What does an executive MBA cost?

BY Jason ArmestoAugust 31, 2021, 2:00 AM
Martin Laksman

If you have over a decade of experience and are looking to crack through to the next level of your business career, pursuing an executive MBA could be your pathway to success. But that pathway comes with a price tag. 

The steep cost of some executive MBA programs could understandably scare people off, though there are plenty of more affordable options throughout the country. Several of the top programs in Fortune’s ranking of the best EMBA programs have a total price tag in excess of $200,000, though others on the list come in under $100,00. And many state schools may offer an attractive value for in-state residents.

Regardless of whether your budget is $60,000 or $200,000, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money and how you might be able to cut down that cost. 

“Don’t be afraid of the price tag and to ask about scholarship money,” says Toby McChesney, the vice provost for graduate programs at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. “I think a lot of people don’t think there’d be any type of scholarship money for executive MBA programs, but more and more are doing it now.” 

What’s included in the cost

One of the alluring things about EMBA programs is that they often offer an all-inclusive type of service. 

“You need to consider all of the things bundled into the EMBA ‘tuition’ that are extras in a full-time program,” explains Bill Kooser, director at Fortuna Admissions, an admissions consulting company. That bundle includes books and materials, travel and lodging for international trips, and many meals throughout the program. “When you add in all the extras, full-time and EMBA programs tend to be very similar in cost.”

Those extras are included in EMBA programs to accommodate a group of people who are far along in their careers and living busy lives. 

“If you’re 45, you’re leading a team of 15 at your work, you’re stressed out, and you just want to know, ‘Okay, I have to go to class at 5 p.m.,’” McChesney adds. Once there, students are provided meals and learning materials so that they can focus all their attention on the coursework, he adds. 

Additionally, McChesney says, schools tend to “put all of their all-star faculty into the executive MBA because it’s the most expensive,” when compared with other program formats.

Paying for reputation

There can be big disparities between the price of one program and another depending on that program’s ranking. For instance, the EMBA program at the University of California, Berkeley, ranked 10th by Fortune, has an estimated cost of $196,000. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which has an EMBA program ranked at the No. 4 spot by Fortune, charges $210,900. 

But what about programs that aren’t as highly ranked?

The executive MBA program at Purdue University costs $85,000. So is it worth paying an extra $100,000 to attend a top-ranked program? 

“There’s no perfect answer to that question,” says McChesney. “I always push any student to really talk to the school, hear what the alums are saying, and meet the faculty. You’ll get a pretty good sense of what kind of situation you’re more inclined to do.”

For some students, a revered brand and access to its alumni network is vital. Others are more budget conscious and far less concerned about a school’s reputation—they just want to get the degree. If you feel like you’ll thrive with a more intimate cohort, then a smaller program could be the right choice. If you’d rather have a big cohort so that you can network with more people, a large program could be a good fit—but those programs are usually more expensive. 

Executive MBAs are a substantial investment, and while highly ranked programs offer many benefits, students should do significant research to make sure that the school they choose is the right fit for them. 

Ways to save

For many people, the cost of an executive MBA program could be a nonstarter. But there may be options available to help cut down the big price tag. 

In years past, employers saw EMBAs as an investment and would pick up the tab for their employees. As tuition has increased, fewer employers are willing, or able, to foot the bill. “Students are getting the degree; they may stick around for another year or two with the company, but then they’re going on to something else,” says Kooser. “So it’s no longer a great ROI [return on investment].”

While full sponsorship is rare, that doesn’t mean your employer won’t help out at all. Many companies have policies offering to pay a fixed rate for a worker’s education. “In most cases, it’s a company policy saying something like, ‘We offer $5,000 a semester for education.’ As opposed to, ‘Tuition is X. We will cover X percent of it,’” Kooser says. 

Fortune has documented many of the companies that offer financial assistance, including giants like Disney, Capital One, AT&T, Bank of America, and many more

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that if an employer does choose to help with the cost, it often comes with an agreement that you must stay with the company for a certain amount of time after graduating. Kooser notes that’s a deal breaker for certain candidates. “Some students will say, ‘I really don’t want to stick around. So thank you very much, but I’m going to pay for it myself,’” he adds. 

Between help from your employer and scholarship opportunities, you may be able to put a substantial dent in the EMBA price tag. “Even if you’re being sponsored 25%, we don’t necessarily know that on the admissions committee,” McChesney says. “You still may get a few thousand dollars here and there for a scholarship, and every bit helps.” 

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.