Evaluating EMBA Programs

lane_marguerite-300dpiMBA Program for Executives Vice Dean Peggy Bishop Lane offers advice and criteria for evaluating executive MBA (EMBA) programs. The factors include academic quality, selectivity, and program format.

How do you get a sense of the quality of an EMBA class?

The selectivity of the school is one factor in determining the skills, abilities, and experience of the peer group you’ll work with throughout your studies. Also, at Wharton we find that diversity is key to dynamic class discussion. Make sure that there are a lot of viewpoints represented. What industries are the students coming from? What geographical areas are they coming from?

The best way to get a sense of the school is to visit. You will be spending a great deal of time with your classmates and professors, and the experience varies widely from program to program. Meet students, alumni, professors, and administrators. Sit in on a class if possible.

What kinds of things should you be looking at when deciding whether to apply to a particular EMBA program?

I’d advise you to look at several factors. First, what is the equivalence of the program to a full-time MBA? How does the curriculum compare? Do you want a very rigorous program or one that is less demanding?

Second, how selective is the school? How many people are applying to the program? Of those who apply, how many are admitted? Does the school require all applicants to take the GMAT? Many executive MBA programs waive that requirement; at Wharton, we hold our EMBA and full-time applicants to the same high standards.

Third, what about the program’s schedule and overall learning environment? How well does it fit with your career needs at this time and your personal learning style?

Also, how big is the alumni network and what do the alumni do? That’s a gauge of the opportunities that your MBA will open for you and a measure of the value of the degree in the marketplace.

What about the class schedule?

Ask yourself whether the program fits your lifestyle and your schedule. Is it offered one day per week, every other weekend, during week-long sessions, or a combination? What kind of support structures are available during residency periods? What kind of group study and individual work are required and supported between class sessions? Are you looking for a local degree, or are you willing to travel farther for a program with a wide geographic reach, broad industry scope, and/or international reputation?

Be sure you consider your learning style as well. Some students find that if classes are too concentrated, it’s difficult for them to absorb the coursework or that they lose momentum if the gaps between sessions are very long. At Wharton, we’ve found that Friday and Saturday classes work best since it is more feasible for students to take the time out to attend. There’s less disruption and they can they see the impact of learning on their ongoing work, creating a better value for the student and employer.

What differentiates the curriculum of various EMBA programs?

Many are “lockstep” programs, in which all students take the same classes, at the same time, throughout the duration of the program. That’s fine when the entire class has exactly the same interests, but otherwise be sure that the electives you need are offered and that courses can be tailored to your career advancement goals. At Wharton, 45 percent of the classes are electives, and each class has the opportunity during the first year to select the electives offered to them in the second year.

If you are interested in senior management roles, make sure the program you choose focuses on helping you improve your leadership style. What kinds of leadership courses does it offer, and how effective are they?

And don’t forget the basics – how many hours will be spent in class? Who teaches the courses? What is the core curriculum and how is it structured?

What other qualities add value to an EMBA?

Many executive programs have differentiators, but be sure what is unique about a program is both relevant to your goals and integrated within the program’s philosophy. Make sure that the international aspect of the program you choose is substantive and carried out in the rest of the curriculum. Ask whether the class has an opportunity to choose the location for the overseas project or residency. Team projects and experiential learning opportunities can also add value, giving students a chance to learn organizational dynamics and leadership while putting the lessons they learn into immediate play.

What about funding?

Funding is often a critical part of the decision-making process, and you will have to weigh your goals for your career, the value of the degree in the job market, and the availability of financial resources, including sponsorship and loans. Many employers are willing to sponsor students in executive MBA programs either fully or partially, and many schools offer loan programs to support students who are not fully sponsored. Check to see whether the school requires sponsorship, whether admission is contingent upon a student’s receiving employer funding, and what loan opportunities are available for EMBA students. The Wharton MBA Program for Executives does not require financial sponsorship, except for Fellows candidates. Loans are available for qualified self-sponsored students.

Any final advice?

I would just reiterate my earlier suggestion that visiting a program is one of the best ways to determine if it is a good fit for you. Pursuing an MBA degree, whether in a full-time or executive experience format, involves a major commitment not only of money, but also of time and personal energy. When it’s the right fit, it can be a life-changing experience. The time you invest up front in researching your choice is well worth the effort.

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