Not interested in an MBA or EMBA? Consider Executive Education: How to Find – and Get Accepted to – the “Right” Program

Executive education

by Emily Buckley, Master Consultant and Executive Education Expert at The MBA Exchange. A former Associate Director of Admissions at Columbia Business School, Emily was a senior member of the admissions committee and manager of the waitlist process. She also led strategic planning for prospective student recruitment and admitted-student yield. Previously, she assessed MBA applications for Wharton and undergraduate applications for Princeton; served as director of educational counseling for a college admissions consulting firm; and was an Associate Director of Admissions at Barnard College. She earned her master of education degree from Columbia University and bachelor of English Literature and Language from Harvard College.

Are the duration, cost and logistics of a traditional, full-time, part-time or executive MBA program impractical – or even impossible – for you? Does earning an MBA on-line or remotely via distance learning seem impractical as these programs don’t deliver the same impact, prestige and value as their on-campus counterparts? There’s an alternative that is proving quite attractive and achievable for many business professionals: Executive Education.

Business schools are especially motivated to leverage their brands, faculty and content to reach a larger audience and generate revenue to help compensate for flat or declining MBA application volume. Thus, executive education (i.e., practical, non-degree academic content provided in-person and/or online) has expanded rapidly over the past five years. Today, exec ed is estimated to be a two-billion dollar industry with courses and programs developed and delivered by a long list of traditional business schools and for-profit companies. If executive education feels like the right resource and solution for you, please read on.

Leveraging the extensive industry and academic background of our consulting team, and our experience from advising over 5,000 applicants to the world’s best business schools during the past three decades, The MBA Exchange recommends the following action steps to help you decide which executive education programs are right for you and how to gain admission:

Step 1: Identify your motivation and prioritize your goals
There are many excellent reasons to pursue executive education, but your choice hinges on what you personally want to gain. Answer these questions to help narrow the possibilities. Do you want to:

• Qualify for immediate promotion?
• Prepare for a future promotion?
• Differentiate yourself from peers?
• Make yourself more marketable?
• Add missing knowledge to do your current job better?
• Mitigate a modest undergrad education?
• Upgrade your professional network?
• Experience new intellectual challenges?
• Change your function or industry?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, aligning your intentions and priorities with the focus and formats of available exec ed programs is a first step in the right direction.

Step 2: Evaluate and compare available options
Exec ed participants have much to gain, both near- and long-term, from such programs, but there are significant variances among them in terms of topic, timing, logistics, qualifications and cost. The options are vast, difficult to compare and vet, and potentially overwhelming. Start by considering your preferred structure and learning model: a) in-person, b) online, or c) a blend of both.

In-person programs are typically taught on a business school campus for several days, a weekend or successive weekends. Considering travel and housing costs, such programs are more expensive than purely online options. Those who prefer in-person programs appreciate the intellectual stimulation and networking that result from face-to-face engagement with faculty and fellow students.

Some exec ed programs present formal documentation – such as Harvard Business School’s Certificate in Advanced Management or Wharton’s Certificate of Professional Development – to those who complete the program. Attending a program on, say, the Harvard campus can enhance a resume in valuable ways.

The scale and scope of networking differ significantly by program type. In-person content tends to draw the most students from the local region. So if you live in the Bay Area, taking The Innovative Technology Leader program at Stanford would surely introduce you to movers & shakers in Silicon Valley. Or by enrolling in the Value Investing program at Columbia Business School, you’re likely to rub elbows with Wall Streeters and others in the NYC financial arena.

Online programs also offer content that’s innovative and relevant to students at all stages in their careers. Students can pick and choose courses to suit their learning needs. Career changers or small business owners may look for entry-level content through offerings such as Wharton’s Business Foundations. Senior managers may want coursework to stay current in the digital economy, so they may look to courses such as MIT Sloan’s Digital Marketing Analytics.

Online executive education offers greater flexibility and convenience, usually at a lower cost, than on-campus programs. Given the sophistication of online platforms, students work together virtually and build virtual relationships with fellow students. However, most online offerings lack the prestige, bonding and alumni access the come with on-campus programs.

Step 3: Understand the admissions process, priorities and preferences
Executive education programs sometimes feature “open enrollment,” meaning anyone who pays can take the course. However, more substantial programs, especially those presented by top business schools, are more discerning. Although acceptance rates are far higher than those at elite MBA programs, it takes more than just a lofty title from a blue-chip company to get accepted. Business schools want to ensure that each executive ed student they admit enters a class with other well-qualified, highly vetted peers who bring valuable experiences and relationships to the program. Furthermore, admissions officers want students who will represent their brand positively when featuring the school’s name on resumes, LinkedIn profiles, framed certificates, and, yes, even t-shirts!

While the greatest fear of admissions officers at the top MBA programs is having their best admits enroll at other schools, executive ed gatekeepers are most concerned about admits starting, but not completing the program. So, you must convince your target school that, if accepted, you are fully committed to finishing.

Crafting stellar applications, strategically selecting and guiding recommenders, and thoughtfully communicating with your target business schools are essential steps for getting accepted. The MBA Exchange can help you identify the best programs and maximize your chances for admission to executive education programs, so contact us today. We look forward to helping you find and join a program that will satisfy your goals and take your career to the next level – and beyond!