What can US students expect from studying for an MBA abroad? | TopMBA.com

What can US students expect from studying for an MBA abroad?

By Eric N

Updated September 12, 2022 Updated September 12, 2022

Studying for an MBA abroad can be a source of priceless adventure, cross-cultural learning and opportunities for international jobs. According to survey data from the Graduate Management Admission Council, eight percent of MBA candidates in the United States aspire to study internationally, with the top five preferred countries being the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Spain, and Germany.

To explore what US MBA students can expect when studying abroad, we spoke with five Americans who chose to study their MBAs overseas.

International business immersion

One American who went overseas for her MBA is Shalini Chudasama, a recent graduate of London Business School (LBS).

Prior to studying at LBS, Shalini worked for Bain & Company in Atlanta, Georgia collaborating with Bain’s 65 global offices across 40 countries. “To do my role justice, I realised that I needed to have more global and international experiences,” said Shalini.

At LBS, she found the school’s internationally diverse faculty and student body perfect for advancing her cross-cultural knowledge and skills. According to LBS’s press office, 90% of MBA students are non-British nationals who hail from 67 countries.

Shalini particularly valued that LBS faculty draw upon internationally-focused case studies, broader than what she assumes occurs in US-based MBA programmes.

“LBS is not a British business school. It’s an international business school that happens to be in London.”

Where do Americans study?

LBS is one of the more popular destinations for American MBAs. Approximately 15 percent of the school’s 500 first-year MBA students are American, according to the school’s press office.

Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, Imperial College Business School, and University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School also draw considerable numbers of Americans to the UK.

Other overseas schools with sizeable American populations are IESE Business School in Barcelona, Esade which also is in Barcelona, HEC Paris, and INSEAD, which has campuses in Fontainebleau (France), Singapore, and Abu Dhabi.

At IESE, nine-10 percent of MBA students are American; at Esade, this figure is nine percent; and at HEC Paris, 13 percent of students are from the US or Canada, according to the respective press offices.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, China was a fast-growing destination for overseas MBA study, but travel restrictions put the brakes on the flow of international students.

Professor Shameen Prashantham, the MBA programme director at CEIBS in Shanghai, said: “While new international students not being able to enter China for over two years has created serious difficulties in recruiting students from overseas, we look forward to welcoming back [international] students as soon as border restrictions are lifted.”

International adventure with strong global networks

The excitement of living abroad with the opportunity to gain a diverse global network is a big draw for Americans. When Puerto Rican-native Steven Rodriguez-Cortes applied to ESCP Business School in Paris, he was seeking a change from his life in Florida where he worked for a US Department of Defence contractor.

During ESCP’s 10-month programme, Steven spent one semester at the school’s city campus in Paris and the other at the London campus. In between, he took elective courses at ESCP’s Berlin and Turin locations. “The programme gives you the enriching opportunity to travel around Europe,” he said.

As he prepares for graduation, Steven celebrates the tight network of friends from Italy, Belgium, India, China, and beyond, that he made while at ESCP. “The human connection is very strong, and I learned a lot from my colleagues. This network will be useful in the future,” he said.

Post-graduation, he has an offer for a job in Boston with an employer impressed by his first-hand knowledge of international business practices. Lucas Scalcione-Hahn, an American on the one-year MBA programme at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), singles out the international diversity of his classmates and the RSM faculty as part of making his MBA experience “transformative.”

He said: “I grew up in New Jersey with a lot of people from different cultures, yet they were all Americanised. When you do an MBA abroad, you meet people who really are from across the world.”

According to RSM, 99 percent of the 115 participants in the MBA class of 2023 are non-nationals, representing 36 total countries. At the top-ranked US schools, 30 to 55 percent of students are non-nationals, and many lived in the US previously.

Affordable and flexible degrees

The lower tuition fees of overseas MBA programmes – and the option of shorter courses which minimise time out of the workforce – are features of great appeal to US candidates.

Abby Barber, an American who had a pre-MBA career in procurement and purchasing in North Carolina, graduated from the one-year MBA programme at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Düsseldorf, Germany in 2021.

Now working for NBCUniversal in California, Abby said: “Doing an MBA degree abroad was more financially responsible than doing it in the US.”

WHU’s current tuition fee is €40,500 (~USD $41,270) for the full-time MBA programme. At the top US programmes, two-year tuition prices range from $125,000 to $160,000, a significant increase on WHU’s one-year tuition.

Lucas at RSM also cites the lower tuition costs of non-US MBA programmes as a major benefit to studying abroad. Tuition for RSM’s one-year programme is currently €57,000 (~USD $58,000).

“You’re going to pay less internationally. It’s a better value, and you disrupt your career for a shorter period,” he said.

As a limitation, Lucas acknowledges that one-year international programmes, like RSM’s, do not have much time for career-building internships and that this is a challenge for those exploring career pivots.  

Prospects for international jobs

Landing an internationally-based job is an aspiration for many Americans who choose international MBA programmes.

Lucas hopes to find a position in Europe’s fast-growing hydrogen energy sector. “I would like to stay in Europe. My family and I will go where the hydrogen jobs are,” he said.

He’s confident and hopeful, given his ten years of work experience with the New Jersey utility company PSEG and his soon-to-be-awarded MBA.

Shalini interned at American Express’s London office in summer 2021. After graduation, she’s starting a full-time role there and continuing her London odyssey. She had no definitive plan to stay in London following her MBA, but the city is increasingly becoming her home.

Reflecting on the impact of choosing LBS over a US-based MBA programme, she said: “My perspective and my opportunities have become so much bigger.”

While Shalini, Steven, Lucas and Abby caution that an MBA from a top European school is not a golden ticket to a dream European job, they say that staying overseas for work is a real possibility for those with strong qualifications and some flexibility on the roles they’ll accept.

One MBA student pursuing European-based job opportunities is Nicole Sopko, an American set to finish her studies at Esade in Barcelona shortly. “When you position yourself well, build relationships and are flexible, your likelihood of being sponsored grows,” she said.

Nicole has twelve years of prior management experience and was selected as an Esade Admissions Fellow. “You have to show multinational companies that you are worth sponsorship.”

Planning to study abroad

For those about to embark on international MBAs, Abby advises to “do the research ahead of time” on visa requirements, living arrangements, and financing arrangements to avoid everything from minor hiccups to major challenges.

While there will be occasional stressful moments abroad, they are best viewed as part of the “learning experience,” added Steven.

For Nicole, the visa application process was energy-draining and nerve-wracking, but eventually her visa arrived and she made her way to Barcelona a month ahead of Esade’s welcome week.

“In my first weeks, I got a lot of my Spanish back and explored Barcelona. It’s hard to put into words how great that time was. All of the hurdles were worth it,” she said.

“In the moment, things are stressful, but it only makes you a more prepared individual in the business world when you’ve had these experiences, and you’ve come out on the other side,” she added. “I wholeheartedly recommend studying an MBA abroad.”

Eric Neutuch is an accreditation partner at IMD (Lausanne, Switzerland) and a freelance higher education journalist.

This article was originally published in August 2022 . It was last updated in September 2022

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