The Tuesday Q&A: The Importance of International Experience – U.S. vs. Europe

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Question:

Is international experience more important to European or U.S. b-schools?

Answer:

With so many people from across the globe scrambling to get into both U.S. and European b-schools this time of year, I’m really glad you asked this question. When it comes to MBA programs, all of the best programs expect you to come in with some level of work experience, preferably a few years in which you climbed the corporate ladder and got some great leadership experience along the way.

Now, some people will come in with TONS of international experience, because they were working for a multinational corporation or an import/export company that dealt with international clients on a daily basis. Other applicants, however, might have worked for a domestic finance company or a local manufacturer, and have gotten no usable international experience. So, who’s got the upper hand at HBS, and does that dude have the same advantage at LBS?

To be fair, international experience is a positive at both U.S. and European MBA schools, but when you look at the track records and concentrations of each, you find that international experience is a MUCH bigger deal in Euro b-schools. Why, you may ask? Well, for a few reasons…

First, European b-schools are just fundamentally international. European countries have smaller populations and are closer together, so the student bodies the carry tend to be much more internationally diverse. The vast majority of U.S. MBA students are Americans, while the general demographics in European schools are WAY more varied. Euro programs, both by default and necessity, are more culturally and professionally “international,” so having international experience is a big plus.

In the same way, the European markets tend to be much more intertwined than the domestic U.S. markets, so the schools place much more importance on the idea of doing business “globally.” Most of the Euro MBA grads end up working somewhere other than the U.S., so international experience is a BIG deal to European b-schools insofar that they want you to be prepared to do business where you’ll most likely get a job. You’ll be expected to work “across countries” much more frequently working in Europe, so the European MBA programs get you ready for it.

The takeaway here shouldn’t be that international experience is ONLY important to Euro b-schools – far from it. But when it comes to the advantage, gotta lean towards the European programs… it’s just essential there.

— Jon Frank

MBA Essay Writing Tip #19: Avoiding Generalities