MBA or EMBA – Which Is the Better Choice for You?

MBA and EMBA programs have a lot in common, and a few clear distinguishing factors. Katri Koivula and Mikko Laukkanen explain why both programs are a great option, and bring out aspects to keep in mind when choosing the best program for you.


Aalto EE has two excellent executive education programs: Aalto MBA for Executives (Aalto MBA) and Aalto Executive MBA (Aalto EMBA).  

The new expertise you acquire from both programs in strategic thinking, leadership, and in the holistic understanding of business can significantly contribute to your career development. The programs provide multifaceted business understanding and expand your ideas on how to be a change driver in your organization. You will gain globally relevant expertise and excellent ability to discuss all aspects of business at the management level. In addition, you will learn what analyses you should ask for and how to use their results to support business decisions.

The programs have a lot in common, and a few clear distinguishing factors. “It’s impossible to say whether to choose MBA or EMBA based on an applicant’s years of work experience or age,” says Dr. Mikko Laukkanen, Academic Director at Aalto EE. “The relevant question is: what is your need for change? And on the other hand, how, when, and what do you want to study?”

There are five key factors concerning the Aalto MBA and Aalto EMBA programs that you should consider when making your choice: 

  1. Structure and schedule 
  2. Learning methods 
  3. Elective modules 
  4. The role of responsible and sustainable business 
  5. Networks and target group 

Differences in Structure 

Aalto MBA and Aalto EMBA have very similar content. Both programs focus on different areas of business, on your personal development and growth as a leader, and on the secrets of business and organizational changes. Both programs are divided into modules with both pre- and post-assignments. The core modules that are mandatory for everyone, i.e. the courses, are essentially the same, and the themes are addressed from the perspective of strategy and leadership. The learnings can be applied immediately as the theme of the modules is reflected on in the participant’s own organization and development.  

There is a clear difference in the structure of the programs and the resulting learning experiences.  

The MBA program has more contact teaching days, and therefore more contact teaching lessons. The program has a monthly contact teaching period of four days from Wednesday to Saturday. The participants will delve deeply into the themes during the program. The MBA program is the best choice for those who want to study mainly outside their working hours and want to invest more time in their studies.

The EMBA program modules are more compact: only three days of contact teaching per month, with independent study before and after each module. During the contact teaching, it is assumed that the participants have familiarized themselves with the topic in advance, as during the contact teaching days the topics are reviewed at a faster pace and the focus is on reflection. 

"We have many participants who would fit into either program in terms of their career development and executive experience, but the other program will be a better option for scheduling reasons or due to learning preferences, for example. For example, if you travel a lot for your work, it can be easier to book only three full days each month for contact teaching, as is done in the EMBA program," says Katri Koivula, Associate Director of Aalto EE's Degree Programs business area. 

Differences in Teaching Methods  

Aalto MBA expands your career opportunities and development at work with a hands-on approach. The MBA program emphasizes a pragmatic approach more than the EMBA program. The programs involve a lot of group work, group discussions, case work, and presentations, which both challenges and develops the participants. You can apply frameworks and tools in practice already during the modules, not only for your organization, but also, for example, by working with start-ups and developing their business models and strategy. "If you get excited about doing and creating something new together, then the MBA program is for you," Koivula says. 

The EMBA program includes group and case work as well, but to a lesser extent. The themes of the modules are primarily addressed through group discussions and reflection, and by comparing and contrasting them to your own experience and organization. “The study group consists of congenial people, mostly of experienced leaders, and everyone has a lot to offer in discussions. You can learn from both the professor and other participants,” Laukkanen points out.  

"The backgrounds and experiences of the other participants shape the discussion in the classroom. Although the core content of both programs is very similar, the participants reflect on the themes on a larger scale in the EMBA and from the perspective of a more experienced leader, while in the MBA, the diversity of the group brings wealth to the discussion and learning together. The groups in our programs combine both solid experience and talent from Finland and around the world," Koivula adds. 

Elective modules 

In both programs, the first year is mainly spent on the mandatory modules common to all participants. The second year of studies focuses on elective modules. In the Aalto EMBA program, elective modules can be selected freely from the electives basket available, based on your own interests. The program also offers the possibility to participate in elective modules in the other Aalto EMBA programs and in Aalto EE’s partner universities around the world. These choices help tailoring the program to suit the participant's needs.   

The Aalto MBA program offers two different specialization options, from which you can also cross-study modules: Finance and Data, which offers modules on financial decision-making, data management, and digital transformation in business; and Entrepreneurship and Creativity, which develops the participant's forward-looking, experimental, and entrepreneurial mindset. Program participants can also complete elective studies as exchange students at our international top-level partner universities.  

Both programs are very international, offering participants to study in different locations. In addition, participants of both programs can participate in Study Tours abroad and Aalto Executive Summit events.  

The role of responsible and sustainable business 

The promotion of responsible business is present in both programs. The EMBA has a mandatory Corporate Sustainability module that examines responsibility, strategy, and business models from the perspective of your business. 

In addition to the mandatory module in the MBA program, the sustainability perspective is integrated holistically across the curriculum, which deepens your understanding of the role of responsibility and sustainability in business, and how these affect strategy work, decision-making, and value creation. The program provides you with the necessary tools and insight to develop your organization's business in a responsible manner. 

Networks and target groups  

Both the MBA and EMBA programs bring together participants from a wide range of different backgrounds, which enriches both programs, including, for instance, economists, engineers, lawyers, physicians, creative professionals, humanists, and social scientists who are seeking a change or boost in their careers.  

The MBA, in particular, has varying needs for change or development: there are those who want to proceed on their current career path, those who want to change their careers, and those who want to become entrepreneurs, as well as managers and older seasoned professionals who want to strengthen their skills and their own growth. You may also want to make a horizontal leap by moving from one role to another. Both programs open new perspectives for reflection on your own career and career path from many different angles.

"If you need hands-on reinforcement and depth for your business knowledge, regardless of your background, and tools for your leadership path, the MBA offers them. The program is also an excellent way for many to start their own businesses, or to develop their entrepreneurial spirit and creativity within the company," Koivula emphasizes. 

"Mainly for seasoned managers, the EMBA offers the opportunity to deepen their already significant experience and personal skills in their current role. Looking at one’s own activities from new perspectives and challenging one’s thinking will boost the continuous growth of even the more experienced leader. The EMBA also supports those who still want to change their careers," Laukkanen says.  

You get a more diverse and stronger professional network and create lifelong friendships during the programs. The other participants will provide you with support and knowledge – both during and after graduation. When you graduate from the program, you will have a group of trusted people you can contact at any time of your career for advice or support. 

It is your choice 

Our experts at Aalto EE are happy to help you choose the right program, but we do not want to make the choice for you. We encourage you to consider your situation and needs, and then choosing the most appropriate program option. Both programs can be tailored flexibly to your individual career and life situation. Feel free to get in touch with us! 

Aalto EE offers two MBA programs: Aalto MBA for Executives (Aalto MBA) and Aalto Executive MBA (Aalto EMBA) where participants experience a journey of transformation, including elements of personal leadership transformation as well as of business and organizational transformation. Read more

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