How to choose between an online MBA or EMPA

July 02, 2018 · 4 min read · By ASU Online

If you have the drive to become a leader and be at the forefront of developing solutions to global business or governmental challenges, then you may be wondering what the next step in your career should be. How can you gain the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively address contemporary issues?


Comparing the MBA and EMPA

Earning an online Master of Business Administration or an online Executive Master of Public Administration can help you build leadership skills, develop the knowledge to address modern global challenges with confidence and advance your career. Choosing the right degree, though, depends on your interests, passions and career goals. While the MBA is widely known, the EMPA may also be an appropriate academic path to prepare you for success. With the increasing prevalence of distance learning, either program can be pursued online, providing flexibility and convenience for working professionals.

Let's take a closer look at the similarities and differences between the two programs and which one may be the right choice for you.

Group of business professionals shaking hands
Group of business professionals shaking hands.

Key learning outcomes of an MBA and an EMPA

Motivated professionals interested in working primarily in the private sector can gain a wealth of valuable skills and knowledge through an MBA program. This degree typically centers on exploring business fundamentals, such as finance, marketing and operations. It also aims to develop soft skills integral to successful business relationships, including effective communication, teamwork and problem-solving. MBA students who want to take on management, executive or other supervisory roles can develop leadership abilities through this program and gain confidence in their decision-making skills.

Focusing on developing the skills and knowledge needed to overcome challenges within government entities or non-profits dealing with government officials, an EMPA program examines strategies for effectively leading such organizations. The goal of the program is to prepare students to confidently make decisions in the complex public sector, which often involves collaboration and coordination with a range of stakeholders. Students can learn how to create and implement productive solutions to community, state, national and even global issues.


An MBA program explores a holistic business education by including classes such as accounting, operations and marketing. The degree primarily examines themes from a company perspective such as maximizing profits, increasing operational efficiency and improving customer satisfaction. EMPA programs, on the other hand, examine how public policies can be successfully implemented and include courses such as global negotiation and federal budgeting. Both online MBA and EMPA programs can require students to take part in online discussions, pass exams and participate in group projects. Furthermore, they may also conclude with the completion of a capstone project that encapsulates the students' learnings throughout program or delves into a specific area of interest for the student.

Career paths

There are many rewarding careers that you can pursue following the completion of an MBA or EMPA. An MBA can help qualify students for a variety of leadership roles at private or public companies. These positions may range from marketing director and director of supply chain management up to executive level positions, such as chief financial officer or CEO. Because business skills are in demand in a wide range of industries, graduates can explore career options in the fields that interest them most.

EMPA degrees are geared toward professionals who have already achieved a certain level of success in their careers, with years of experience navigating the public sector or coordinating with government officials. The program is designed to help students attain their next professional goals, whether that be a promotion or a career switch. Some possible roles an EMPA can help graduates attain within a non-profit or government organization are policy advisor, executive director or chief operating officer.

When deciding between an MBA or an EMPA degree, consider your experience level, career aspirations, and passions to determine which program best suits your needs.

MBA and EMPA degrees with ASU Online

Today, many professionals are balancing demanding jobs as well as family obligations and other responsibilities. To provide optimal convenience for learning, pursuing online education has become a favorable trend. Whether you ultimately choose to enroll in an MBA or EMPA program, you can benefit from the flexibility, convenience and quality that an online degree can provide to help you achieve your career goals.

Arizona State University offers an online MBA from the esteemed W. P. Carey School of Business and an online EMPA through its School of Public Affairs designed in collaboration with the McCain Institute for International Leadership. Each program is taught by the same knowledgeable and award-winning faculty who teach on campus. However, while the MBA degree is fully online, the EMPA includes several sessions that require in-person attendance to promote networking and idea sharing.

Today’s corporations and public organizations face many challenges and opportunities for improvement through innovative ideas, thoughtful collaboration and strong leadership. To take an active role in these evolving environments, the MBA and EMPA programs offered by ASU Online can help you gain the skills and knowledge necessary to overcome business and government obstacles well into the future.

ASU Online - Executive Master of Public Administration
ASU Online - Master of Business Administration (MBA)

A group of business professionals brainstorming ideas together in a meeting.
A group of business professionals brainstorming ideas together in a meeting.


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