As an expert in business education, I’m sure you must get this question all the time, but for those considering an EMBA or MBA program, it’s a question they inevitably will ask—is an MBA or an EMBA worth it—what are the benefits of having the degree today?

William Ridgers: It is perhaps a bit of an obvious answer, but it depends where you take it. There are so many variants of MBAs now, that you have to pick carefully. Generally, an MBA from one of the very top institutions—Harvard, Stanford or London, say—will still be a worthwhile investment. These schools’ admissions policies are such that it is a good indicator to employers that you are among the smartest people out there.

At the other end, I still see good value in taking cheaper, local programmes. Of course the rewards aren’t so high, but considering they are much more reasonably priced, and if you are not aiming for a top job in New York or London the opportunity cost can still prove valuable.

Where I think there is more debate is around the mid-tier schools, particularly in America. These have become hugely more expensive in recent years, but there has not been a commensurate increase in reward. Some research that I conducted for The Economist found that the average tuition fee for an American mid-tier school had risen from $60,000 to $82,000 in just the last five years. During that time the graduation salaries of those schools’ MBAs had hardly changed—around $78,000.

MBA vs. EMBA—how does one choose—who should pursue which and does it have anything to do with age?

William Ridgers: I think it is not so much of a choice—they are really self-selecting. MBAs are qualifications for those with just few years’ experience. They are usually for career changers— particularly for those who want to switch from a functional role to more of a general management one. In Europe, the average age of an MBA is around 29, in the US it will be a couple of years younger.

One reason that EMBAs are self selecting is because they are hugely expensive. Initially they were aimed at those being sponsored by their companies, although it is now just as common for applicants to pay their own fees. They are really for applicants with significant managerial experience—often more than 10 years. Most will continue working while studying. Because of their modular nature and the time needed away from the office, their companies should have bought into the idea of the programme too, even if the student is paying for it himself. It is often the case that they will use their MBA to further their current career, rather than switch. Such people are not going to gain much by attending a programme with much younger, less experienced students. ...

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About William Ridgers
Bill Ridgers is the business education editor at The Economist. He is responsible for the full-time MBA ranking and the business education channel on The Economist online. He also contributes articles on management for the business section. He was editor of the "Which MBA?" guide for eight years. Bill has also written and edited several reports on talent management, education and the cost of doing business. He was previously the chief travel and tourism analyst for The Economist Intelligence Unit. Prior to that he edited the EIU's cost of living survey and devised its liveability rankings. Bill is also the cricket editor for The Economist's sports blog. He is currently working on a book of business quotations.
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