This is the second of two columns in which I answer questions that many first-time applicants have about their business school and MBA program options. To see Part I, click here.

How is an EMBA Different from an MBA?

EMBA programs are different from traditional MBA programs in two key ways:

1) They are designed for older, more experienced students. Most programs will not consider applicants who do not already have at least 7 years of management experience under their belts.

2) They take less time. Many EMBA programs involve just one year of intensive, full-time study. Other programs involve two years of weekend classes combined with occasional week-long sessions.

These two features are linked. EMBA programs can turn out MBAs with less class time because their students already know enough about management to zip through fundamental MBA coursework. Restricting enrollment to qualified students is essential to maintaining program quality. The top business schools will not cut corners on that point.

Another difference between EMBA and MBA programs is that EMBA programs tend to look more at ‘bigger picture’ management issues than MBA programs do. An analogy I like to use is that EMBA programs look at management from the 50,000 foot level, whereas MBA programs look at it from the 10,000 foot level. Students need a substantial amount of management experience to benefit from this approach.

On a more practical level, EMBA programs, like part-time MBA programs, do not normally include internships. Additionally, they do not put the same emphasis on career services as full-time MBA programs. That can make them a less attractive option for career changers, even those who have enough seniority to qualify for EMBA admission.

Is an EMBA Degree ‘As Good As’ a Conventional MBA Degree?

In general, yes. Many business schools award the same degree to all MBA graduates, regardless of what program they earned it through. Check the details of any program you are thinking of applying to. Obviously, you need to make sure you understand what degree it leads to.

Don’t make the mistake of confusing Executive MBA programs with other kinds of executive training. Many business schools offer non-degree or open enrollment classes on MBA-related topics. These programs are a nice option for working professionals who want to enhance their skill sets. They are also a nice option for companies that want to secure specific training for their management staff. However, they are not MBA programs.

Is an EMBA a Less Expensive Alternative to Full-Time MBA?

No. EMBA programs can cost almost as much as 2-year programs do, despite their shorter length. Schools are able to price EMBA programs differently because most students are sponsored by their companies, and companies are less price sensitive on tuition than individuals are.

But more importantly, as I explained above, the programs are suitable for completely different kinds of students. There aren’t that many people who genuinely face a choice between attending one or the other.

To put it in simple terms, if you’re a 30-year-old with 4 years of management experience, you’d probably struggle to keep your head above water in a first-semester EMBA class.

If you’re a 38-year-old with 12 years of management experience, you’d probably feel like you were being forced to take baby steps during a first-year MBA class. In either case, you’d be frustrated with your MBA experience and wouldn’t get what you should out of your educational investment.

So what if you’re a 36-year-old with 10 years of management experience? If that’s your situation, you might be one of those rare people who could be suitable for either an EMBA or an MBA program. Your choice should hinge on your career goals and your reason for getting an MBA. If you want an MBA as part of a career change, you’re probably better off looking at two-year MBA programs that include internships. If you want an MBA to advance your career with your present employer, an EMBA program might be the perfect choice.

Can I Work While I’m In a Full-Time MBA Program?

The answer to that question depends on what you mean by ‘work.’ First, you should understand that you already are going to be working, at your classes.

Graduate school is not like college. You’re going to be asked to do a lot more work, in a much less structured way, than you were as an undergrad.

Count on putting in at least 2 to 3 hours of reading, preparation, and team project time for each hour you spend in class. You’ll need additional time for research and recruiting events. Few MBA students ever complain about finding themselves with extra time on their hands.

If by ‘work’ you mean a 15- to 20-hour-a-week part-time job, that might be feasible. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, though. The take-home pay you realize from an hour of part-time employment probably pales in comparison to what you could ultimately gain from the MBA program. (Whether it was spending that same hour excelling in your studies or networking with classmates, faculty, and recruiters.)

But if by ‘work’ you mean working full-time while going to business school full-time, forget it. Even if you could manage both workloads, you would be sending a mixed message to your classmates, teachers, and current and/or potential employers about your reliability and ethics.

Look at it this way. Let’s assume a company has no formal prohibition against staff taking outside employment. It still wouldn’t be appropriate for a salaried manager to moonlight elsewhere. It’s just not professional.

Business school is similar. When you’re accepted to a full-time MBA program, you’re expected to make completion of that program your top career priority. Hedging on that commitment by continuing full-time employment will lead many people to doubt either your intentions or your common sense.

Can I Get My Company to Pay for My MBA and Then Switch Employers?

Check your company’s tuition reimbursement policy. Chances are good that you would be expected to continue working for the company for 3 to 5 years after receiving your degree. If you leave before that, you would be asked to repay all or part of the tuition.

So How Do I Pay for B-School?

Most students take out loans for part or all of their tuition and living costs. According to the GMAC, over 70 per cent of b-school students receive financing.

It’s wise to minimize the amount of money you need to borrow. A good – and often overlooked – early step in MBA admissions is to put away what money you can each month and acclimate yourself to living on a tighter budget. Even a modest nest egg can make a significant difference in the amount of debt you ultimately have to repay.

You should also look into the scholarship and grant programs offered by different schools. All of the top b-schools offer some kind of financial aid.

A final note on financing your MBA is the comforting note that business school tends to pay off more quickly than other graduate programs. An MBA degree from a good school can open career doors and lead to exponentially higher salaries. If you play your cards right, you can pay off your b-school debt well ahead of schedule. Consequently, you will be freed to reap the full rewards of your MBA investment.