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Why do your MBA abroad?

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

An MBA is not like any other degree. Apart for the educational challenge, it is also an opportunity to create networks of contacts, gain access to career opportunities in other countries and enter the international business sphere. According to recent findings, 38% of business postgraduates want to increase their chances of an international career. As a result, 31% of today's postgraduate business students are getting their qualification from institutions outside their own country.

Taking the decision to go abroad is as important as deciding to do your MBA in itself. This must be fully integrated in your plans, in particular if you wish to progress in multinational corporations which, by their nature, recruit MBA graduates with an international experience. Of course, everyone is different and choosing a country and a school to do your MBA must match your professional ambitions.

When considering an MBA abroad, the big question will be, where? Unlike doing a PhD abroad, perhaps to work with a particular academic or gain access to resources underpinning a research project, doing an MBA in a particular country can open doors to a professional sector which would otherwise be unreachable.

There are however, a number of considerations to take into account:

Do you want a global business perspective?

If you are undecided or open-minded about which country you want to work in, but know that you want to work in an international environment or to enhance your chance of international promotions with your current employer, then multi-site or dual-site MBAs may be a good option.

Is an MBA from a specific country favoured by employers of that country?

In the US, where the MBA was born, there can be a considerable advantage in studying in a “local” business school which has a well-known reputation amongst US businesses. This may be your best ticket to the US business sector. However, US business schools are extending their reach to Europe and Asia by setting up branch campuses for example, Chicago Booth (one of the top 10 MBA programmes in the world) also offers its MBA programme in London. This means that, if you're based in Europe, you can complete an MBA at an US business school, without the visa or the long-haul flight.

Do you have a preference for a one-year or a two-year MBA?

Perhaps you want to be out of the labour market for as short a period as possible (or your employer who is funding you has made it clear that their preference would be for the one-year programme). Bear in mind that compressed programmes give you considerably fewer opportunities to secure an internship.

Do you want to do a specialisation, such as luxury goods management or energy management?

Some specialised MBA programmes are only offered by a handful of business schools so you may have a limited range of country options.

You have less experience that the “standard” MBA student?

Some business schools specifically target those in middle-management position or even those who are quite junior. It is worth doing a bit of research on which business school have lower requirements in terms of professional experience.

The cost of MBAs, local costs of living and availability of scholarships.

An MBA requires a financial investment, especially if you are planning to do it abroad. The total cost of an MBA abroad is likely to be three - four times higher depending on the programme and country. In addition to the tuition fees, you’ll have to add visa fees, cost of living and loss of income to your budget, but it is worth researching what the average salary for MBA graduates is in your area, and in the country you want to work in. It tends to be less expensive in Europe and in Asia but the salaries may not be as high as those of US business school MBA graduates. Your employer may be willing to fund your MBA (and give you time out to study). Business schools may offer scholarships and/or loans while others award prizes for the best performance. Sometimes they even turn loans into scholarships at the end of the year for the best students.

Reputation of your business school.

This is important of course, but bear in mind that some schools have a reputation for excellence in a particular sector, so be sure to do your research and to look in the context. For example, the top three business schools for finance in the world are the American Wharton, Columbia and Chicago. However, a larger proportion of their intakes would like to work in the banking sector than in other business schools. Banking corporations tend to head hunt MBA graduates and offer roughly the same number of opportunities to graduates from the top 10-20 institutions, so competition may not be as severe in other Schools where fewer students are targeting a career in banking.

If you are interested in doing your MBA part-time studying abroad is less likely to be available. A number of countries do not allow international students to study part-time and others will not allow international students to work while studying. Executive MBA programmes tend to be part-time and target senior managers sponsored by their employers. Often the programmes will be delivered close to your employer rather than abroad (although there may be residential periods abroad).

The most popular destinations:

The US boasts some of the best MBA programmes in the world and has long been a favorite destination for MBA students. While MBA programmes in Canada are less known than in the US, cost, quality of life and job opportunities (post-graduation) are an attractive proposition there. MBAs in Europe, notably the UK, France and Spain are very popular amongst, well, Europeans! The majority of programmes have prestigious accreditations and are becoming better recognised internationally. A good option if this is where you want your career to grow.

Students on European MBAs tend to be characterised by having a number of years of professional experience rather than being new graduates. Another asset is the number of specialisations that you’ll have access to, such as the wine industry (mainly in France!), the tourism sector, or aerospatial engineering. With impressive economic growth over the past couple of decades, South-East Asia, China and Japan are becoming important destinations for MBA education. A high concentration of multinationals and excellence in teaching provide a good package for those looking to develop their careers in this region.

Benefits of doing your MBA abroad

1. It will prepare you for an international career and enhance your personal development.

For many MBA students, choosing to go abroad allows them to be more independent and to acquire a more global view of the world which is not as easily obtained by staying at home. Not too different from doing a Masters or a PhD abroad, I hear you say. Indeed, the ability to adapt to an unfamiliar environment and cultural context and gaining an insight into a completely new way of life, often via a new language, are as valid reasons as any purely academic ones for a period of international study. Amongst employers, especially from multinationals, who are seeking MBA graduates, evidence of adaptability, dedication, open-mindedness and international business practices is very attractive. Wherever you go, an MBA abroad will also enhance your employability back home as well as in other countries.

2. It will give you knowledge of the local labour market

Your MBA abroad is an opportunity to enhance your international AND local business contacts, but importantly it will enhance your understanding of local labour markets and will give you access to local recruiters. In addition, the study environment will help you develop a good understanding of the country’s educational style and culture. Group work or individual challenges may be favoured in one country. This could give you an insight in how professionals may behave in a work environment.

Of note are the things that MBA graduates find the most valuable in their job hunt, which are often related to their chosen business school such as:

  • Business school career services
  • On-campus job interviews
  • Business school alumni network
  • Meeting industry representatives and recruiters
  • Networking with peers and classmates
  • Network of personal contacts

Internships are a sought after addition to MBA programmes as they often land students with an offer of employment. Some programs help students secure an international internship so make sure you check how you will be supported in this.

3. You will be able to size up the local competition

An MBA in itself isn’t a golden ticket and employers will look at your entire career path. But beware! Competition for jobs is fierce, especially in the US as you’ll have to stand out amongst your fellow students. The advantage of doing your MBA abroad is that you get to know the people you’ll be competing against when you go off on your job hunt.

4. You will gain language skills

While English is the common language of MBA education, doing an MBA abroad means that you will be exposed to the language of that country. Having knowledge of foreign languages will help you in your job search if you want to gain access to companies in the country where you are about to start your MBA.

Final thoughts

An MBA abroad can be two different things: a full-MBA abroad, or periods of studying or internships, abroad. There are many ways to study internationally. Some business schools offer international exchange programs and study abroad experiences, either through partnerships with schools in other countries, or at their branch campuses. So if you are not ready or are unable to commit to a full-time MBA abroad, perhaps some of these opportunities are for you.

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