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Executive MBA: Applying to EMBA Programs

How do you know if you're prime material for a top executive MBA program? What type of people are EMBA adcoms seeking? Do you have enough work experience? Do you have the right sort of work experience? Are your post-EMBA goals supported by your target program? Finally, what are some of the pros and cons of earning an executive MBA?

Read below about Kara, a fictional EMBA applicant, to learn more about the qualities top EMBA programs are looking for and whether you as a candidate measure up.

At thirty-five years old, Kara has worked professionally for thirteen years, the last eight as a marketing manager in increasingly strategic positions. She is now Director of Marketing and Strategy for her Fortune 1000 company's new product line. Her record of advancement is impressive for someone in her industry, pharmaceuticals, where people of her age are usually a few rungs lower and where some of her peers have MBAs. Her next move will be to a senior management role. Kara cannot imagine taking that step without the sophisticated management skill set that a top MBA program provides. Her company, eager to retain Kara and groom her for a senior position, will sponsor her Executive MBA studies.

Kara’s profile is ideal for an EMBA applicant:

Kara now faces the challenge of applying to EMBA programs – for although she is an ideal applicant, she also is a typical applicant, and thus must distinguish herself through her application essays. Most likely you face the same situation. Understanding two key issues will give you a clear framework from which to proceed with your application:

The Competitive Benefits and Drawbacks of EMBA Admissions

There are unique benefits and drawbacks to EMBA admissions. First, EMBA acceptance rates are somewhat higher than regular admissions rates are. Second, there is a relative de-emphasis on the GMAT score. Many EMBA programs such as Kellogg and NYU Stern do not even require the GMAT. Even for other top programs, you simply do not have to knock yourself out to score in the 700s. The Duke MBA-Weekend Executive program’s 2011 GMAT average is 640-650. (See http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rankings/ for access to data on specific EMBA programs.

There is one major drawback to EMBA applications: There are fewer EMBA programs to apply to, and not all of those will fit your scheduling needs. Most EMBA applicants apply to two or three programs at most. Thus, each application has more weight for the applicant. To ensure admission, you must prepare a compelling profile by distinguishing yourself from other accomplished applicants and making the admissions committee excited about your goals.

Company Sponsorship

EMBA applicants' employers usually sponsor their EMBA studies, at least to some extent. This sponsorship ranges from paying 100% of the tuition and fees to partial subsidy to merely allowing the applicant to take time off from work. Duke states on its website, “It is not a requirement that your company support your participation financially. Your company must endorse your involvement in the program by allowing the time necessary to fully participate in the program, which includes attendance at all of the onsite residencies and flexibility for the additional commitment you've made in your daily life.” NYU states on its web site, “You must obtain sponsorship from your employer for the time away from the office. Some organizations will also offer financial sponsorship, although this is not required for admission.” Moreover, programs vary in their requirements for sponsorship and in degree of sponsorship among students. While as of July 2011 at Wharton West only 22% of students are fully sponsored, at Columbia approximately 43% of EMBA students are fully sponsored.

Although not always required, financial sponsorship is a competitive plus for applicants, because it guarantees revenue for the program and virtually ensures your employment after graduation. If your employer is not subsidizing your EMBA, use your essays to sprint ahead of the sponsored pack, supported by your resume and recommendations.

You are now ready to tackle the nitty-gritty of your application. The main challenge - and opportunity - is in the essays, which can truly make or break your chances. Be prepared to discuss work extensively, and also your non-work involvements, as EMBA programs seek well-rounded contributors as much as regular MBA programs do. While the basic keys to good writing apply, including "showing" through stories or anecdotes rather than merely "telling," there are two concerns specific to EMBA application essays:

Bringing Your Goals to Life

Your goals are obvious, right? General Manager, VP, Senior VP. The exact words may vary but the gist is the same company to company, and most EMBA applicants will define a similar post-EMBA career path in terms of scope of responsibilities. Surely one essay question per program will address your goals, and the inclination of many applicants is to diligently outline their planned path. That's fine, but why let the admissions reader think, "Okay, question answered, goals are appropriate," when you can excite him into thinking, "Wow, how great - for her, for her company, and not least for us - if she really does that!"

To elicit the latter response, take a detour at each phase of your goals (short-term, intermediate, long-term) to discuss the following: the skills you will need and the EMBA lessons you will apply at that stage, what you hope to accomplish for yourself and your company, how that stage builds on the previous one, and special challenges and opportunities you perceive at that stage. Be as specific as possible, giving hypothetical or real examples to illustrate points. Present a before-and-after picture of something specific you can't do now that you will be able to do with your EMBA education. In addition, articulate a vision for your goals overall - it might be related to your values or unique talents, your perception of social or industry needs, or something else that reflects your passion. Then weave that vision through your goals discussion. The purpose is to turn the admissions reader into your cheerleader.

Distinguishing Yourself from Other Accomplished Applicants

You have made your goals sound absolutely scintillating. Now, make sure the rest of your essays live up to your goals and vividly distinguish you from your competitors. Some factors are obvious. For example, EMBA programs generally have a lower percentage of female and international students than regular MBA programs do, making such applicants all the more appealing. Or perhaps you are from an industry that is underrepresented. These factors will work in your favor on their own.

Your professional accomplishments are another way to set yourself apart and develop an intriguing profile, and there is a long list of them. How do you choose the one(s) to detail in your essays? Use four criteria: (1) Which are most closely connected to your goals? (2) Which had the greatest impact on your organization? (3) Which produced the most learning and insight for you? (4) Which promise the greatest contribution to the EMBA program? When discussing the accomplishment, use the story approach, and then articulate and summarize the point it makes about goals, impact, learning/insight, or contribution.

As you can see, distinguishing yourself through your professional accomplishments is a matter of probing the accomplishment for the most substance and/or relevance to your application and the program. A profile that is deep and revelatory will have resonance.

Finally, distinguish yourself in your essays by discussing your non-work activities. For this discussion, follow the criteria described above, minus the "goals" criterion.

The acceptance rates show that if you are a qualified EMBA applicant, you have a good chance of getting into a program of your choosing. Don't let those high admissions numbers lull you into complacency in your application process - assure yourself a place in next year's EMBA class by producing a stellar application, worthy of you and your goals.

If you would like the guidance and support of experienced editors as you devise your EMBA application strategy, Accepted.com is here to help. We offer a range of services that can be tailored exactly to your needs. Our singular goal is to help you gain admittance to the EMBA program of your choice!

By Cindy Tokumitsu, Accepted.com Senior Editor and author of The EMBA Edge: A Guide to EMBA Admissions, an instantly downloadable ebook.

For more information on how Accepted.com can help you, please see our MBA admissions consulting and application services.

Or check out our other informative MBA admissions resources:

4 Essentials in EMBA Application
Ace the EMBA
The EMBA Edge: A Guide to EMBA Admissions
EMBA Admissions Consulting & Editing