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Should you do your MBA abroad?

November 11, 2019 :: Admissionado

First, let’s define “abroad.” If you’re an American reading this, ‘abroad’ most likely means a top school in the UK or mainland Europe, or perhaps an Asian expansion of a U.S. school such as CEIBS in China or INSEAD’s Singapore campus.

If you’re from Asia or Europe however, that usually means studying in the U.S., the UK, or increasingly, Canada and Australia. In this post, we’ll take a look at two of these scenarios: Americans studying in Europe, and international students studying in the U.S.  Spoiler alert: there are advantages to an international MBA, no matter your starting point.

Should Americans seek their MBAs abroad?

The United States is known for its plethora of top MBA programs, so seeking to study abroad isn’t always the first thing on American candidates’ minds. However, there are several advantages to studying in the EU or UK, particularly for those seeking to live and work in Europe post-graduation. Notably:

  • European firms seek to hire candidates with Europeans MBAs. 
  • Germany is the largest economy in Europe and fourth-largest in the world – there are incredible opportunities there, and a European MBA will help you make the connections you need to kick start your career there.
  • Top European programs are recognized worldwide – yes, even in the US!
  • After completing your MBA, you are allowed to stay in the EU for 18 months, and if you land a full-time job, you’ll receive permanent residency within 3 years.
  • European salaries are competitive.
  • Cost of living can be lower than in major US cities, depending on the country.

These are attractive benefits for everyone, not just Americans, but MBA enrolment numbers highlight how U.S. citizens are starting to look past their own borders, with top European schools being a prime destination. Further, even overseas MBA programs beyond the top schools are growing in popularity, since studying abroad provides international experience, which is attractive to many employers in an increasingly globalized economy. There’s no substitute for international business experience, and that competitive edge can make a big difference in certain industries. Additionally, there are a number of ways in which European programs are qualitatively different.

First, international business experience is much more emphasized in European MBA program. There are 28 countries in the European Union – 27 if the UK finally leaves, but Brexit won’t remove The United Kingdom from the map. That means 28 different business cultures, and European programs reflect that. Students in European MBA programs thus learn how to approach cross-cultural and linguistic differences in business, first hand and continuously. It’s also typically a more international student body with upwards of 90% international students at top UK programs.

Depending on where you attend school, your peers and faculty may be as unfamiliar with your new country as you are! You’ll gain a global network by learning with and from people coming from differing spheres of expertise, and working side-by-side with people from other business cultures. You’ll also benefit within the program as an American student, as European schools will value YOU for YOUR diversity – some schools may even seek American students for their programs. 

Finally, if finances are a concern, a European MBA might be an attractive option, as tuition and fees are significantly lower than in the US. This of course, depends on your school of choice, as well as your travel and lodging costs, but on average, you’ll accrue less debt from a European program. Some of the savings come from the fact that many MBA programs in Europe are 18 months rather than 24 or more. That’s less tuition but also 6 months less rent and living expenses—and you’ll re-enter the job market on an accelerated schedule. Better yet, if you can prove ancestral links with certain countries, you could be eligible for discounted tuition and scholarships there!

Disadvantages of studying in Europe

As far as disadvantages go, there are a few to consider: you’ll be away from home for a year or more at a time, which can be an issue for those seeking to be near their families. Furthermore, while European MBAs can be money-savers, some of the top programs will hit you with the same sticker shock as MBA programs in the U.S. And if you want to come back to the U.S., there some domestic industries where a European MBA is unlikely to be recognized. Do your research! Ultimately however, pursuing your MBA abroad is an option worth considering.

Should international students pursue their MBAs in the U.S.?

Non-American students seeking to study in the U.S. have a whole different set of criteria to consider, many of which differ depending on your country of origin. There are, however, indisputable and universal benefits, including networking opportunities in the world’s largest economy, generally high school quality and more.

First, it goes without saying that the United States has the world’s most prestigious MBA brans, with only a select handful of international options rivaling giants like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. Simply put, the quality of top American business schools is recognized worldwide – and the proof is in the rankings and post-graduation hiring statistics. For instance, the QS Global MBA Rankings for 2018 ranked Harvard Business School as the best in the world. Further, of the top 25 ranked MBA programs, 13 were American business schools. US World News’ rankings focus entirely on US programs, but also offer a plethora of information attesting to the quality of American business education.

Salary boost and career prospects

To put it plainly, if you’re considering an MBA at a top school, you have to consider the United States of America. There simply aren’t enough top B-schools outside the U.S. to create a large enough pool of target schools. This only becomes more obvious when looking at employment rates upon graduation, salary levels and return on investment for graduates. Notably, the average post-graduation MBA salary levels are USD $98K in the United States. That’s AVERAGE, not the high end, and easily trumps almost anywhere else in the world.

Further, if you’re seeking to work and live in the U.S. post-graduation, an American MBA is almost a prerequisite. Top US business schools feature some of the world’s most expansive alumni networks, so making connections to top U.S.-based firms will be a focus outside of class. That’s perfect for landing a post-graduation job, be it at an international consulting firm’s U.S. offices, a Bay Area tech firm, or a Wall Street-based financial giant. A two-year U.S. MBA will also allow you to pursue a summer internship in the U.S., many of which are designed to lead to full-time job offers. This is a job market where academic credentials are highly valued—if you get into a top U.S. MBA program, you will almost certainly be hired in the U.S. post-graduation.

Finally, given the immense competition for spots in these programs, attending a top school in the U.S. means attending an international program. The diversity in your class will be enormous and though the international student percentage will likely be lower than a top European program,  names like Harvard and Stanford can corral the very best all in one class.

Disadvantages of studying in the US

As for the cons? Well, the sticker shock for one: an American MBA is NOT cheap. That high quality and international prestige comes with a hefty price tag. Further, like Americans studying in Europe, you’ll have to weigh whether you’ll want to spend a significant part of your life in a new country. Finally, immigration politics in the United States have been complicated the past few years, and while very little policy changes have taken place, that may change (for better or worse) after the 2020 election. You’ll want to check Visa eligibility to avoid any painful surprises. 

No matter where you end up, the fact that millions of students are willing to travel thousands of miles for an MBA should be a heartening sign. There’s a reason people are willing to uproot their lives for this degree: it is, quite simply, an opportunity to change your life.


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