If you're working in management and want to move forward in your career, look into Executive MBA programs. Executive MBAs are similar to traditional MBAs but with different schedules, rigidity of curriculum and networking opportunities. Many business schools require five years in a managerial position; although the exact requirement changes from school to school, having experience in a supervisor role is a must for any program. Before you start applying, here are some other points to consider when deciding if an Executive MBA is right for you.

Executive MBAs are designed so that students take all, or nearly all, classes with the same set of students, providing a tremendous opportunity to gain business contacts with managers in a cross section of career levels and specializations at other companies. However, if you don't click with the group of students you will work with for your full degree, group projects can be very challenging.

Steven Parscale, American Council for Business Schools and Programs Director of Accreditation, recommends you attend an orientation night with your class before your first class start date. You will likely have the opportunity to wait for the next class to start with a different set of individuals. Some universities will allow you to skip a class during the program and pick up the next class with a different group of students. Either way, you are postponing graduation, so make the decision to wait carefully.

Will Your Company Foot the Bill?
According to Parscale, 80 to 90% of companies pay their employees' tuition. However, if they do, there could be a work requirement of several years after completion. If there's a chance of switching careers or employers, weigh this decision before accepting funding. You also want to be careful about denying tuition help. Your company could grow suspicious if you inform them of Executive MBA attendance - or they find out via your other classmates - and you didn't take funds from your company.

More Restricted Schedule than Traditional MBAs
Class schedules are designed for working individuals and will likely take place on weekends and Fridays. There usually is only one time option per course, but you should ask about the exact days and times before enrolling. Traditional MBA scheduling flexibility varies from school-to-school. There may only be one class time option during a semester, as with an Executive MBA. However, you likely can take classes in a variety of different orders to create more flexibility.

Choosing Programs
If there is only one university that offers an Executive MBA within your geographic area, your school choice is made for you. However, if you live in a metropolitan area with several school choices, you'll want to compare programs. Two areas where Executive MBAs can differ are class choices and skill focus.

Hard Skills Vs. Soft Skills
Executive MBA programs can focus on soft skills, hard skills or a hybrid of both. Some students and employers prefer learning soft skills like leadership, while others would rather learn concrete skills such as accounting. Discuss with other employees within your company who have gone through the program about what they've learned, and speak to the school's admission's office to discuss coursework. Always discuss both programs with your employer, especially if your company will pay your tuition bill. One program could lead your career in a very different direction than the next, so make this decision carefully.

The number of electives in your program and the ability to focus on a particular area of study differs from school-to-school. For instance, some schools will allow you to specialize in marketing or accounting, while others won't. If the coursework you prefer isn't offered within your school choices, talk to your employer about paying for a traditional MBA alternative.

Time Commitment
Whether or not an Executive MBA program helps you advance in your career is a product of your time commitment. If your company pays for your program, they are making an investment in you so that your education will benefit them in the future. Therefore, if you signed up for the program, but found you didn't have the time to commit to studying due to family commitments, for example, instead of an employer ready to promote you for your coursework, you could have to deal with an employer who made an investment without seeing returns.

The Bottom Line
If your company is ready to write your tuition check, attending Executive MBA programs is a phenomenal opportunity. But the opportunity's worth depends on what you learn from your courses and your successful completion. Research programs first to make sure you have the time, commitment to finish and interest in the coursework.

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