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A Masters of Business Administration, or MBA, is a graduate school degree in the business sciences, and may include specific studies in management, accounting, finance and a host of other business-oriented disciplines.

An MBA earned in the U.S. is recognized by companies across the world interested in hiring a graduate with a degree in business and management academic categories.

While an MBA's core disciplines are in the business arena, an MBA can also prove useful in a number of other professional categories, including law, public policy, urban planning, marketing, sales and a myriad of careers.

Usually, an MBA degree candidate not only takes the courses needed to graduate, but also spends time as an intern at a private company, non-profit or government agency. MBA graduates use that time to gain experience to take into the professional sector.

Getting an MBA degree can be an uphill climb, and involves the following hurdles:

Academics

The MBA student needs to pass and complete a core academic series of subjects, including finance and economics, accounting, operations and logistics, and marketing classes. More recently, many colleges and universities require a technology element as well, such as financial/technology (fin-tech), logistics, data analysis and statistics, and technology product development.

Past the core curriculum element, MBA candidates can also take elective graduate school classes that closely fit their post-collegiate passions, such as entrepreneurship and government planning.

Testing

Business schools also require MBA candidates to pass specialized academic exams, like the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), before being accepted into an MBA program.

Preparatory Documents

Quality graduate schools will also require MBA candidates to submit previous academic transcripts, reference letters from credible professionals, teachers, and mentors, and may also be asked to submit an essay or letter of interest before being accepted to an MBA program.

What Is an Executive MBA?

An executive MBA (or EMBA) is a separate category from a traditional MBA, although it does share many of the same characteristics.

In that regard, EMBA and MBA candidates both study high-level business concepts, focus on specific disciplines like finance or accounting, and face rigorous classwork, testing and internship standards before they earn their degree.

What separates an EMBA from an MBA is the time-served by an EMBA candidate already in the professional sector.

By and large, EMBA students have already worked in the real world, usually as a manager, executive, analyst, or other high-level position at a company, organization or government agency. While they're at graduate school, EMBA candidates usually keep their full-time jobs and study in their spare hours (EMBA students spend a lot of time studying and taking classes on nights and weekends.)

Essentially, MBA candidates spend most of their time in the classroom and studying while EMBA candidates work full-time while they earn their graduate degree in their chosen MBA discipline.

MBA and EMBA: Key Differences

Besides the fact that most EMBA graduates have already spent specific time in the professional sector as managers or executives as opposed to MBA candidates, there are other differences between EMBA and MBA students:

No Electives With an EMBA

Unlike MBA programs, executive MBA students don't have to take electives. In bypassing elective courses, EMBA students can better focus on the core curriculum schools require to graduate.

EMBA Students Are Usually Older

Since executive MBA students have already spent a significant amount of time in the professional world, they're usually older than MBA students, who move from undergraduate school to graduate school. More or less, the average EMBA student is 28-years-of-age or older while the average MBA student is in the 22 to 25 age range.

More Testing for MBA Students

Since MBA students have limited professional experience, graduate schools place more emphasis on testing when admitting students into the program than they do with EMBA students - where entrance isn't dependent on testing at all - just professional work experience. For MBA students, GMAT test scores must pass a 600 level for many business schools but need a test score of 700 or more for upper echelon graduate MBA programs.

Funding Differences

While MBA students may get financial help from their employers, if they work as a full-time professional out of undergraduate school, program costs and fees may just as easily need to be self-funded. That's not the case for EMBA students, who are much more likely to  see their school costs covered by an employer or via employer-sponsored financial aid or scholarships.

Lifestyle Differences

As EMBA students are older and more established in the workforce, and are likely working full time during their graduate school experience, they're also more likely to have a family, and thus study at night and on weekends. MBA students are more likely to fully experience campus life, live on campus, and work part-time as they study for their degrees on a full-time basis.

Look at the issue this way. An MBA's student's full-time job is his or her classroom obligations. An EMBA's full-time job is his or her professional job, while the classroom work is handled on a part-time basis.

What's a Better Deal: MBA or EMBA?

Both MBA and an EMBA programs suit their students' unique needs and each can be highly recommended based on individual academic and career requirements.

For example, if you're 23-years-old, just out of undergraduate school, and want to add more education, seasoning and value to your undergrad degree, an MBA program could be right up your alley.

But if you're 30-years-old, have eight years logged into the professional career sector, want to elevate your personal brand in the workplace or in your chosen field and make more money, an EMBA program can fit the bill for you.

Consequently, which program is better depends on your academic and career goals. If you're weighing either program, consider these factors before applying to an MBA or EMBA graduate school program.

What Is Your Personal Situation?

If you're already in the professional sector for five or 10 years (or more) and have made progress as a manager or executive, you've likely bypassed the need for an MBA and can move right on to an EMBA program.

The latter offers more specialized education and a clear path to higher pay as an executive or manager, and you can handle the class workload on a part-time basis.

MBA program applicants may do better if they have no or low professional work experience and are looking to add some luster to their academic record so they can land a better job in their chosen vocation.

Do You Have Graduate School Funding in Place?

If you're already established at a company, non-profit or government organization, you're more likely to get financial help from your employer to achieve an EMBA degree. In that light, an EMBA degree is easier to obtain from a financial point of view.

If you don't have professional funding from your employer, and you're already burdened with high undergraduate student loan debt, an EMBA degree may well temporarily out of reach. It may make more sense financially to spend five years in the private sector and get the financial help you need to study for an EMBA degree.

Recruiters Don't Always Look at MBA and EMBA in the Same Light

One potential downside with an EMBA degree is executive recruiters may view the degree as a watered-down version of an MBA program, where the real academic work is done - in the eyes of a recruiter.

It's a bit of a Catch-22 situation, where executive recruiters may value the full classroom workload and relative youth of the average MBA graduate as an easier "sell" to hiring managers as they enter the professional workplace.

That's not exactly fair to EMBA graduates, who may not even be looking for a new job and are more likely leveraging the degree to rise in their own company as a high-ranking executive.

Still, the recruiter angle should be factored into any decision made to hit graduate school early as an MBA student vs. waiting for a few years in the working world and going the EMBA route.

A Personal Choice

That's exactly why choosing between an MBA or an EMBA degree is highly dependent on what you're trying to achieve and on your current situation.

Already working and established in the professional sector? Then an EMBA may make more sense to you.

Just out of college with little or no career experience? Then possibly an MBA makes more sense, especially if you have no employer funding in place to lean on to pay for graduate school work.

In that sense, it's your call on the MBA vs. the EMBA question, so review your goals and personal circumstances and choose wisely.