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Executive MBA Programs

MBA Programs for Highly Promising Professionals

Many U.S. business colleges offer Masters of business administration (MBA) programs tailored for working professionals. Of all the variations — part time, evening, weekend, and so on — the executive MBA stands out as the most prestigious at most schools.

Executive MBA programs are designed for the working professional who is already on a promising career track. Sometimes executive MBA programs are a good fit for executives, sometimes for the aspiring executive. They require significantly more work experience for acceptance than do traditional MBA programs, occasionally even requiring increasing budget or management responsibility. It is not unusual for an executive MBA program not to require applicants to take a Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) since the work experience requirement demonstrates knowledge in many of the business areas the exam tests.

Flexible Schedules

Flexible schedules are another key feature of executive MBA programs because most students do not wish to delay their careers while pursuing a degree. For instance, an executive MBA program schedule may consist of day-long courses on alternating Fridays and Saturdays. This schedule benfits business travelers, and mitigates the sacrifice students must make between their work and family commitments.

From an international perspective, executive MBA schedules make it more reasonable for a working professional to attend classes in the United States. Although international students occasionally commute to the United States for an executive MBA program, most move temporarily.

“I still work for [my company],” says Jianren Tang, assistant president of Daqing Petroleum Bureau, a division of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). “The executive MBA gives me time for business.”

Jianren came from China to enroll in the executive MBA program at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. He maintains his responsibilities to CNPC while earning his degree, and the executive MBA classes fit his schedule. “I chose [the executive MBA option] because I want to be in classes with my peers, and make business connections,” says Jianren.

Networks and Lifetime Connections

Peer connections and networking are important factors for students considering executive MBA programs. Business colleges have long recognized that professional networks—especially for students at a career level typical of executive MBA students—are one of the more significant benefits of a graduate business degree. International students in particular find significant value in the business connections they make outside their home country. In response, executive MBA programs are typically cohort programs, meaning students progress through the entire program as a team. They build lasting networks and learn about teamwork and leadership skills in ways a non-cohort program cannot always deliver.


“I was not expecting the leadership,” says Jianren of another key element of most executive MBA programs. “But I think the leadership is extremely valuable.” Students such as Jianren have already proven that they’re excellent business managers. Executive MBA programs intend to elevate students’ management skills to strong leadership ability, equipping students with the tools they need to lead organizational strategy. Many programs stress an ethical and values-based foundation to leadership, and may even use experiential learning and self-assesment tools and excercises for lasting lessons and transformational results.

International Focus

Jianren has opened offices for CNPC in such locations as Venezuela and Indonesia, and enrolled in the Daniels Executive MBA program “to find out more about international business. I want to know why some of these offices turned out to be more successful than others…also, how to write good business plans, and how to set up companies in the West is very important.”

While not every executive MBA student has the kind of experience Jianren brings to the classroom, many have a similar motivation: What major areas of international business do executives need to grasp to compete in the global marketplace? While many specialized, traditional MBA programs attempt to address this question, a strong international business focus is expected of executive MBA programs. After all, executive MBA students typically are at a stage in their careers that requires them to think and act globally.

It is not unusual for an executive MBA program to include an international trip, and students often decide which area of the world they’d like to visit. Through field studies, executive MBA students visit with business and government leaders in international locations, investigate a business challenge and present solutions to the cohort. Connections, once again, are another important learning outcome of these experiences.

Innovative Curriculum for Demanding Students

Experiential international trips are just one example of the beneficial approach colleges and faculty take in delivering the executive MBA curriculum. “Executives are different, and they require a different approach,” says Bill Silver, associate dean for Executive Programs at Daniels. “Students like Jianren are proven ‘doers;’ accomplished in making things happen. So lecturing at them at isn’t always the most effective way to help them learn. We’re constantly innovating the curriculum in our executive MBA program.”

Executive MBA programs are renowned for their innovation. Sailing trips for leadership and team-building, field research projects for actual companies, online components and self-assessment and awareness projects are just a few examples of out-of-the-classroom learning that executive MBA programs offer.

The Best Faculty

Universities often call upon their best faculty to teach executive MBA courses. “Executives can be hard on faculty. They demand more and they’ve experienced more,” says Silver. Colleges look to faculty most experienced in the business world, and the best at connecting to the no-nonsense expectations of executive MBA students.

Such admired faculty usually have a broad network that they call upon for guest lecturing, student networking and team projects. These connections mean more relevant learning for students—and more significant networks.

Student Expectations with Big Rewards

But faculty demand a lot of executive MBA students, too. Since they expect most students to have at least minimum exposure to most business disciplines, executive MBA programs move fast, are rigorous in their assignments and are academically challenging. Remember: many colleges consider their executive MBA program to be their most prestigious, so expectations of students—the future ambassadors of the school and its executive MBA program—are high.

The rewards, as a result, are also high. It is not at all unusual to hear executive MBA graduates say that the program changed their lives forever. Given that students like Jianren are already accomplished professionals, that’s quite a testament to the power of the executive MBA experience.

Article contributed by R. Aaron Templer, Marketing and Communications Manager for Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

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