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What Is the Difference Between an Executive MBA and a General MBA?

As a seasoned business professional, are you seeking to advance your career and reach top-level positions such as director, executive or business owner? You may be considering either a general Master of Business Administration (MBA) program or an Executive MBA program. The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) Executive MBA online program is designed to develop your skills alongside peers from various industries and experiences. With a rigorous core curriculum, this program provides students with, among other things, the leadership and team-building skills for business professionals with aspirations to advance into and upward through the executive corporate ranks.

There are a few key distinctions between an executive MBA program and a general MBA, including the enhanced knowledge and skills students can expect to gain, earning potential, learning pace and additional curriculum. The UNCW online Executive MBA program prepares students for executive roles through course content, two on-campus applied-learning residencies and a one-week international consulting residency.

MBA vs. Executive MBA: Key Distinctions

Whereas a general MBA program offers a broad understanding of core business operations and is suitable for individuals at varying levels of experience with a range of career aspirations, an executive MBA is tailored for experienced managers and executives and offers a deeper dive into business strategy and leadership.

The executive MBA curriculum approaches subjects from a high-level strategic perspective, emphasizing workshops, guest speakers and networking. The UNCW online Executive MBA program places a stronger emphasis than most MBA programs on leadership development, human resource management and managing in an international environment.

Here are some of the key differences between an executive and a general MBA program, with specific information about the UNCW online Executive MBA program as it pertains to each program aspect:

  1. Target students: Executive MBA programs are designed for mid-to-senior-level executives, managers, and entrepreneurs, while general MBA programs are aimed at a wider range of students, including early-career professionals and those switching careers. MBA students are generally less likely to work full-time, especially those enrolled in on-campus programs. MBA students average 28 years of age and typically have three to five years of working experience, according to Indeed, while executive MBA students are about 39 years of age and usually have nearly 15 years of working experience, according to Business Wire. Due to the difference in professional experience, MBA programs typically require a GMAT or GRE score, and executive MBA programs usually do not. The UNCW Executive MBA is intended for experienced candidates with at least five years of professional experience.
  2. Schedule, pace and duration: Executive MBA programs are typically designed for working executives and managers and offer flexible scheduling options, such as weekend or evening classes. General MBA programs usually require students to enroll full-time, but some allow part-time enrollment. Executive MBA programs have adapted to the changing needs of working professionals, with 86% of Executive MBA Council (Executive MBAC) programs incorporating online learning, compared to 55% before the pandemic, as Business Wire notes. The pace of an executive MBA program is typically more rapid than an MBA program, with compressed coverage of business fundamentals that most executive MBA students already bring to the experience. An executive MBA is typically a two-year program, but students can complete the online UNCW Executive MBA program in as few as 12 months.
  3. Curriculum and real-world projects: Executive MBA programs often emphasize real-world, practical business experience and may include case studies, company visits, and other hands-on learning opportunities. Traditional MBA programs often have a stronger emphasis on theoretical concepts and classroom learning. Travel experiences are essential to the Executive MBA, as Business Wire reports that 92% of programs include a trip in the curricula. The UNCW online Executive MBA program includes two on-campus residencies and one international residency in Europe or Asia. These residencies foster abundant opportunities for hands-on learning, coaching, problem-solving, peer interaction, and networking.
  4. Advising and networking: Executive MBA programs typically take a more personal approach to career development than MBA programs. The UNCW program assigns an advisor (or “coach”) to work with each student in choosing a specialization to provide focused expertise in various in-demand fields such as business analytics, supply chain management, and international business.
  5. Cohort size and makeup, and networking: Executive MBA programs tend to have smaller class sizes with a more experienced and diverse student body, while general MBA programs have a broader range of students at different stages of their careers. The UNCW online Executive MBA program places students in interactive cohorts of experienced peers to facilitate collaboration, networking and relationship building.
  6. Cost: Pursuing an advanced business degree — whether an executive or general MBA — can be a significant financial investment for most. However, UNCW’s online Executive MBA program is affordable, particularly compared to other AACSB-accredited programs.
  7. Career and earning outcomes: Executive MBA graduates tend to have more advanced career positions and higher salaries than general MBA graduates, partially due to entering programs after gaining an average of five or more years of professional experience. While recent data from GMAC’s Corporate Recruiters Survey shows that U.S. companies pay MBA hires a median starting salary of $115,000, executive MBA graduates earn an average of $193,200. Most executive MBA students can pay off any executive MBA loans within two years of graduating due to their higher incomes, according to Indeed.

Ultimately, both types of MBA programs have their strengths and weaknesses but equip business professionals with valuable skills and experience. The choice between an executive MBA and a general MBA will depend on your experience, career goals, current work situation and personal preferences. UNCW’s program is an ideal fit for those who want an intensive, peer-focused experience that develops managerial, problem-solving and leadership skills for senior positions.

Learn more about UNCW’s online Executive MBA program.

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