Should you get an International MBA?

by Finnian Durkan,  June 30, 2010

When deciding whether or not to earn your MBA abroad there are myriad pieces of information to consider. You may ask yourself questions such as “Should I pick somewhere cold and inhospitable so that my parents will be unlikely to visit?” and “How proficient am I at picking up a new language AND studying macroeconomics in the same year?” The amount of information to take into account when making this fairly important decision can be overwhelming. In order to help save you some time and energy I took to the internet and that most archaic of technologies, the telephone, and got the straight dirt from MBA grads both international and domestic with the benefit of hindsight at their disposal.

The Foreign vs. Domestic MBA

First off, let’s go over the differences between most foreign and domestic MBA programs. One of the main distinctions between a U.S. earned MBA and its foreign counterpart is the time frame: while a U.S. MBA requires a 2 year commitment –with an internship sandwiched in the middle—an international MBA is generally a 1 year program. What this means to you is that an international program allows you to complete your degree in a shorter amount of time saving you money on overall living expenses and tuition. 

international mba student While exchange rates are always fluctuating, these benefits more often than not will net you a savings; that’s something that any prospective business student can understand. As John Mills-Pierre III, an ‘02 graduate of the London School of Economics, put it:

“Financially, study abroad programs are significantly more cost effective compared to USA tuition, however the cost of living in the cities vary greatly.”

So when considering a foreign education make sure to take the cost of living of each locale in to account; while the different countries and cities may be separated by only a few short miles, the cost of living changes between them can vary greatly across Europe. 

Or you could simply take the advice of Travis Nesbitt, an ’02 MA graduate of Sciences Po in Paris, when he was confronted with being unable to afford his 2nd year:

“…I simply wrote the school a letter saying I couldn't afford the tuition (which must have been a nominal 1000E at the time) due to student loan debt incurred in the US.  They waived my tuition and even gave me a stipend for books.”

There’s a scenario that’s not likely to pan out similarly on U.S. shores.

International MBA Programs and Career Goals

Another thing that tends to come in to play when choosing between an education from across the Atlantic or a stateside degree is what your goals are once you graduate. While no one can argue with the resume strength and brand power that an Ivy League or other top 20 U.S. MBA will bring you upon graduation, if you are considering working abroad there are benefits to foreign education that many U.S. schools may have a hard time duplicating. For example, if you are considering working in the EMEA (Europe Mid-East Africa) then studying at a European University could have such advantages as an expanded social network that includes contacts that you wouldn’t have met in the U.S. Another benefit is that due to the cultural immersion and the more Euro-centric focus of both the faculty and course-study, you will be gaining valuable insights by living abroad that you would be hard-pressed to equal in a U.S. setting, no matter how highly ranked the program. 

Is an International MBA Program Right for You?

Deciding between foreign and domestic universities is a tad more complex than, say, deciding between drinking a foreign or domestic beer; it’s not just a question of taste and quality but comes down to what you want to get out of your educational experience and to your own personal cost-benefit analysis. Foreign programs are shorter and therefore more cost-effective. However, the disadvantage of this is that it requires that you enter them with a much more focused approach.  You will neither have the benefit of the extra time to choose a focus, nor a mid-program internship with which to get a foot in the door to the job market and gain practical experience. While the longer course of study and internship possibilities of U.S. MBA programs can provide a smoother transition to post-graduation employment for those coming directly from undergrad and lacking work experience (or those making a transition from one career to another), they also lack the cultural immersion of a foreign education that those seeking jobs abroad would find helpful. In making your decision between the two it is important to keep in mind what you want from –and plan to do with—your education.

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