Until recently, the traditional MBA program was the only option available to prospective business students. For professionals with long-term jobs, this presented a problem. Leaving work for a traditional two-year MBA often didn't seem worth the price or time. To make going back to school more appealing to these prospective students, many business schools now offer an Executive MBA that is condensed and allows executives to continue working full-time.
Because an executive MBA is geared specifically towards long-term working professionals, the admissions criteria match this intention. As such, a major difference between a traditional and executive MBA occurs before students even arrive on campus. Whereas a traditional MBA at a school like the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School might accept students with four years of work experience, an Executive MBA will expect closer to 11 years of experience. Because students have been out of school longer, traditional admissions metrics like the GMAT typically require a lower bar for the executive degree.
Because students in executive programs are typically continuing full-time jobs, the schedule of courses varies considerably from what it is in a traditional MBA program. In the case of the Wharton School at UPenn, the executive MBA holds classes only on weekends, throughout the entire 12-month year. Traditional programs, on the other hand, hold classes on a typical academic semester schedule, five days per week. The Rutgers business school describes the difference as one of pace: the executive program is completed at an intense pace, while the traditional program is more moderate.
The more rigorous Executive MBA course schedule also alters the style of classes. Because Executive MBA students are continuing in their jobs, class work often focuses more closely around case studies and simulation. The more traditional program, on the other hand, closely mirrors an undergraduate experience of attending classes. Traditional programs focus more on academic essentials and on business theory, while executive programs focus more on practice and application.
The costs of an MBA, or more specifically how those costs are paid, is the final big difference between a traditional and executive program. Traditional programs are typically funded in much the same way other professional graduate programs are: a students pays his own way, possibly with some scholarships and student loans. In the case of Wharton and many other EMBA programs, however, financial support from a corporation is either required or strongly encouraged.