Executive MBA Admissions Myths and Reality

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Avenues to business leadership

Loubna Bouamane, PhD, is the founder and lead consultant of The Admission Concierge, a boutique sized admissions consulting firm specialised in MBA and MS admissions into top programmes in the US, Canada and Europe. Before launching her company, Loubna was director of MBA and Executive MBA admissions at the University of Miami for over 5 years. She currently sits on the board of BusinessCAS, an organisation focused on promoting access, equity and integrity in the college admission process, and is regularly featured in industry publications as an admission expert.

When is the Executive MBA the best option – at what stage of the career journey, for what reason, in what circumstances?

Both degrees, MBA and Executive MBA (EMBA), are professional degrees; they cater for working professionals looking to further their education after spending a few years in the corporate world. The EMBA is tailored explicitly for professionals who are relatively advanced in their career (10 to 15 years compared to 3 to 5 years for the traditional MBA). Typically, applicants who go for an EMBA have significant management experience, a solid professional network and are looking to brush up on their business knowledge, expand their network and boost their career. Because of its format (online or hybrid for the most part), the EMBA is particularly attractive for individuals who cannot afford to take two full years off their job and away from their personal responsibilities.

What makes experienced professionals consider EMBA studies?

Many applicants who consider Executive MBAs are looking to boost their career and step into a C-suite position or, in some instances, looking to pivot into a different sector of their industry or even venture into entrepreneurship. Very few EMBA candidates are looking for a career switch. In most cases, candidates feel that they have a plateau in their career and need a graduate business degree to expand their horizons while learning new skills.

What are some of the myths that you have had to bust about EMBA application and admission?

Executive MBA Admissions Myths and RealityBecause many business schools do not require standardised tests for EMBA admission, many applicants operate under the assumption that these programmes are easier to get into. This is far from the truth, particularly when it comes to highly ranked programmes. Candidates will still have to show their ability to handle a demanding academic curriculum, which calls for solid quantitative and verbal skills. The admission committee will dive into your transcripts but also your professional experience to assess your analytical skills.

Another big misconception about the EMBA is that applicants need to come from a business background to be admitted. However, many applicants from non-business backgrounds (medicals field, education, etc.) get accepted to a top EMBA programme every year. As long as you can make a case for the leadership and analytical skills you have gained through your work experience and clearly articulate how an EMBA will help you achieve your career goals, you will still have a solid chance.

What is the most challenging aspect of EMBA application?

Most EMBA programmes require over ten years of work experience; one of the most challenging aspects of the application is summarising your professional path and achievements concisely and powerfully. In addition, you will have to clearly articulate how you expect an EMBA to help take your career to the next level. Executive MBAs are specifically tailored for professionals with significant leadership experience. Make sure that you feature these skills in your resume and essays; don’t hesitate to cite your extra-curricular activities if you feel you fall short in that area (this may be your case if you are coming from a consulting background or a non-business field). In addition, provide specific examples: conflicts you resolved or initiatives you took to solve a complex business issue, for instance.

How competitive is EMBA admission and how can applicants stand out?

Well-ranked EMBAs are very competitive. Aside from your test scores, transcripts and letters of recommendation, your resume and essays will be critical to highlight your professional achievements, and potential to become a business leader and convey how you will be a good fit for the programme you are applying to. Your post-EMBA career goals should be convincing and aligned with what you have done so far.

How can prospective EMBA participants gain employer sponsorship or a scholarship?

Most EMBAs will require the candidate to provide proof of sponsorship (financial or otherwise) or at least a guarantee that their employer supports of their plan to pursue an MBA and is willing to accommodate their schedule. Although EMBAs offer a flexible format, candidates will still have to juggle professional and personal responsibilities. Therefore, it’s essential to have this conversation with your employer early on to ensure you have their full support.

Companies that provide full scholarships for EMBA hopefuls are rare nowadays. You can, however, still make a compelling case to your employer if you explain your thinking behind your quest for a graduate business degree and success stories from your current or previous firm. Discuss the opportunity to redefine your job, increase your potential impact after an EMBA and, finally, share your 100% commitment to return to the company after graduation.

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