How Executive MBA Programs Work

Executive MBA Program Academics

Executive MBA students study a variety of core business concepts.
Executive MBA students study a variety of core business concepts.
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Executive MBA programs divide their curriculum into core classes and electives. The first year of an executive MBA program is composed almost entirely of core business concepts and skills that include:

  • accounting and financial reporting
  • ethics
  • organizational leadership
  • corporate strategy
  • marketing management
  • operations management
  • managerial economics
  • managerial finance
  • global management and global strategy

By the second year, students are free to choose from a broad range of electives that address important modern business concepts. The following are a sample of electives from some of the top executive MBA programs:

  • product development
  • negotiation and conflict resolution
  • risk and crisis management
  • geopolitics
  • venture capital
  • advertising strategy
  • game theory

Many programs have an optional study abroad component or global business unit. At Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, it's called Global Initiatives in Management (GIM). Students who choose the GIM elective receive five weeks of classroom instruction on the "culture, economic climate and business conditions" of a selected country, followed by a 10-day trip to meet with government and business leaders. Recent destinations include cities in China, Chile and Argentina.

Duke University's Fuqua School of Business has a separate Global Executive MBA program with residential sessions in the United Kingdom, Russia, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, India and China.

The workload is heavy at most executive MBA programs and weekend class schedules are intensive. On Fridays, students begin their first class at eight or nine in the morning, take a lunch break around noon, then continue with more classes until as late as six or seven in the evening. Saturday classes usually end around 4pm to allow commuter students time to fly back home.

In addition to class time, executive MBA students are expected spend 15 to 25 hours every week on assignments, exercises and group work [source: Executive MBA Council].

Group work is crucial to an executive MBA education. At most programs, students are divided into groups of five to seven students called "cohorts," "study groups" or "learning teams" and remain with that group for a whole year. The idea is to replicate the working conditions of a typical business. Most in-class and out-of-class assignments are completed and evaluated as a group. Between weekend classes, students use the phone, email and online collaboration software to complete their projects.

Admission to executive MBA programs is highly competitive. Learn more about the application process on the next page.