Guide to an Online Executive MBA


If you are reading this Online Executive MBA Guide, you are most likely already a business professional with an extensive career path and possibly a degree in business. You have probably held some mid-management positions but are looking to take on a larger leadership role. An Online Executive MBA can help you elevate your career as you pursue leadership and C-suite roles within national or international firms.

What is the Difference Between an Online Executive MBA and a Traditional MBA?

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A traditional MBA is offered to anyone interested in pursuing business who has earned an undergraduate degree. Many students in traditional MBA programs go straight from their four-year degrees into an MBA program. However, an Executive MBA is exclusively for seasoned professionals with a minimum number of years of work experience. This exclusive degree is aimed towards building upon management skills and learning to be a more effective leader. Professional business leaders may also pursue this degree to upgrade their technical business skills to remain relevant in the constantly evolving world of business.

Full-time MBA programs require a significant time commitment that is not conducive to a full-time work schedule, whereas EMBA programs are designed to fit with full-time employment schedules. Classes are generally offered on select weekends, in weeknight courses, through online formats, or in a hybrid form. On-campus residencies and overnight-visits to the campus are typically required in most EMBA programs. These can range in length from a couple of days to one full week. The frequency can also vary from one per semester to every other weekend. Residencies give students the opportunity to meet with their professors, attend seminars, work on collaborative projects, and network. A lot of the instruction is usually asynchronous, and EMBA students complete and submit assignments via an online platform.


Online EMBA programs consist of between 36 and 72 credit hours. Students will work alongside their assigned cohort to acquire new leadership skills they can immediately apply on the job. Most EMBA programs launch with an on-campus orientation for students to learn more about program requirements, and courses will meet at predetermined dates from Friday afternoon through Sunday. Generally, students will complete core business courses in accounting, business ethics/law, finance, economics, management, and marketing, followed by management electives.

At the University of Virginia, EMBA students can choose from courses like Leadership Communication During Times of Disruption & Transformation, Get Things Done, Negotiations, and Leading with Influence. At NYU, elective options for EMBA students include Analytics and Machine Learning for Managers, Conquering High Stakes Communications, and Leading Inclusive Teams.

During the final semester, EMBA students may be required to complete a capstone paper, project, or presentation. Sometimes these projects are completed in small groups with two or three peers. EMBA programs also focus on establishing a global mindset and commonly offer an international residency at the end of the program. This experience is usually seven to 10 days and features tours of international businesses and visits to cultural landmarks.

History of Executive MBAs

The first MBA was launched over a century ago by the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. Full-time professionals were often unable to enroll in these programs because their class schedule conflicted with their work hours. These professionals needed a more flexible option that would fit their busy lifestyles. Also, the MBA was better suited for students with minimal business experience and professionals who desired a challenge, peers with work experience, and a curriculum emphasizing advanced leadership skills. 

The first Executive MBA was introduced by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 1943. This EMBA has evolved, and Booth students can now choose Chicago, London, or Hong Kong as their main campus. Students will spend a total of five weeks at the other two campuses during international session weeks. Many business schools now offer EMBA programs to serve the unique needs of aspiring executives.

How Do I Choose the Right Online Executive MBA Program?

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Since getting your Online EMBA is a major time and financial commitment, you want to make sure the program you’re investing in is of the highest quality and will provide you with the skills you need for advancement opportunities. Some elements to look for include accreditation, concentration options available, professional certifications offered, anticipated completion time, and overall affordability. If you are beginning your search or want to compare programs, you can find information about 178 business schools currently offering EMBA programs. Students can narrow their search criteria by several factors: state, percentage of students receiving aid, or enrollment size.

Accreditations and Distinctions

Business school accreditation is amongst the most important factors when choosing a school to pursue your Online Executive MBA. The brand recognition that comes with attending an AACSB-accredited school is worth the investment. The AACSB, or Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, sets the standard in the business world. The other two business school accreditations are the International Accreditation for Business Education (IACBE) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Many recruiters of large corporations prefer to hire graduates from AACSB-accredited institutions, so keep this in mind when selecting a business school.

Rankings can be a helpful tool for prospective students. U.S. News ranks the best EMBA programs annually. In the 2022 rankings, Duke University’s Global Executive MBA was named number seven amongst 33 EMBA programs. The total cost to attend the Fuqua GEMBA is around the $150,000 mark. While this is towards the upper end of the tuition spectrum, graduates earn an average base salary of $135,935 per year. 

Financial Times publishes the Top 100 Executive MBA Programs. The 2020 ranking consisted of 129 schools that voluntarily participated. Alumni from 2017 were surveyed on five components: current salary, salary increase, career progress, work experience, and aims achieved. Business schools also provide information on ten components, such as published faculty research articles, faculty holding doctorates, and international course experience. In 2021, some of the top-ranked business schools in the nation included UCLA, Duke University, Emory University, and Michigan State University.


Online Executive MBA programs may allow students to select a concentration area that aligns with their future career goals. If you know exactly what sector of business you’d like to go into, it may be important to you to find a program that offers concentrations. Some of the options available include Accounting, Business Analytics, Finance, Health Administration, Hospitality and Tourism Management, International Business, Management Information Systems, Marketing, Operations Management, and Sports Management. Adding a concentration increases your marketability and shows employers you have in-depth knowledge in your area of specialization. You will have the credentials to pursue any career choices open to EMBA graduates, plus have a leg up when applying for a hospital leadership role if you have a concentration in Health Administration.

Professional Certifications

Some EMBA programs will have professional certifications embedded into the curriculum. Options may include Financial Risk Manager, Certified Information Systems Auditor, Project Management Professional, and Society for Human Resource Management. Adding a professional certification to your resume and transcript is sure to impress future employers. It will demonstrate to them that you have the highest credentials available within the industry, which will boost your professional credibility.

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Completion Time

An Online EMBA usually takes approximately two years to earn, which is about the same length of time as an MBA. Some accelerated EMBA programs allow students to complete their degree in as few as 12 months. Students in accelerated programs should be prepared to receive a heavy workload and have conversations with their workplace about whether it would be possible to scale back on some hours at work. Students in a two-year program should be able to handle school while simultaneously working a full-time job.


Online Executive MBA programs are generally more expensive than MBA programs, but there are funding options to help you afford to pay for your degree. The EMBAC or Executive MBA Council has a search tool that allows students to compare tuition rates by region in the U.S. or other countries. 

Tuition rates listed for the U.S. ranged from as low as $36,300 at Sacramento State to as high as $222,192 at Northwestern University for 2021 incoming students. The tuition rates may seem mindboggling, but remember, most candidates entering these programs are earning six-figure incomes and will graduate with even higher salaries.

Many larger corporations also offer company-sponsored education benefits. According to the 2020 EMBAC survey, 17.6 percent of students received full-tuition sponsorships, and 28.6 received partial tuition reimbursements. Companies are willing to invest in employees because they know they will reap long-term benefits, so it’s definitely worth scheduling a time to discuss your Online Executive MBA with your manager. Before the meeting, brainstorm a list of all the ways how earning your Online EMBA that will benefit the company. If they hear concrete projections, they’ll be much more likely to offer tuition assistance.

Approximately 60% of grad schools offer scholarships to help EMBA students fund their education. Limited programs offer research and teaching assistantships, but EMBA students may find it challenging to juggle one of these positions along with work and school. Loans may also be available for students through the school’s financial aid department at lower rates than other loan companies. If loans are not offered through your school, the Stafford Loan for Graduate Students is a popular option due to its low, fixed rates and flexible repayment terms. Students may also be eligible for a tax deduction, including a business deduction for education-related expenses, but should check with an accountant to go over their personal financial situation.


If you frequently travel for work or have an unpredictable work schedule, an online or hybrid EMBA program may be the best option for you. Hybrid options blend in-person classes and online coursework. A large number of the EMBA programs available from top business schools are offered in a hybrid format in order to accommodate busy business leaders. Classes can be conveniently accessed from home, the office, a hotel, or anywhere with an internet connection.

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How Do I Apply for an Online Executive MBA?

The application process for an Online Executive MBA is similar to a traditional MBA but more competitive. It is important you spend sufficient time on all application materials and include any optional components to present your best self. Your professional resume should highlight your leadership experience and remove older positions if they are not relevant. Focus on specific business accomplishments and include numbers, such as “reduced company expenses by 10% by XYZ action.”

Think strategically about who to request your letters of recommendation from. If your direct supervisor loves you but is short on words, do you have a workplace mentor who could write a solid recommendation? It is also helpful if you are able to write out a few specific ideas of things the person you are requesting a recommendation from can write about. Remind them of how you helped on a team project or a presentation you gave. They will be more likely to complete your recommendation in a timely manner and be able to discuss specific attributes about you. Some applications will also allow you to write an optional personal statement about your goals. Ask a trusted colleague to proofread this for you.

Many programs waive the GMAT based on extensive business management experience. However, if your program requires GMAT scores, sign up for a test date now and devote adequate time to studying. Try to find someone who has already taken the GMAT who can offer study advice. In addition to a resume, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and test scores, you will also need to submit official transcripts from your undergraduate degree and an application fee. The application fee can range from $50 to $200. It is imperative you check your emails frequently for any correspondence from the school. Many of these emails will require you to complete and return time-sensitive documents.

What Career Prospects Will I Have After Earning an Online Executive MBA?

Online EMBA graduates frequently are offered promotions to senior leadership roles with the company where they are already employed. They are also well-positioned for upper-management positions in a broad spectrum of business sectors, making career changes, or even becoming entrepreneurs. Graduates will be prepared to take on new challenges and serve in roles that create a larger impact. During the two years Online Executive MBA students are enrolled in the program, they should research career options, attend Q&A sessions for different professions, and network with professionals from corporations they are most interested in. Try to establish post-graduation goals early in your Online EMBA program, so you can seek out specific opportunities that will propel your career in the right direction.


Lucrative salaries await graduates of Online EMBA programs, along with sign-on bonuses and many other benefits. According to an exit survey conducted by the EMBAC 2,390 students, 2019 EMBA graduates earned $205,008 prior to earning their degree and $232,663 upon completion of their degree. Approximately 40% of these students receive a promotion during their EMBA.

How Do I Succeed in an Online Executive MBA?


There are many factors that can help you succeed in an Online EMBA program. The amount of time and effort you put into the program will affect what you get out of the program.


Most Online Executive MBAs require attendance at residencies, so you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure you can attend the full sessions. Most will occur on the weekends, but some can last up to one week, so submit for vacation time at work as soon as you know the residency dates. Also, if you have children, you’ll need to secure childcare for those dates. Ideally, you should have a backup caregiver lined up too. If you will need to fly to your school, book your flight early. Find out if your cohort will be staying on campus, in a particular hotel, or if you are responsible for locating housing. If your college is located in a large city, consider staying at a hotel in the suburbs to save on expenses.


Since you may only see your classmates and professors a few times a semester, utilize communication tools to connect with them. Email your professor with any questions that arise. Introduce yourself to your peers on the discussion board. Your cohort can be a great network. A classmate who already works for a company you’re interested in could serve as your in by allowing you to shadow them or recommending you.

Time Management

While Online EMBAs are designed for full-time professionals, you will still need to devote a substantial amount of time to your coursework. On Sunday evening, think about your work schedule for the upcoming week, including deadlines, meetings, and any evenings you may need to stay late. Also, think about family commitments. Now, see where you have time and block this off for studying and school work. Once you’ve declared that time school time, stick with it. If a friend calls to invite you out to dinner on a night you’ve designated for school, ask them to meet with you on an alternative day. This will take discipline, but it will help prevent assignments from piling up.

Student Services

Online EMBA students are often privy to many perks that students in other programs don’t receive. For example, meals may be catered to the school on days you have to attend campus. Registration is often handled by administrative staff to save you time. Your books may also be ordered for you and either sent directly to you or available for pick up at your orientation or first residency. Of course, students will also have access to typical student services, such as digital library resources, the counseling center, and health center.

Career Services

Online Executive MBA students are seeking career advancement opportunities, and career services can provide the assistance you need. They often host career panels, networking socials, and individualized career counseling sessions. Business schools often have their own career services division to help students secure internships and job offers upon graduation. Career fairs are generally held in the fall and spring, and recruiters may also visit campus to conduct interviews throughout the semester as well. Career coaches are available to critique your resume, help you draft a cover letter, or offer salary negotiation advice. Students may also get help creating a LinkedIn profile, borrow interview attire, or have professional headshots taken. Schedule an appointment with the career center while you’re on campus!

Student Organizations

There won’t be a lot of time left over after work and your Online EMBA courses, but it’s still important to connect with your classmates. A major advantage of an EMBA program is the high-level peers in your classes, but if you don’t take time to meet them, you could be missing out on future opportunities. Rather than joining a formal student organization that is probably more geared towards undergraduate students, you may want to try to arrange some casual gatherings for your cohort. Arrange a dinner after one of your Saturday seminars or form an online study group. Ask your business school if you can be assigned an alumni mentor. Find out if there are opportunities to work on consulting projects, and try to seek out projects that will provide you with new skills. If your school has an MBA Association, stop by the meetings if you are able to squeeze them into your schedule.

Action Plans

lets get started

The past 18 months have seen a surge in remote work positions. Still, even companies who have transitioned from the office to a work-from-home environment need reliable managers who can monitor their project’s progress and lead a team virtually. Now is a great time to pursue an Online Executive MBA, so employers will know you have the leadership skills to lead from anywhere.

It’s time to commit! Make a list of the top schools you are interested in and their application deadlines. Most schools accept a fall and a spring cohort, but some have rolling admissions. Complete your application, submit your resume, letters of recommendation, and application fee. In just two years from now, you could enhance your career and become a more powerful business leader.

Related Resources:

Guide to an Economics Online MBA
Alternatives to an Online MBA
What are Accelerated Online MBA Programs?