Executive MBA considerations

There is a multitude of reasons to pursue an MBA through the Executive route. Those that immediately come to mind are the ability to work full time and directly apply the coursework (many EMBA programs meet once a month, Friday – Sunday), immediately parlay relationships into job opportunities, attend an institution that otherwise would not be geographically possible, and surround yourself with an entire cohort comprised of diverse senior management. I highly recommend the EMBA route to those who feel these factors align with their desires, however, there is another benefit to the Executive route, which leads to its unofficial designation as the “backdoor” to admission.

One of the unique factors in admissions for an Executive MBA candidate is that management experience is heavily weighted when compared to the traditional, quantitative pillars of admissions criteria. I did not have a stellar undergrad GPA and my GMAT scores were nothing to brag about. When I developed an interest in obtaining an MBA a few years after exiting the military, I feared it was too late to fix the blemishes that would prevent admission to a respectable program. Thankfully, I became aware of the Executive route and the emphasis placed on one’s leadership resume.

This is not to say the Executive route allows one to ignore test prep, forgo resume boosters, or expend minimum effort on the essays. Certainly, a quantitative threshold for acceptance must be upheld, even if the candidate holds an accomplished record of management. You possess a unique and valued leadership perspective from your time in the military. For those hesitating to apply to a top notch MBA program due to fear of less than ideal test scores or GPA, consider the Executive route, if available.

Further factors to consider

Many Executive MBA programs require a minimum amount of management experience. For UCLA, the prerequisite was eight years. Often, military candidates have this by virtue of their time in service; however, this stipulation is not necessarily a deal killer for those who would like to pursue this route and have fewer years in uniform. The relaxing of strict admissions criteria also can also extend here, particularly for service members. Military leadership is rightfully seen as management experience placed on warp speed and admissions officers will often waive the requirement for those anywhere close to it (I had less than 7 years management experience between the military and my post-military job upon acceptance). All of this is to say, a polished and deep resume is crucial for the Executive MBA program. Your extensive leadership in the military must be translated to your resume in an easily identifiable manner. This holds especially true for those who feel their quantitative marks may be a hindrance in terms of their over candidacy. This is one of the primary means to make an impact with your application and move on to the interview.

The interview is arguably the second-most important step on the path to Executive MBA admissions. For military leaders used to performing under pressure and briefing audiences of all sizes, this may seem like a formality. Lack of preparation in relying on one’s ability to think on the fly and engage with people is a critical error made in this step, one that may have cost me an acceptance or two. The interviews in my experience ranged from very lengthy informal conversations to a brief exchanging of pleasantries immediately followed by challenging and rapid-fire questions. Again, keep in mind that your military leadership (and post-military civilian leadership if it applies) are a major reason for them extending an invite to interview. In your preparation, ensure that you take every opportunity to highlight this, not through boastful sea stories, but relatable anecdotes that describe the kind of leader you are. I would argue that at the end of the day, the number one factor that admissions officers look for in interviews is relatability. They have now reviewed your admissions package and determined your eligibility based on scores, essays, etc. The focus is now on how will this individual add to the group dynamic, how will they take ownership of projects, how will they add to the brand? Preparation allows for confidently painting a relatable picture of leadership and can make all the difference in this step.

With all of the benefits to pursuing the EMBA, there are some potential drawbacks, depending on individual preference. The cohort usually meets only once a month in person. For those who prefer a classroom setting or the ability to perform group work face to face, this poses a challenge. There is ample opportunity to network and engage in team building through the EMBA, but the nature of the program means long stretches of remote activities. Being a simultaneous employee and student means accepting that in times one must take a backseat to the other. It is possible to not only complete, but also excel in duties for both, but one must adapt to the ebbs and flows of each. If being fully immersed in studies and only studies is appealing, the Executive route may not be the fulfilling choice. Finally, the EMBA option is growing among top business schools, but not all schools are offering it yet.


Diverse cohorts with many years in management across multiple industries. Some schools will require 12-14 years of management/industry experience. However, there are waivers for everything.

You will become part of an extensive network of MBAs. This is important for many MBA students and will depend on what school you choose to attend.

The Executive MBA hybrid schedule helps with work/life balance. It also accommodates people flying in from other cities/states/countries. It is usually a 22 to 24-month program—currently, 100% online since mid-March 2020.

Great fit for senior military members transitioning out of the military.

Career coaching and Leadership Training are typically offered as part of the curriculum.

Many business schools actively recruit military personnel. They are looking for a different leadership perspective than what is found in corporate America.

Many opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and explore what others are doing.


Very high tuition costs. The GI Bill will NOT fully cover most EMBA programs. Yellow Ribbon helps, but sometimes it is not enough for private schools. (NYU, Wharton, USC, etc.)

Most require the GMAT or EA. It can take months to prepare for this test. Look for universities that will consider waiving either test for veterans.

Depending on where you go, it could be very competitive. Not a problem for most veterans but be aware that your classmates are top tier individuals.

Travel Expenses. If you choose to attend a school in a different part of the country, you must consider your monthly travel costs, sometimes biweekly classes on campus. (Some schools have arranged hotel stays for class weekends included in tuition)

Since COVID-19, classes are 100% online. The experience has drastically changed how we keep in touch and network within our cohort and with other B-schools.

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