Executive Management Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and PhD degrees in executive management can lead to careers as top executives or college professors. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your executive management degree.
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Studying Executive Management: Degrees at a Glance

Executive management entails all the mid-to-senior leadership positions within an organization, such as sales manager and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Top executives are in charge of overseeing and planning the strategies and operations needed for an organization, such as a business or a non-profit, to meet its goals. Depending on the size of an organization, an top-level executive might be in charge of either a specific area within a big corporation, such as sales or marketing, or several departments (if not all) of a small one. Master's degree programs in executive management are usually designed for professionals interested in advancing their careers and/or sharpening their leadership skills, while doctoral degree programs should appeal to those interested in academia or higher-level research in business and management theory.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment growth for top-level executives was expected to be at five percent for the 2010-2020 decade, which is much slower than the average for all occupations, due to the limited number of positions available. As of May 2011, the mean annual income for these professionals was about $177,000. In comparison, administrative service managers made about $78,000 as median annual wage in 2010, while sales managers made a yearly median of $99,000 and natural science managers made an annual median of $116,000 during the same time period. On the other hand, BLS employment growth projections for postsecondary teachers in general were at 17% for 2010-2020, about as fast as the average, with business professors making an annual mean wage of about $87,000 as of May 2011.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Mid-level managers and undergraduate degree holders looking to advance their careers to leadership positions Individuals interested in teaching business and management theory at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Administrative services manager ($78,000)*
- Sales manager ($99,000)*
- Financial manager ($104,000)*
- Top executive ($101,000)*
- Business postsecondary teacher ($62,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years 3-5 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 12-15 business, management and leadership courses
- Possible internship or cooperative work experience
- Potential capstone course
- Core courses
- Dissertation
- Possible teaching requirements
- Research project
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Relevant work experience
- Resume
- Professional recommendations
- Possible GMAT/GRE scores
- Bachelor's or master's degree
- Extensive work experience
- Possible GMAT or GRE scores
- Current resume
- Personal statement
Online Availability Yes Rare

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010 figures).

Master's in Executive Management

Master's degree programs in executive management can be found under different titles, such as Master of Science, or as a specialization within a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. Regardless of the title, these programs are usually designed for working professionals, which means that classes may be given during evenings and weekends, or in an accelerated or part-time format to accommodate busy schedules. These programs may also prefer or require you to already hold a mid-level management position or have significant work experience in order to be admitted. Executive management master's degree programs focus on sharpening your leadership and strategic planning skills as they relate to business and corporate operations.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Degree may lead to career advancement to leadership positions
  • Top executives have one of the highest earnings among all occupations*
  • Skills learned are relevant to many fields, not only business
  • Variety of degree program formats available to facilitate scheduling

Cons

  • Employment growth in executive positions was expected to be slower than average from 2010-2020*
  • Competition for executive positions can be extremely fierce
  • Programs can be expensive
  • Program admission may require you to already hold in a leadership position

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010 figures).

Courses and Requirements

In an executive management master's program, you'll study ethics, strategic management, organizational behavior, operations management, business operations and leadership, among other topics. Depending on your program, a research paper or capstone project may be required for graduation. An internship or real-world work experience may also be a part of the program.

Online Degree Options

Since most executive management master's degree programs are geared towards working professionals, online programs are widely available. You may find these programs in a variety of formats, from hybrid versions (which require participating in some on-campus activities) to accelerated programs that may allow you to earn the degree in a few weeks. The curricula of online and on-campus versions are usually the same.

Stand Out with This Degree

In order to stand out in a field as competitive as executive management, you may want to consider earning a certification. The Institute of Certified Professional Managers (ICPM) offers the Certified Manager designation, which can be earned by passing a series of exams and meeting other education and experience requirements. Such a certification shows employers your commitment to and expertise in the field of management.

PhD in Executive Management

Executive management at the doctoral level can be found mostly as a concentration within business or general management PhD programs. These programs usually focus on the theoretical and research aspects of management and operations, preparing you mainly for a career in academia. Earning a doctorate can take 3-5 years of intense study and thorough research, for which you will ultimately produce a dissertation in order to graduate.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Postsecondary professors earned relatively competitive salaries*
  • May provide deeper understanding of management and leadership principles applicable to many fields
  • Teaching can be personally rewarding for some individuals

Cons

  • A PhD may over-qualify an applicant for jobs outside of academia
  • Doctoral studies entail a long time commitment (3-5 years)
  • Academic jobs can be extremely competitive due to the limited number of tenured teaching positions

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010 figures).

Courses and Requirements

A doctoral program in executive management covers areas such as organizational behavior, technology management, theory, strategies and entrepreneurship. You might have to fulfill a teaching experience requirement as part of your program, as well as write and defend a dissertation in order to graduate. Some of the courses you may take include:

  • Globalization
  • Organizational leadership
  • Business and social issues
  • Ethics
  • Management and innovation

Online Course Info

Due to the research-heavy nature of doctoral programs, online versions are extremely rare. If you find one, you might want to make sure that it's accredited by a reliable organization, such as the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Some regular doctoral programs, however, may allow you to take some classes online.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Since the usual career goal of aspiring PhD holders is academia, you might want to get as much research and teaching experience as possible while pursuing your doctoral degree. Working as teaching assistant or assistant professor allows you to refine the skills necessary to become a good professor, and it may also fulfill a requirement of your program. In addition, finding a mentor within the management faculty of your program may be beneficial when researching and writing your dissertation.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA: Project Management
      • Master: Management/Project Mgmt
      • M.S. in Management
      • Master : Business Admin
      • MBA: Health Care Management
      • MSM in Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Project Management
      • Master of Public Administration - Non-Profit Leadership
      • Master of Public Administration - Public Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Executive Management (Virtual Format)
      • Master of Business Administration - No Specialization
      • M.A. Organizational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA: Project Management
      • Master: Management - Project Management
      • Master: Management
      • Master of Business Admin - Entrepreneurship
      • M.S. - Management: Organization Leadership and Change
      • Master of Business Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA
      • MBA Dual Concentration: HR & Project Mgmt.
      • MBA Dual Concentration: BS Mgmt. & HR
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Business Mgmt & Project Mgmt.
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project/Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Project Management
      • MS - Management
      • MS - Organizational Leadership
      • Master of International Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.B.A. with an Emphasis in Project Management
      • MBA and MS in Leadership (Dual Degree)
      • MBA: Leadership
      • MS in Leadership
      • MBA
      • Master of Science in Business Analytics
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Public Management
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
      • Master of Science in Research Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
      • Master of Science in Measurement and Evaluation
  • Campus and Online Programs
    9. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
      • M.S. - Internet Marketing
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration: Interdisciplinary Business

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MBA: Project Management
  • Master: Management/Project Mgmt
  • M.S. in Management

Which subject are you interested in?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Business Administration - Project Management
  • Master of Public Administration - Non-Profit Leadership
  • Master of Public Administration - Public Management

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • MBA: Project Management
  • Master: Management - Project Management
  • Master: Management

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Herzing University

  • MBA
  • MBA Dual Concentration: HR & Project Mgmt.
  • MBA Dual Concentration: BS Mgmt. & HR

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Colorado State University Global

  • Master of Project Management
  • MS - Management
  • MS - Organizational Leadership

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Grand Canyon University

  • M.B.A. with an Emphasis in Project Management
  • MBA and MS in Leadership (Dual Degree)
  • MBA: Leadership

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Johns Hopkins University

  • MA in Public Management
  • Master of Science in Government Analytics
  • Master of Science in Research Administration

What is your highest level of education?

American University

  • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
  • Master of Science in Measurement and Evaluation

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