How Online and In-Person EMBA Programs Differ

Format. Schedule. Course load. These are just a few factors that might come to mind as you consider how online EMBA programs for working professionals compare to campus-based options. 

When it comes to graduate business degrees, you have more choices than ever before. Online programs offer convenience and flexibility. In-person programs provide experiences unique to their school, including state-of-the-art facilities and opportunities to meet peers and professors face-to-face.

However, some programs blend the best aspects of both online and in-person formats. Explore the benefits of in-person and online executive MBA programs in general and dive deeper into what to expect from the EMBA Americas program at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

A woman sits in a tiered classroom with her chin resting on her fist.

The Classroom Experience: Benefits of In-Person and Online EMBA Classes

Whether taking online or in-person classes, it’s common to be part of a cohort through the duration of your executive MBA (EMBA) program. Building connections with your classmates near and far is one of the biggest benefits of earning a graduate degree. You get to know each other through classroom discussions, group work, and even message board posts. 

Here’s how the classroom experience works at the Johnson School: At the start of the EMBA Americas program, you’ll choose if you want to participate in the program by attending alternating weekend classes in person from one of 20 locations throughout North and South America, or online. With either choice, you’ll learn in live sessions—with your cohort peers from across the Americas. 

Long before remote learning became common, the Johnson School’s EMBA Americas program pioneered the “boardrooms” concept of distributed classrooms. Since 2005, this program has allowed executives across the Americas to learn simultaneously through expert instruction and state-of-the-art technology. 

All EMBA students, whether attending weekend classes in person or online, come together multiple times over the program’s 17 months for enriching learning experiences.

EMBA Americas Boardrooms: Learning Locally, In Person

In general, in-person executive MBA classes take place in a classroom setting during the evening hours or on weekends, giving busy professionals the flexibility to continue working full-time. There are many benefits to learning in person, including face-to-face conversations with peers and getting to know other business professionals who live in your local area. 

The Johnson School’s EMBA Americas program offers a unique element among in-person programs: boardrooms. With 20 locations in North and South America, EMBA boardrooms give students who live near them the ability to pursue an Ivy League MBA without relocating or spending considerable amounts of time and money on travel. With Cornell’s EMBA Americas program, you’ll learn alongside other professionals in your local area on alternating weekends. 

For EMBA Americas alum Ece Bayrak (Mexico City), the flexibility of being able to take classes from anywhere sealed the deal. Flexibility is important, but so is personal connection. Tim Jones, who pursued his MBA after his service in the US Navy, says the boardroom format was a major reason for choosing the Johnson School.

Headshot of Ece Bayrak.

“Due to my workload and busy travel schedule, it would be impossible for me to take multiple work days off each month. The EMBA Americas program enabled me to have a personal life while taking minimal time off and being able to perform well in my day job.” —Ece Bayrak MBA ’20

Headshot of Tim Jones.

“Our boardroom really became a family as we spent time together every other weekend. … The connections I’ve made will last a lifetime.” —Tim Jones MBA ’20

EMBA Americas Online: Learning from Anywhere

If you’re looking for more convenience, earning your executive MBA degree online might appeal to you. 

At Cornell, the EMBA Americas programming is delivered every other weekend in a synchronous online format. This means you’ll attend classes live with everyone else in your cohort in a virtual room with classmates who are also participating in the program online. At the Johnson School, the online option is especially fitting for students who do not live or work near a boardroom city. No matter the boardroom location or program format, all EMBA Americas students receive the high-quality instruction and classroom engagement expected of an Ivy League program.

All executive MBA classes are delivered live from a state-of-the-art broadcast studio at the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education in Ithaca, New York.

Person in front of two monitors and a laptop on a Zoom call.

Compare the Experiences: In-Person Boardroom vs. Online

In-Person Boardroom

As an in-person student in our program you will:

  • attend classes on Saturday and Sunday from your local boardroom as part of a team within your greater cohort.
  • connect live with other classmates and faculty through the use of our state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology.
  • have the opportunity to visit and attend classes from other boardroom locations or online. 


As an online student in our program, you will:

  • attend classes on Saturday and Sunday from home while connected with other online learners as part of a team within your greater cohort.
  • connect live with other classmates and the faculty through the use of our state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology.
  • have the opportunity to visit and attend classes from the program’s 20 boardroom locations.

On-Campus Residential Sessions: Benefits of Coming Together as a Cohort

Some EMBA programs are offered exclusively online, while others have hybrid options, and some are exclusively offered in person. One of the most standout features among the top online executive MBA programs is the opportunity for intensive on-campus residencies. These in-person experiences are a key distinction of all three EMBA programs at the Johnson School

During these four residential sessions—held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; the Cornell Tech campus in New York City; and Queen’s University campuses in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario—you’ll participate in small-group simulations, attend engaging classes, enjoy meals and socials with classmates, and explore the beautiful campuses.


EMBA Online and In-Person Curriculum and Learning Opportunities

Whether you choose an in-person or online Johnson Executive MBA experience, your coursework will be the same: a mix of theory and practical application. On the classroom side, courses include a sequence of foundational classes and your choice of electives. On the practical application side, this could involve research projects, field studies, and executive leadership coaching.

The Cornell Executive MBA Americas curriculum is robust, interactive, and globally focused. The learning is spread out over 17 months and includes classes taught in real-time every other weekend.

Immediate Impact of Online and In-Person EMBA Courses

Since EMBA programs are designed for working professionals, you can implement what you’re learning in real time. In other words, you’ll benefit from your degree before graduating. This could mean putting a leadership strategy you learned on Saturday into action on Monday morning or maybe test-driving a new tech tool you learned about in Management Information Systems. 

Jennifer Kennedy, who attended her Johnson School classes at the Calgary/Edmonton, Alberta, boardroom, says earning an MBA while working had an immediate impact. Another example of immediate impact? At the Johnson School, EMBA students often advance in their careers as they make their way through the program. For instance, Farhan Asad was promoted to senior director by his seventh month in the program.

Headshot of Jennifer Kennedy.

“The program gave me a new perspective on my day-to-day role and challenged my way of thinking and how I approach problems. It also gave me an opportunity to learn in a safe environment, allowing myself to ‘fail fast’ and grow both personally and professionally.” —Jennifer Kennedy MBA ’20

Headshot of Farhan Asad.

“The program made it possible for me to continue living and working in Silicon Valley and earn my MBA locally. I found it to be the perfect step for my career progression.” —Farhan Asad MBA ’20

EMBA Boardrooms and Beyond: Team Projects and International Experiences

Another practical aspect of in-person and online EMBA programs often includes team-based projects, where you and your peers address a real-world business challenge. At the Johnson School, this involves a truly global element: the Global Business Project involves on-the-ground work and research. Along with your peers, you’ll develop a recommendation for a partner organization under the guidance of a project advisor.

The Cornell EMBA Americas program also includes an individual consulting or new venture project. Many of our students even use their current organization as their consulting client—yet another way the program can sync up with your professional endeavors.


Career Support: Resources for On-Campus or Online EMBA Students

All students benefit from access to faculty, staff, alumni, and industry professionals through support services such as personalized career coaching, professional development, and networking events.

Residential sessions provide an added chance to interact with career development staff members, interact with faculty from across the Johnson School, and meet graduate students from across disciplines.

Taking the Next Step: Choosing the Best EMBA Program for You

As you research and compare in-person and online MBA programs for working professionals, you have much to consider. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds—the flexibility to learn from where you are plus the deep connections and rich opportunities you’d expect from an in-person experience—the EMBA Americas program at the Johnson School might be right for you. We encourage you to explore our program details, request more information, or start an admissions pre-assessment today.