Alternatives to a Traditional Full-Time MBA

Manhattan Elite Prep helps guide students who are seeking alternatives to MBA programs.

EMBA, Part-Time MBA, Online MBA, Masters of Science

The traditional full-time MBA is not for everyone. Not everyone is able to take two full years out of the workforce, take out study loans, or move locations. In addition, not all those with an interest in an MBA are at the right point in their careers to commit to full-time MBA study as the best method to career enhancement or career change. Also, the traditional MBA may not provide the most appropriate training for a particular candidate to meet his or her goals. Fortunately there are other options.

The most common alternatives to the traditional MBA within the sphere of graduate business education are:

All of these options are geared toward professionals in different career and personal situations.

An evaluation of your own goals, career experience, personal or family needs, time limitations, and financial needs will help you decide between these options and determine which is best suited to you.

Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA)

EMBA programs are set up for experienced professionals. In general, programs advise having several years of experience for entering EMBA candidates. EMBA programs also are usually conducted on the weekends, or in select weeks during the year, and do not require students to quit their day jobs. Yet, despite maintaining a different clientele and calendar, the EMBA teaches students many of the same subjects and methods as the MBA.

The U.S.-based EMBA Council lists about 250 EMBA programs from 180 leading institutions around the world on its web site. An EMBA program can cost up to $100,000. Customized courses start at a few hundred dollars. An increasing number of executive education organizations offer online courses. Customized executive education programs are on the rise. Duke University’s corporate education division reports growth of 25 percent a year for custom-made courses.

Candidate Profile

The EMBA is ideal for the experienced candidate interested in developing his or her knowledge of business and management. If you want to develop a new expertise in a field, a part-time MBA program or a full-time MBA program is more likely to provide you with the necessary time to fulfill your career goals. In addition, if you are qualified in terms of background and experience, there is enormous benefit in an EMBA program to learn from fellow students who will share their experience and background with you. Faculty will also design their classes taking into consideration the experience of the students.

Because of rapid globalization, most EMBA classes comprise students from a wide range of industry sectors and countries.

Typical candidates tend to have the following profile:

  • Likely to be in his/her early 30s and will have six to ten years of working experience.
  • Working full-time.
  • Already in a management role with an average salary of $130,000 to $200,000.
  • May already have another degree (e.g, M.S., M.D, J.D., PhD).

Program Selection

EMBA programs vary in terms of schedules, flexibility, and travel expectations. You will thus want to select a program that is best suited to your needs. Like MBA programs, EMBA programs also encourage and require group work. Find out how this works before you begin so that you can fit it into your schedule and make arrangements with your employer. If you have particular career goals, such as increasing your international exposure, consider global EMBA options, such as those found at Duke or Kellogg’s particularly strong Latin American connections. If you would like to move locations from San Francisco to New York or vice versa, for example, you may consider the Columbia-Berkeley program. If you live in Chicago and want to stay put, check out the University of Chicago’s EMBA packages.


  • Time

Being in an EMBA program while working full-time will limit your free time as well as require some degree of flexibility and support on the part of your employer and possibly your family.

  • Money

More often than with traditional MBA programs, many EMBA students receive funding from their employers. This trend is gradually declining, and few receive full tuition at least without a guaranteed contract after the program. This makes it important to recognize that you might have to research loan options and understand your financial needs. Note that most EMBA grads do receive a full return on their investment within four years of graduation.


The EMBA degree is increasingly attractive to people who seek to expand their horizons and much of that attraction arises not only from the education provided but from the connections and networks that are formed during the program.

The future of EMBA programs lies in continued global expansion and partnerships between US and foreign institutions. Regardless of location, programs are seeking to make their scheduling more convenient for the long distance travelers, adopting calendars where classes are not scheduled every week but are given three-to-five consecutive days a month instead.

Technology is increasingly incorporated in EMBA programs as well, with group assignments being completed through video conferencing. These programs continue to evolve with the times.

Part-time MBA

The part-time MBA, like the EMBA, allows students to keep their full time jobs while attending business school. Unlike the EMBA programs, however, part-time MBA programs are designed for the less experienced professional or for those seeking to learn the necessary skills to change careers. Some part-time programs also incorporate distance-learning options making them flexible for those who travel frequently as well as for those that do not necessarily live nearby the school they attend. Schedules also differ from program to program, so you will want to find a timetable that works best for you, your family and your employer.


The most significant challenge for part-time students is changing careers. Those who do not seek to make a dramatic change are generally satisfied with their choice. However, students who want to make a more extreme change in field tend not to be as satisfied with part-time MBA study as do full-time MBA students.

  • Time

Full-time MBA students have time off to engage in summer internships or take a part-time position in a different field during the school year. This increases their potential to be able to change fields. Part-time MBA students are more limited in this respect. They may necessarily have to keep the jobs they currently hold, but often find it more realistic to move into a position that combines their experience with the new interests and skills gained in the classroom.

At the same time, part-time MBA students have a lot of time. The programs, being part-time, take an extended time to complete, and thus provide additional time for students to contemplate the direction they want the degree to take. In addition, it’s important for part time students to make use of campus resources, career counseling, and career assessment tools as they move along in the process. After three or four years in a program, goals may change, so these tools should be used when evaluating the MBA process.

Part time students will need the support of their employers and families too, as both studying and working will require large time commitments.

  • Money

Some part time students receive funding from their employers to complete the part time MBA. Larger companies are generally more likely to fund MBA programs. Even for those who do not receive funding from their employers, part time MBA students have a financial advantage over their full time counterparts in that they are continuing to earn money during study, often enough to cover expenses.

Some part time students who seek to change careers post-graduation will find that their salaries do not increase and may even decrease. This is because companies still hire and determine wages based on proven experience. One way to mitigate this is by seeking to combine the expertise developed in your current field with your interest in a new field.

Also, money need not be the single determining factor in your post-MBA professional choice. Though many go into MBA programs seeking to improve their earnings, many also seek to change jobs. With this in mind, try to find a position that will allow you to grow and learn. Consider options that complement your long-term goals and don’t just consider your post-MBA pocketbook.

Masters of Science in Economics or Finance or Accounting

The Masters of Science in Economics / Finance / Accounting is a degree for those seeking to learn specific skills relevant to economic or financial spheres. The degree is generally one-year and made up of narrowly focused courses in either economics or finance. The degree enables students to quickly develop expertise in a single field, and thus to move more quickly up the ladder in that field.

Some courses may overlap with an MBA program that has a finance concentration, but the MBA also provides more time for exploration outside of a single interest area and the development of more comprehensive leadership and management skills than the Masters of Science does. For some, the broader focus of the MBA may be helpful, for others, who already have gained management training or are interested in a PhD, or are just starting out, the Masters of Science might be a better choice.

Candidate Profile

The Masters of Science attracts people at a different point in their careers than MBA, EMBA or part-time MBA degrees.

  • On average younger than the full-time MBA student, candidates are not necessarily required to have work experience. Thus it attracts more recent college graduates.
  • Not as interested in learning to manage. The degree is more academically focused, teaching skills that are relevant to a particular track.

Though certainly varying from program to program and degree to degree, post-graduation many go into banking, some to economics, or development economics, and some to PhD programs.

Special Notes

Also of interest, in Europe the Masters of Science in Economics or Finance is considered particularly valuable and almost a more traditional path than the MBA. Graduates of Masters of Science programs are seen as skilled but also more flexible in terms of management style and thus companies can train individuals as they see fit.

Online MBA

Getting an MBA online is an increasingly popular method. The proliferation of internet access and computers has made learning outside the classroom an increasingly attractive concept, providing convenience and efficiency.

However, the most important thing to be wary of when considering an online degree is the legitimacy of the institution you are attending. Online relationships have great potential, but also present a larger possibility for falsehood and deceit. Therefore, it is especially important that those interested in attending an online program do detailed research, make direct phone calls, get answers to crucial questions, and find out what really happens to graduates.

Determining Legitimacy

First, do not attend a non-accredited school. Other institutions and employers will not recognize the degree and in many states it is in fact illegal. If the school’s website asserts it is accredited do a bit more research to determine if the school is accredited by a legitimate accrediting association. To determine this, check on the website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. It lists all recognized accrediting associations. Also Diploma Mill Police will do the research for you into the legitimacy of a program.

Selecting Programs

There are several types of schedules and timetables for online degrees, depending on the program. Some do include person-to-person classroom learning, and some are exclusively online. Determine which best suits your learning style and fits into your schedule.

Value of the Degree

With all of the advances in online classroom technology, earning your MBA online is quickly becoming a viable option. As graduates with online degrees enter the workforce and succeed, the programs gain credibility. This is a huge shift from the norm when even only a few years ago, employers shied away from candidates with an online degree. Still, many employers see online MBAs as less serious than traditional programs.

While this is certainly good news for the students and alumni of online programs, they still have to work hard to stay competitive with students of traditional classroom MBAs. Employers still feel that the online MBA is not as challenging or rigorous as the traditional programs. Many said they didn’t feel the online program could recreate the experience of face-to-face student interactions in the classroom, on teams, and in-group projects. Unfortunately, some employers haven’t come around yet and believe that online MBA students aren’t as serious as their classroom counterparts.

So what can those pursuing an online degree do to stay competitive in the job market? It helps to choose a program with a curriculum that mirrors the school’s full time MBA curriculum. Make sure you’re putting as much effort into your school search as you would if you were attending an in-person program—it is a big decision! Employers also are more open to MBA students with stellar academic records and impressive work experience. Yes the online MBA has many benefits for those looking for flexibility or convenience—but be aware you will have to work harder than face-to-face MBAs.

In summary, an online MBA won’t hold you back nearly as much as it did even five years ago; however it will require a greater effort on your part to stand out from those who got their degree in person.


  • Switching careers is difficult
  • Networking and professional connections are generally harder to form. However, this is not true for all students. Some find little difficulty in developing long-term, even life-long online relationships.

Overall it is highly recommended that you devote a lot of time to selecting an online MBA degree program. The key to getting your money’s worth from an online program is evaluating your goals and needs, the legitimacy of the institution, and the likelihood that a particular online program will help you achieve your educational and professional goals

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