A career changer

ASK Silvia McCallister-Castillo, associate dean for the executive MBA (EMBA) at Yale, which came first in The Economist’s latest ranking of the best EMBA programmes, what makes her school’s course so strong and she’ll tell you it’s the quality of its teaching staff and its alumni network. Both allow working professionals to accelerate their careers through a rigorous core curriculum followed by a specialisation such as healthcare, asset management, or sustainability.

Those sort of specialisations are a world away from the first EMBA programme, which began 75 years ago at Chicago Booth for local managers and veterans during World War 2. Then, 52 students (mostly men), met on evenings over the course of two years. They were in their late 40s or early 50s, and looking to re-energise their careers. 

But business, and businesspeople, have different requirements today. Schools offer electives that may not seem familiar to those who took an executive programme even just a few years back. At Booth, for example (which climbed from ninth to fifth in our ranking), the most popular electives are on fintech and machine learning, with a quarter of students taking them last year. The school also offers lifelong support for its alumni in the form of short versions of its electives, plus personal career coaching. Both are an important part of the toolkits for EMBAs who are increasingly keen on life-long learning. Yale takes the same approach. Students are effusive about its career-management service, and alumni can access career coaching and show an interest in coming back to study new electives. It is these “added extras” that can often be the fine line that distinguishes the top EMBA programmes from the rest.

This is important for prospective students contemplating the eye-watering cost of an executive MBA—around $133,000 for a top-ten programme. It’s especially vital when the cost of tuition, more often than not, comes out of students’ own pockets. A decade ago, three-quarters of Yale’s EMBA students were sponsored through their programme by their employer. Today, only a quarter get financial backing. That is borne out across the 65 programmes in The Economist’s 2018 ranking—just 30% of students said they get some cash from their company. As a result, students expect more for their money, and they don’t expect their engagement with a business school to end when they leave.

At ESMT Berlin (which came 14th in our 2018 EMBA ranking), the executive programme focuses more on career coaching and personal development during the course of the EMBA than it did in the past. Students receive feedback from their peers during the course. In part this is because an increasing number of self-funded students attend ESMT Berlin for its EMBA, echoes Nick Barniville, the school’s associate dean. That is a sentiment that Kathy Harvey, associate dean and EMBA programme director at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School (which came seventh in 2018) also agrees with. “One of the trends we have seen is a much broader range of candidates applying,” she says, including some under the age of 33. “They don’t wait for their own companies to propose they take an EMBA.”

However, while the electives and the method of teaching may have evolved from the traditional classroom to online courses, students are still choosing EMBAs for the same reasons. They also want to improve their salaries, and do: students graduating from the ten best EMBA programmes boosted their income by an average of 51% on graduating last year, pocketing an average salary of $210,000, excluding bonuses.

They also want to improve their employability. And while taking an EMBA is still a tool for career acceleration, observes Mr Barniville, it is now used more frequently for career change. “EMBA programmes in general have moved toward providing much more support to students looking to change jobs or careers or who are looking to start their own company,” explains Ms McCallister-Castillo.

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