U.S. vs. European MBA Programs: The Student Perspective

by Vault Education Editors | June 30, 2010

  • My Vault

Recently, Vault published an article on "Why More MBAs are Choosing European Business Schools". The article could not have been more topical, as many applicants are considering the potential value of the European MBA education and the penetrability of the international job market.

Ivy Eyes Editing LogoIf you are an MBA applicant deciding whether to apply in the U.S. or abroad, you have a surfeit of sources from which to cull school information: school websites, online forums, rankings and more. Of course, these sources quickly become overwhelming, and some even conflict. Moreover, they don't tell the whole story. Even with all these resources, you still don't hear from the people who lived it: the students

We spoke with a 2010 graduate of Spain's IESE MBA program, Vikram Ahuja, who studied abroad at UCLA Anderson. Ahuja cited diversity as a key draw to European programs like IESE. "One IESE class was made up of 65 students from 46 different countries. You were always learning about different ways of working; it was a great, lively mix," says Ahuja. "At UCLA Anderson, and most other top U.S.-based MBA programs, classes are 60 to 70 percent American, which has an impact on the breadth of discussion."

Career focus and teaching approaches also greatly vary between geographies. Ahuja explains: "Generally speaking, IESE felt more academic in nature, with less daily focus on career." This academic focus largely results from less pressure to focus on your career. European students are, on average, older and only out of the workforce for one year, which makes it easier to transition in and out of school life. "I believe job placement at IESE was easily 100 percent last year. There are a lot of European jobs up for grabs," says Ahuja.

London scene: Big Ben, Westminster and a red double-decker busOn the other side of the spectrum, Arlen Marmel, a 2010 UCLA Anderson graduate who studied abroad at LBS, had a slightly different perspective on classroom dynamic in Europe. While Marmel says LBS was very ethnically diverse, "career focus is somewhat homogenous. Consulting and banking are the predominant career tracks." This has an obvious impact on student dynamics and life outside the classroom. For example, the Media Club at LBS might have six dedicated people, whereas at UCLA Anderson the Entertainment Management Association is the second-largest student group on campus. For prospective MBAs, "diversity" must not only be measured by students' cultural backgrounds, but also by area of professional interest.

Of course, many students will wonder how these contrasting values and qualities might translate into post-MBA career momentum. Certainly, the career centers at UCLA Anderson and LBS operate in different ways. Marmel shared, "I've had an excellent experience with the career center at Anderson. They are guidance-oriented and give students one-hour meetings (weekly, in some cases) to discuss career strategy, prepare for interviews, etc....The LBS career center acknowledges it is more of a sales team, judged on how many leads it generates." Of course, both of these approaches offer distinct advantages. LBS has a robust job board with deeply entrenched connections to global companies like Barclay's and Google, while the Anderson career center functions more as a training and guidance resource for its students.

When choosing between U.S. and European MBA programs, it's important to understand their key differences. European MBA programs are frequently smaller and have fewer resources and less developed alumnae networks, but they also have a host of corollary strengths, including those described by our two student sources. European MBA programs are also taking cues from their U.S. counterparts, building more exchange partnerships, launching global admissions and marketing campaigns, and attracting the "superstar" professors that every top U.S. MBA program boasts.

With the strength of European MBA continuing to build, will the U.S. continue to be the recognized leader in MBA education? Moving forward, U.S. MBA programs will be continually challenged to preserve their established brands and networks and to build the most relevant, global curricula and communities to compete on a global scale.

In the meantime, as MBA educational options continue to multiply, applicants should closely evaluate what it's really like on the inside of a U.S. MBA vs. a European one. Depending on your career focus, classroom expectations and background, one location may serve as a stronger springboard for your future career.

--Written by Janson Woodlee, Ivy Eyes Editing.

Janson Woodlee Ivy Eyes EditingJanson Woodlee is founder of Ivy Eyes Editing, a writing and admissions consultation company based in Los Angeles. Ivy Eyes is comprised entirely of Yale graduates, and prides itself on a commitment to true client collaboration, preserving applicant authenticity, and writing expertise couched in admissions strategy. They offer each prospective client a free assessment of their first writing submission, including admissions essays, resumes and more.

Filed Under: Education

Close button

Get tips on interviewing, networking, resumes, and more directly to your inbox.

No Thanks

Get Our Career Newsletter

Interview, resume and job search tips emailed directly to you.