Are MBA Exchange Programs Worth the Time and Effort They Require? | TopMBA.com

Are MBA Exchange Programs Worth the Time and Effort They Require?

By Temoor Iqbal

Updated March 13, 2021 Updated March 13, 2021

Sponsored by IE Business School

Politically, the past few years have seen the world move away from its postwar push for globalisation and ever-closer union. However, this hasn’t been the case for the business sphere, with the drive towards borderless, truly global commerce very much alive and on the rise. As a result, MBA courses are becoming increasingly global in their outlook; Madrid’s IE Business School, for example, runs an International MBA as its primary full-time program.

Of course, with an international outlook comes the need for international experience, and exchange programs are now a standard offering on most full-time MBA courses. Exchanges usually last one full term, and take the form of either core or elective courses taught at an overseas partner institution, or a practical project conducted in another country. There are undoubtedly many benefits to such an experience, but it’s important to think carefully before committing such a large portion of time at so critical a point in your career, as an exchange program isn’t the right choice for everyone.

Expanding horizons

An international exchange program can be an excellent way to broaden your experience and obtain valuable cultural insights. This is particularly the case if, for example, you intend to work in an international field, for a multilingual firm, or simply in a role that involves a lot of travel. However, this is not to say you should go just anywhere. When you pick a school for your MBA, you put a lot of thought into the institution’s merits and the location’s advantages and the same rigor should be applied to selecting an exchange program that fits your career goals.

At IE Business School, the Long Exchange program takes place during the elective period of the International MBA. Applicants can choose from over 50 different international partners, spread over six continents. As opposed to simply visiting another country for a couple of weeks, the Long Exchange is a true cultural immersion – you’ll live, study and work in a new environment, with a fundamentally different take on business matters.

When choosing where to go for your exchange, you should look at the electives on offer at the schools you can choose from. Make sure the choice of subjects doesn’t interfere with your long-term study and career plans. Secondly, you need to think about location – where do you want to study, based on the experience you want to obtain?

MBA students at IE either study in Spanish, or are required to take Spanish lessons on top of their core studies in English, so Latin American partner schools are particularly popular in terms of getting practical experience to put these language skills to use. Similarly, many students aim to work for companies that are expanding into growth markets in Asia and the Middle East, making a term spent at a school in one of those regions very useful in terms of cultural understanding, as well as giving you a tangible edge over less well-travelled applicants when it comes to applying for jobs.

Professional considerations

With that said, spending a term abroad may not always be the best thing for your future career. Many MBA students choose to study in the country in which they intend to work, whether it’s their home country or somewhere they plan to settle long-term. For these individuals, international experience might still be valuable, but it might be of more practical use to be based in one place. This makes it much easier to attend career events, focus on local networking opportunities and schedule interviews – things that naturally get put on hold when you go to study abroad for a few months.

Clearly, it’s worth thinking carefully before taking the plunge when it comes to an MBA exchange programme. The benefits could boost your MBA experience and enhance your career prospects, but not everyone is looking to work in a multinational capacity. For those more interested in focusing on a particular location, such as Madrid, London or New York, it could be more useful to concentrate all your time and energy on one city or country. Make sure you obtain as much information as possible about your chosen school’s exchange options before you apply, and take the time to discuss the pros and cons with your tutors once you’ve been accepted to a program.

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This article was originally published in June 2018 . It was last updated in March 2021

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