Executive MBA vs Master’s Degree: What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between an MBA and a master’s degree is breadth versus depth. An MBA curriculum teaches students about core business subjects like management, finance, marketing, economics, and accounting. They get a holistic view of business. MBA Students can explore particular areas of interest on a deeper level through electives.
A master’s degree program is subject specific, offering students a deep dive into a specialized area of study.

Executive MBA vs. Specialized Master’s Degrees

Wharton’s executive MBA program offers the same curriculum as the full-time MBA program. First-year students take required core courses in foundational areas of business and choose electives in their second year. With a broader view of business, they are equipped to lead teams and manage organizations.

Students in specialized master’s degree programs are looking to become experts in their field through further education in that area. For example, students in a master’s of finance program study finance and plan to focus their careers in finance. Wharton does not offer specialized master’s degree programs.

Read why Laura Rivera, WG’18, decided to get her MBA.

What to Consider When Deciding Between an Executive MBA and Master’s Degree

Work Experience

Most master’s programs require little or no work experience. Top MBA programs usually require students to have a certain number of years of work experience. Students in Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives are required to have 8 years of work experience or apply as a Fellow.


Do you plan to continue working full-time while in school? Many master’s degree programs are full-time, or offer part-time options through night classes. Wharton’s Executive MBA program is designed for professionals working full-time. Members of the Philadelphia and San Francisco cohorts attend classes on campus every other weekend, with three week-long sessions throughout the program. Members of the Global cohort log into live and synchronous classes with their professors and fellow students regularly throughout the week.


A part-time master’s program could take a working professional several years to complete, depending on how many classes are taken per semester. Most executive MBA programs are around two years. Wharton’s EMBA program includes the same number of class hours as the full-time MBA program and runs for 24 months.

Long-Term Goal

Do you know where you want to be in five or 10 years? If you plan to remain in your same function and want to gain more expertise in that area, then a master’s degree might be a good fit. However, if you plan to move into a general management role or transition into a different business area, an MBA may be a better option.

Read why Josh Yellin, WG’20, came to Wharton’s EMBA program after earning his master’s degree.

Should I Pursue a Master’s Degree Before an Executive MBA?

A master’s degree is not required to apply to an executive MBA program. If you are looking to dive deeper into your current area or don’t have enough years of experience for an EMBA program, then you might consider a master’s program now. However, if you’ve been working for 10 or more years and seek career advancement and leadership opportunities across an organization, an executive MBA program may be a better fit. You also can do both. About half of the students in Wharton’s EMBA program already hold an advanced degree.

With a master’s degree in computer science, read how Wharton’s EMBA program helped Ashmeet Sidana, WG’03, transition from technologist to VC.

After earning his master’s degree in chemical engineering, Alexander Steiner, WG’18, chose to come to Wharton’s EMBA program instead of a PhD program or medical school.