Executive MBA: Applying to EMBA Programs

MBA Applications

Applying to Executive MBA Programs

Article courtesy of Accepted.com, MBA admissions consultancy
By Cindy Tokumitsu
Accepted.com Senior Editor

At 35 years old, Kara has worked professionally for 13 years, the last eight as a marketing manager in increasingly strategic positions. She is now director of marketing and strategy for her Fortune 1000 company's new product line. Her record of advancement is impressive for someone in her industry, pharmaceuticals, where people of her age are usually a few rungs lower and where some of her peers have MBAs. Her next move will be to a senior management role. Kara cannot imagine taking that step without the sophisticated management skill set that a top MBA program provides. Her company, eager to retain Kara and groom her for a senior position, will sponsor her Executive MBA studies.

Kara has the profile of an ideal EMBA applicant:

  • She has 10 to 14 years of professional experience including 6 to 10 years of managerial experience.
  • She has progressed steadily in her company.
  • She is a candidate for senior management.
  • Her employer wants to retain her and is willing to invest in her development for a senior role by sponsoring her EMBA.

Kara now faces the challenge of applying to EMBA programs - for although she is an ideal applicant, she also is a typical applicant, and thus must distinguish herself through her application essays. Most likely you face the same situation. Understanding two key issues will give you a clear framework from which to proceed with your application:

The competitive benefits and drawbacks of EMBA admissions

There are unique benefits and drawbacks to EMBA admissions. First, EMBA acceptance rates are significantly higher than regular admissions rates are. Compare, for example, Kellogg's 2008 EMBA acceptance rate of approximately 33% with its 2008 MBA acceptance rate of 24%, or UCLA’s 2007 EMBA acceptance rate of 59% with its 2008 full-time MBA acceptance rate of 20%. Second, there is a relative de-emphasis on the GMAT score. Many EMBA programs, such as Duke and NYU's Stern, do not even require the GMAT. Even for other top programs, you simply do not have to knock yourself out to score in the 700s, as these 2008 EMBA average scores show: Wharton - 696, and UCLA/Anderson – 655). These schools had average MBA GMATs above 700. (See http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rankings/ for access to data on specific EMBA programs.)

There is one major drawback to EMBA applications: there are fewer EMBA programs to apply to, and not all of those will fit your scheduling needs. Most EMBA applicants apply to two or three programs at most. Thus, each application has more weight for the applicant. To ensure admission, you must prepare a compelling profile by distinguishing yourself from other accomplished applicants and making the admissions committee excited about your goals.

Company sponsorship

EMBA applicants' employers usually sponsor their EMBA studies, at least to some extent. This sponsorship ranges from paying 100% of the tuition and fees to partial subsidy to merely allowing the applicant to take time off from work. Duke states on its website, “You do not need to be financially sponsored by your company in order to be eligible for the program. However, your company must sponsor you for the time away from work. A sponsorship letter is required so that we know your company is behind your decision to pursue an Executive MBA.” Wharton states on its website, "Employer support for the Wharton [EMBA] is a requirement for admission.... That support can take many forms, from individualized schedules that accommodate days on campus to full financial support." Moreover, programs vary in their requirements for sponsorship and in degree of sponsorship among students. While at Duke’s Weekend EMBA program only 25% and at Wharton West only 23% of students are fully sponsored, at Kellogg approximately 56% of EMBA students are fully sponsored.

Although not always required, financial sponsorship is a competitive plus for applicants, because it guarantees revenue for the program and virtually ensures your employment after graduation. If your employer is not subsidizing your EMBA, use your essays to sprint ahead of the sponsored pack, supported by your resume and recommendations.

You are now ready to tackle the nitty-gritty of your application. The main challenge - and opportunity - is in the essays, which can truly make or break your chances. Be prepared to discuss work extensively, and also your non-work involvements, as EMBA programs seek well-rounded contributors as much as regular MBA programs do. While the basic keys to good writing apply, including "showing" through stories or anecdotes rather than merely "telling," there are two concerns specific to EMBA application essays:

Bringing your goals to life

Your goals are obvious, right? General Manager, VP, Senior VP... The exact words may vary, but the gist is the same from company to company, and most EMBA applicants will define a similar post-EMBA career path in terms of scope of responsibilities. Surely one essay question per program will address your goals, and the inclination of many applicants is to diligently outline their planned path. That's fine, but why let the admissions reader think, "Okay, question answered, goals are appropriate," when you can excite him into thinking, "Wow, how great - for her, for her company, and not least for us - if she really does that!"

To elicit the latter response, take a detour at each phase of your goals (short-term, intermediate, long-term) to discuss the following: the skills you will need and the EMBA learning you will apply at that stage, what you hope to accomplish at that stage for yourself and your company, how that stage builds on the previous one, and special challenges and opportunities you perceive at that stage. Be as specific as possible, giving hypothetical or real examples to illustrate points. Present a before-and-after picture of something specific you can't do now that you will be able to do with your EMBA learning. In addition, articulate a vision for your goals overall - it might be related to your values or unique talents, your perception of social or industry needs, or something else that reflects your passion. Then weave that vision through your goals discussion. The purpose is to turn the admissions reader into your cheerleader.

Distinguishing yourself from other accomplished applicants

You have made your goals sound absolutely scintillating. Now, make sure the rest of your essays live up to your goals and vividly distinguish you from your competitors. Some factors are obvious. For example, EMBA programs generally have a lower percentage of female and international students than regular MBA programs do, making such applicants all the more appealing. Or perhaps you are from an industry that is underrepresented. These factors will work in your favor on their own.

Your professional accomplishments are another way to set yourself apart and develop an intriguing profile, and there is a long list of them. How do you choose the one(s) to detail in your essays? Use four criteria: (1) Which are most closely connected to your goals? (2) Which had the greatest impact on your organization? (3) Which produced the most learning and insight for you? (4) Which promise the greatest contribution to the EMBA program? When discussing the accomplishment, use the story approach, and then articulate and summarize the point it makes about goals, impact, learning/insight, or contribution.

As you can see, distinguishing yourself through your professional accomplishments is a matter of probing the accomplishment for the most substance and/or relevance to your application and the program. A profile that is deep and revelatory will have resonance.

Finally, distinguish yourself in your essays by discussing you non-work activities. For this discussion, follow the criteria described above, minus the "goals" criterion.

The acceptance rates show that if you are a qualified EMBA applicant, you have a good chance of getting into a program of your choosing. Don't let those high admissions numbers lull you into complacency in your application process - assure yourself a place in next year's EMBA class by producing a stellar application, worthy of you and your goals.

If you would like the guidance and support of experienced editors as you devise your strategy to apply as a younger applicant, Accepted.com is here to help. Accepted.com offers a range of services that can be tailored exactly to your needs. Their singular goal is to help you gain admittance to the MBA program of your choice!

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