An EMBA student leads a class discussion.
An EMBA student leads a class discussion.

Executive MBA vs. MBA: Which is Right for You?

January 8, 2024

In the corridors of modern business education, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is often viewed as a significant—in some cases, even essential—step for professional success. However, not all MBA programs are created equal and they can be structured in a variety of ways. Two prominent pathways, the “standard” MBA and the executive MBA (EMBA), appeal to different audiences and feature distinct curriculum. Which is best for you? 

It’s a significant choice based on professional experience, goals, and commitments. Both paths offer distinct advantages, designed for different stages in your career. The standard MBA program typically caters to an early-career professional seeking a holistic business education, while an EMBA is often designed for an experienced executive looking to refine their leadership skills. Choosing the right MBA program is crucial, as it can be a transformative step toward achieving your ambitions, helping to quickly advanced career trajectories. 

Regardless of your choice, CU Denver has an option for you. The university offers several high-quality MBA programs, including an Executive MBA, Professional MBA, One Year MBA, Health Administration MBA, and an Executive MBA in Health Administration.  

Executive MBA vs. MBA: Fundamental Distinctions 

To help illustrate the differences and defining elements of an executive MBA vs. MBA, we have detailed three core tenets of these programs, including typical demographics, program configurations, and educational pathways of each. 

Target Audience 

Standard MBA: 

  • Typically caters to early- and mid-career professionals looking to enhance their skills or pivot to a new industry. 
  • These programs often require two to five years of work experience for admission. 


  • Tailored for seasoned professionals who have spent significant time climbing the corporate ladder. 
  • Students usually hold senior management positions or even run their own businesses. 
  • These programs require a minimum of seven to 10 years of work experience. 

Program Structure  

Standard MBA: 

  • Offered full-time and part-time, spanning about one to two years. 
  • The full-time programs expect students to concentrate solely on their studies, while part-time programs provide more flexibility, allowing students to work while studying. 
  • Delivers a comprehensive curriculum that encompasses myriad business disciplines and elective courses. 


  • Programs are mostly part-time to accommodate the busy schedules of working executives. 
  • These programs often feature weekend or evening classes, enabling participants to continue their work commitments. The total duration varies between one and two years. 
  • The curriculum is typically more condensed, with a heavy emphasis on advanced leadership skills, strategic decision-making, and real-world case studies. 

The hybrid model is greatly favored by professionals, offering them the flexibility to balance work, travel, school, and quality time with their families. Additionally, this model provides an excellent opportunity for students to establish strong connections with their cohort, which can be challenging to achieve in online-only programs.

—Mary Ann Skadow, Assistant Director of Recruiting, EMBA Program 

Learning Environment 

Standard MBA: 

  • Fosters a diverse learning environment by attracting individuals from various educational backgrounds and industries.  
  • The diversity of these programs enriches the classroom, offering a vibrant space for cross-disciplinary learning and networking. 


  • EMBA programs find participant diversity through the student’s work experiences. 
  • The classroom is a platform for experienced professionals to engage in high-level discussions, sharing best practices and insights. 
  • EMBA experience emphasizes peer-to-peer learning, creating a robust network of accomplished executives and business owners. 

MBAs at CU Denver  

At CU Denver’s Business School, there are several MBA programs to choose from, which ensures that you can get the degree that works for you.  

If you need flexibility, our Professional MBA is a good option. Designed for working professionals, this part-time program offers evening and online classes and can be completed in three years or less. With 15 specializations, over 100 elective courses, and optional international study opportunities, it allows students to customize their education according to their career aspirations. 

Our One Year MBA offers an accelerated route for early-career professionals and career changers seeking a rapid ascent. The program spans 12 months and is an immersive, full-time program that combines daytime and online classes with global course opportunities abroad, consulting projects, and paid internships. 

If you are a seasoned professional who wants to improve your leadership prowess without disrupting your career, our Executive MBA might be a good fit. Over 18 months, this hybrid program combines online and in-person classes, supplemented by comprehensive, personalized student support, and an international trip that features a consulting project.  

Additionally, if you’re in the healthcare sector, the Health Administration MBA and the Executive MBA in Health Administration cater to professionals seeking specialized knowledge in healthcare management, with various formats and lengths to suit diverse backgrounds.  

MBA Career Prospects 

CU Denver’s 10-year Alumni Outcomes report shows estimated average earnings of $107,304 per year for MBA graduates. Additionally, 95% of CU Denver MBA alumni stay within the management field, and 79.4% continue to reside in Colorado. Employers like AllHealth Network, USAA, Wells Fargo, HunterDouglas, PNC, Boeing, Coors Distributing Company, DISH, Terumo, and many more are represented in the EMBA class of 2024. Some common roles for MBA graduates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are as follows:  

  • Financial Manager | Average Salary: $131,710 
  • Marketing Manager | Average Salary: $133,380 
  • Human Resources Manager | Average Salary: $126,230 
  • Medical and Health Services Manager | Average Salary: $101,340 
  • Operations Manager | Average Salary: $98,100 
  • Management Analyst | Average Salary: $93,000 
  • Information Systems Manager | Average Salary: $159,010 


Contact us to learn about program costs, how to apply, and when you can start the Executive MBA program.