top executives, including "C-suite" employees, oversee a business or organization's operations, including financials, management, marketing, and other key departments. They ensure the business works towards any set goals or missions, often alongside other board members or executives.
Financial Managers: Financial managers oversee financial decisions within a company and ensure the organization stays financially stable. They often oversee employees like accountants and bookkeepers, supervise investments, and keep the company on track to meet financial goals and milestones.
- Required Education: Bachelor's required, MBA preferred
- Job Outlook (2019-29): +15%
- Median Annual Salary: $129,890
Economists: Those with an EMBA may excel as economists, professionals who monitor economic trends and issues and propose solutions and plans to businesses and investors based on collected data. Economists work with all kinds of corporations and stakeholders to assist in making economically informed financial decisions.
Selecting Your Executive MBA Program
Choosing the best executive MBA program for you starts with considering what factors may affect which school you choose. Although our rankings list provides a great place to begin, prospective students should also consider other crucial factors, including:
- Financing: Students looking for funding options to finance their degree should seek out more affordable programs. Some employers offer programs to pay for tuition and fees at certain approved programs, and some schools may offer special incentives for adult or online learners.
- Program Length: Generally, executive MBA programs take 18-24 months to complete. Students should consider how long they want to spend earning their degree, and whether they want to enroll full time or part time.
- Prestige: Though a program's prestige does not guarantee employment, it can provide an EMBA graduate's resume extra clout in the job application process. Students can research which programs' graduates have had success getting hired in the industries where they want to work.
- Accreditation: Prospective EMBA students should always seek out regionally accredited schools and programs. Some business programs may also hold additional programmatic accreditation from agencies like The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.
Why Should You Get an Online EMBA?
Online learning requires strong time management and organization skills, and best suits self-starting students. Fortunately, business students often excel in these areas, making them great candidates for pursuing an online executive MBA. Many online MBA programs offer students flexible options for completing their degree while continuing to work full time.
Executive MBA programs particularly benefit midcareer professionals aiming to acquire skills and knowledge they can immediately apply in the workplace, as many EMBA students continue to work while pursuing the degree. Online learning accommodates these students, providing classes with flexible coursework options.
Students considering an online executive MBA should weigh their day-to-day obligations against the requirements of online learning, including time spent studying, completing coursework, and participating in class discussions. Some companies and organizations may also offer incentives for employees to seek further education, another key consideration for prospective students.
Online programs offer an ideal coursework and career balance. This balance contributes to the ever-growing number of students choosing online courses: In 2018, one-third of college students enrolled in at least one online course. The accessibility, availability, and flexibility of online learning offers working professionals a great path to an EMBA.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is an EMBA worth it?
Yes. Executive MBA programs help working professionals excel and advance in their career. Similarly to the traditional MBA, an EMBA provides the skills and credentials necessary to move up the ladder, or even to begin a new career.
What can I do after an EMBA?
Typically, executive MBA graduates pursue upper-level management careers in positions like chief operating officer, chief executive officer, or financial manager. Some graduates choose to work in the nonprofit sector or begin their own business.
What does an executive MBA do for you?
The EMBA provides students with a deeper exploration of nuanced aspects of business and management. Geared towards midcareer professionals, the EMBA provides the credentials those professionals need to advance.
Is an EMBA better than an MBA?
It depends. The EMBA is similar to the MBA in subject matter; however, it caters to professionals with substantial work experience. Data shows those with an EMBA earn more on average than those with a traditional MBA, and work experience may contribute to this.
Who should get an EMBA?
While traditional MBAs gear towards early-career professionals, EMBAs best suit midcareer professionals with a substantial amount of work experience. The EMBA also generally caters to professionals working full time, allowing them to apply their newly acquired skills immediately in the workplace.